Members of Charleston City Council endorsed a plan Tuesday to raise their own pay 15%, a move said to put the city in line with others and recruit future candidates. The increase, proposed by Councilman Keith Waring during a Sept. 28 meeting, resulted in the formation of a temporary committee to look at Charleston members’ pay compared to other cities.
The proposal, if given final approval, would represent a bump from $17,500 to $20,131.99 per year, and builds in annual cost of living increases. According to figures provided by city staff Tuesday, members of Charleston City Council are paid less than colleagues in North Charleston, Savannah and elsewhere.
The measure was discussed during a ways and means committee meeting earlier Tuesday, where it got three “Nay” votes. At the full council meeting, the measure passed first reading along with other committee matters without any pushback.
During the committee meeting at Festival Hall on Beaufain Street, members described their motivations for serving.
“Nobody on this council uses this as a job; most of us probably, the little bit of money we get out of this, we try to dedicate it back into public service in some way, shape or form,” Councilman Harry Griffin said before opposing the measure during the committee meeting. “I am not going to support raising our salaries at all … it’s just a terrible look … I would do this job for free.”
An amendment failed that would have raised members’ pay to $25,000 — the initial figure Waring floated for the increase.
Councilmen Peter Shahid and Waring argued the current pay keeps potential members from serving.
While Shahid agreed that the pay is not the reason he is on the council, he admitted that the lack of pay is a large reason for others not seeking a seat themselves.
“None of us here are working because of the money we receive, that isn’t the purpose of any of us being here, if we are, I think we’re in the wrong business,” he said. “But I don’t want to discourage anyone from serving on city council because they see [the pay] as a negative.”
Shahid said he was only able to fulfill his duties thanks to the flexibility of his primary source of income as an attorney.
After the initial proposal, Griffin agreed, saying the schedule of council members is “demanding” and “time-consuming,” another deterrent to those who may be willing to serve. Griffin went on to say members did receive generous benefits, which amounted to a significant personal cost-savings.
The measure goes into effect after the election of two or more members in the next election. Three members are on the ballot in the Nov. 2 general election.