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Are Council Members Willing to Give Up Their Salaries? Here Are Their Responses

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By Jorge Casuso

May 12, 2020 -- As the City sent 30-day layoff notices to 156 Santa Monica employees Monday, the Lookout asked Council members if they would be willing to give up their salaries during the fiscal crisis spurred by the coronavirus shutdown.

The latest figures obtained by the Lookout show that Council members received an annual salary of $15,696, while the mayor made $18,282 (The numbers have since increased by about $2,000.)

All seven Council members also received $29,012 a year in benefits and a budgeted car allowance of $4,416.

At last Tuesday's Council meeting, after voting to lay off as many as 247 full-time employees, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich offered to give up her Council salary ("City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs; Cuts Will Be Felt at All Levels," May 6, 2020).

"I'm willing to contribute to these efforts to help backfill these programs," she said as the Council debated what to do with a $2 million fund to restore priority programs.

Last week, the Lookout asked the other six Council members the following question:

"Last Tuesday, Sue Himmelrich volunteered to give up her salary as a Council member to help the City during its unprecedented fiscal crisis.

"Given the sacrifices the Council is asking staff to make and considering that yours is a voluntary, but paid, position that is not the source of your primary income, are you willing to do the same?"

The Lookout received answers from all the Council members asked except Mayor Pro Tem Terry O'Day.

Of the five Council members who responded, three said they were willing to give up part or all of their pay.

Here are their answers:

Mayor Kevin McKeown:
As I mentioned at the Council meeting, Sue’s offer is very generous. I’m glad she’s in a position to make it, as a member of a NOMA (North of Montana Association) household with two working attorneys, one a 30-year partner in a very large corporate law firm.

Not all Councilmembers enjoy the same financial security. I’m a retired renter, for whom Council pay is my only remaining earned income.

Gleam Davis
I offered to forego all my council compensation back in March when the crisis first arose and I remain willing to do so.

Ana Jara
What you are asking about is a symbolic gesture. We need concrete answers to very complex problems.

Greg Morena
My small business supports my family and it's closed; my council compensation is my only income right now. We use supplier credit to order food for our restaurant staff because we can.

What I can do, I will do. I’m also willing to contribute a portion of my council compensation, the same as others, as a symbolic representation (it’s not a lot of money) of my commitment to our staff and to the city.

We’re all going through it. I believe the way out of this thing is sacrificing what we can and taking care of others.

Ted Winterer
My Council pay was $17,717 in 2019. With a $102M deficit in the next fiscal year, foregoing some or all of that compensation would not create a tectonic shift in the City's fiscal health. However, since many of our employees are being asked to make great sacrifices I'm prepared to show solidarity with them.

Incomes and net worths vary greatly among Councilmembers and the COVID-19 shutdown has impacted some of our day job incomes more than others. So I'm willing to give up 50 percent of my Council income in order to share the pain of our tragically very necessary reductions in expenditures.

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