The majority of members on the Bellevue City Council has approved automatic yearly salary increases for the council without going through the normal process to allow public comment. In so doing, they have flouted a key principle for sound government: promoting public trust.
The council’s 4-2 vote Tuesday night for a 2% annual raise for the council and mayor, starting in December 2021, was made without any prior notice to the public, as any significant policy proposal should receive. Through its action, the council members sidestepped the appropriate three-meeting process by which a proposal is introduced, a public hearing held and then a vote is taken.
Such a requirement isn’t a mere nicety. It’s an important principle to ensure that elected officials hold themselves to a proper standard of conduct. The requirement most certainly should apply to the question of whether elected officials are to receive automatic salary increases.
It’s legitimate, in general, for Bellevue officials to consider the pay raise issue. Bellevue is Nebraska’s third largest city in the state’s fastest growing county. There’s been no increase in the $11,000 council salary for several years. The mayor’s salary, at $15,000, has remained unchanged since 1998. But city leaders need to show proper respect to citizens by allowing public comment on the salary question and following proper procedure.
The council majority’s vote for the automatic salary increase risks coming across as arrogant since it approved that 11th-hour proposal after also voting 4-2 to award council members $6,000 pay bumps, to $17,000, starting in December 2020. The mayor’s salary will rise to $21,000. Councilman Pat Shannon tried unsuccessfully to push through the pay increases in November in a single meeting. He also was the introducer of the automatic salary increase on Tuesday.
Shannon struck the wrong tone Tuesday when he attempted to rationalize the failure to provide a public hearing on the automatic salary increase. “I don’t think anybody’s going to care if the council gets a $300-a-year raise,” he said. “If I’m wrong, they’ll tell me next time I’m up for election.” Government officials shouldn’t be dismissive of the public’s right to weigh in before those officials decide salary policy.
In the wake of the Tuesday actions, Bellevue officials have much work to do to rebuild the public’s trust.