Sunday, August 26, 2007

Questions that Need Answers

I am extremely skeptical that changing the municipal government to an elected mayor format will do much good. I'm willing to listen to some arguments, and in the last week or so I've convinced myself of some of the merits of a mayoral system, but there are still a lot of questions that I will need concrete answers to before I acquiesce to the concept. So here are some of my questions, in no particular order -- a first in a series...

1.) Pay

How much will the mayor make? This is not an inconsequential issue. Right now the only city-wide elected official in Rep. Hintz -- and his pay (which is supplied through the state) is upward of $45,000 a year or a little less than the typical family of four in Wisconsin. The city manager earned $104,000+ this year.

Are we as a city prepared to pay the winner of a mayotal election $100,000 a year?

That kind of money is about twice the median family income ($49,000) in Oshkosh. There will be griping.

If we lower the annual salary, what incentive do potentially qualified candidates, who perhaps make more money in the private sector, have to serve their community? This will be a full-time job. Will we require the mayor to give up any stake he or she may have in a local business so to not create any potential or perceived conflicts of interest? Are we basically going to be asking the mayor not to make any more money than his salary allows him?

That will deter people from running. $100,000 is a lot of money, but it goes quickly when there's a family to feed and kids who want to go to college, etc.

Plus there's the life after office that potential candidates need to think about. Unlike being a state representative, who can go on to do lobbying or consulting or something of that nature after they finish their time in office, we don't know what kind of life lies ahead for the future ex-mayors of Oshkosh. They will likely not be eligible for pensions (unless they're in office for decades, but given the age that most people are elected to other positions in the city and their typical tenures, I doubt that will be a frequent problem) -- again another thing that may deter otherwise qualified people from pursuing the position .

Will the Mayor get raises? If so, who makes that decision? Certainly not the Mayor, right? Who would vote for someone who gives himself a raise? Will this be a performance-bases issue taken up by the council or merely a routine cost of living adjustment?

What kind of expense account will the Mayor be given? Does he get to keep whatever isn't spent at the end of the year? Will that lessen the incentive for him or her to actually get out of town and woo businesses to Oshkosh?

What are we looking at for vacation days -- 2 weeks a year for the first term, 4 a year for each successive term. And sick days? And personal days, etc.

What happens if we elect an amazing mayor who blows the minds of everyone in town and turns Oshkosh into the most kick-ass city in North America -- and some other city starts courting him or her with a huge pay raise? Will the council have the authority to suddenly double or triple this guy's salary or would we have to say adios?

All of this is incredibly important to determine. If we make the equivalent to what the city manager get now, a lot of people will suddenly develop a keen interest in city politics because they will see it as an opportunity to make more money. If we lower it, do we risk alienating people with executive experience who can make more in the private sector?

Executive experience is in ungodly short supply in Oshkosh, fresh ideas and bold thinking are even rarer, so we have to start to ask ourselves what kind of premium are we as a city willing to put on that combination and determine what the appropriate compensation should be.

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