Reassessing Council and School Committee Compensation

One thing I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of months is a reassessment of compensation for town councilors and school committee members in Greenfield. This is a diversity issue for me. The current stipends for both positions in Greenfield stand at $2,000 per year. I can attest, from experience, that doing anything resembling a good job as a councilor demands a time commitment of 10 hour per week (in other words, $3.84 an hour at the most) and I’m doubtful that the school committee does any less work.

How is a poor person going to justify running for council? Or a person living on a disability income? How can a parent of small children justify sacrificing that much time, while bringing next to nothing home? How can a younger person building a career even think about running, when they’re already immersed in a culture of unpaid internships?

Greenfield has a terrible history of not being able to attract enough candidates for the essential elected positions. In 2015, when all of the positions were up for grabs, 6 of the 9 precinct councilor positions had only one candidate, and there were only six candidates for 4 at-large positions. There were only 7 candidates for six school committee seats. That’s not democracy.

Another case study: below is a photo of the town council in Franklin, MA, where they’ve chosen not to compensate their council members at all. What do you see? I see nine middle aged white people. On closer examination, you’ll find that the council consists of an engineer, an attorney, a corporate vice president, 3 business owners, and two people who work in technology (I couldn’t find information on the 9th councilor). No bluecollar workers. No union workers. No poor people. No young people. No people of color. With all due respect to Franklin, this setup doesn’t strike me as very representative. When we expect government to be free, we get government by the elite.

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As a union officer, I firmly believe that everyone should be compensated for their labor.

But the question remains: what’s the right level? How much is enough? As part of this project, I compiled a spreadsheet with information (mostly complete) from all of the 21 other towns in Massachusetts that have town or city councils and populations of less than 40,000, and I’m sharing that spreadsheet with everyone. I’m interested in feedback on this question.

As we can see, per capita Greenfield residents spend about 30% less than the average for their council and school committee. It’s also clear that, statewide, school committee members are compensated at a much lower level than councilors and aldermen–I want to avoid a situation like that in Greenfield, recognizing that the work of the school committee is at least as time consuming and at least as valuable as the work of the council.

For those who will inevitably be concerned about me trying to line my own pockets, please note that any change in compensation will, by statute, take effect four years after passage. This effort is aimed at improving the quality and diversity of elected leadership in the long term.

Further reading: 

NYT:Black Female Lawmaker in Vermont Resigns After Racial Harassment

NPR:Low Pay In State Legislatures Means Some Can’t Afford The Job