Lead Story West Edition

Compton council pay raise up for a vote

COMPTON — Local voters will have the chance to determine if City Council members deserve a pay raise in a special election that will be held Nov. 7 at the same time voters will be choosing school board members.

Currently City Council members earn $600 a month, but Councilwoman Janna Zurita says council members deserve more money.

“This is not just a Tuesday night job, it’s a 7 a.m. to midnight job,” said Zurita, who called for a special meeting Aug. 2 to discuss the matter along with Councilman Isaac Galvan and Councilwoman Tana McCoy.

“The same people who are discussing whether we deserve this are the same ones who are calling my house at night,” she said. “And nobody can say that I don’t answer my phone.”

The proposed pay raise would give council members an annual salary of $43,000, the median income of Compton residents. Mayor Aja Brown’s pay would increase to $54,000 a year. Currently the mayor receives the same stipend as the rest of the council.

McCoy said she wanted to propose a salary less than the median income, and Galvan said the mayor deserves to earn more than the other council members, regardless of the amount.

While the city charter sets the council pay at $600 a month, about 25 years ago, council members began giving themselves additional stipends from serving on various commissions that they created, such as gaming, housing development, public finance and urban community development, City Clerk Alita Godwin said.

That practice started under former Mayor Omar Bradley, who was found guilty of two counts of misappropriating public funds for personal purposes last week in a retrial after his 2004 conviction on the same charges was overturned by an appeals court.

Godwin said the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office issued a letter several years ago after a scandal in the city of Bell, instructing city councils to stop paying themselves for serving on minor commissions, most of which were abolished.

Council members can still receive a stipend for serving on the Urban Community Development Commission, but it is capped at $150 per month, and is only for services as needed, Godwin said.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun served on the council from 2003 to 2011. She said she received about $3,150 from the city per month, which was in addition to her regular salary as a traffic enforcement officer with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

She claimed she used her additional funds only for her various community projects, such as programs for senior citizens. But now she said she is skeptical about whether the current representatives deserve more money.

“The mayor said city employees haven’t had a raise since 2014, so why are [council members] thinking of themselves first?” she asked. “They haven’t shown me the work they’ve done. Why do the streets look like they do? You can pave the major streets, but when you go to the neighborhoods, you see how much is left to accomplish.”

Compton resident Maria Villareal also pointed to the state of the streets as a reason why she is underwhelmed by the work of the council.

“I live in District 1, and we have a big issue with potholes,” she said. “They only fixed one or two. My district looks like crap. It’s ugly, and I’ll say it looks ‘ghetto.’ The appearance of the neighborhood doesn’t make us feel like we want to stay in Compton for years to come.”

Villareal said she would like to see evaluations on how the council represents the community before she considers voting for a pay increase.

The budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year approved by the council last month earmarked funds from Measure P, a sales tax increase, to repair the major thoroughfares as well as residential streets.

Brown said that she does not want a raise, but rather clarification on how much involvement her constituents are looking for.

“Do people want office hours or not?” she asked. “Do they want council report cards? Full-time or part-time council members? I want to know what people expect.”