Local opinion: We deserve full-time representation – Yes on 413

This article was originally published by the Arizona Daily Star.
Priya Sundareshan Special to the Arizona Daily Star Nov 4, 2023

As a state legislator earning the same $24,000 salary as our city council members, I can personally attest to the complete inadequacy of this compensation. The personal sacrifices I’ve made to embrace a public-servant role are immense, and I’m not the only one. Conversely, those who haven’t experienced such sacrifices may not fully grasp the weight of their duties, underlining the urgent necessity to boost salaries to attract and retain dedicated individuals in public service.

It has been over two decades, and there has been no adjustment to our council’s salary. This prolonged delay is damaging, and we cannot afford to wait any longer. We risk losing dedicated public servants because the current salary does not reflect the full-time nature of being a responsive and engaged representative. It’s also crucial to acknowledge that over 20 years, the City of Tucson’s budget has expanded significantly by 180%. This substantial growth in financial responsibilities demands full time work from our Mayor and Council Members — yet many of them have to hold a second job just to make ends meet.

Additionally, in this era of rapid news cycles and constant communication with constituents through email and social media, our representatives should earn a livable wage that allows them to fully dedicate their time to their ward. Keeping the old-fashioned “part-time” model means our representatives and Councilmembers must divide their attention and effort in order to work other jobs. Tucson is the 33rd largest city in America! A full-time Council paid at part-time rates is simply unacceptable.

Contrary to Councilmember Kozachik’s guest opinion piece, “City officials’ salaries should rise, but Prop 413 goes too far,” mayor and council positions are indeed intended to be career paths and we should want them to be! Public servants are expected to address a myriad of complex issues and maintain continuous engagement with their constituents. They are also charged with oversight of your tax dollars and ensuring they are responsibly spent. Tucson’s annual budget is $2 billion and I’d certainly want someone who sees their work on Council as an integral part of their career (rather than something fun to do in retirement) overseeing how my tax dollars are spent.

Councilmember Kozachik’s assertions fail to grasp the realities of contemporary governance. In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, public officials are expected to be accessible, informed, and engaged at all times. The dismissive stance that this is merely a part-time gig disregards the multifaceted nature of the role and undermines the tireless dedication exhibited by many public servants who go above and beyond to fulfill their responsibilities.

The proposal to tie the salaries of Tucson’s mayor and council members to those of the Pima County Board serves to address concerns of conflict of interest. This approach attempts to ensure that decisions regarding compensation are made in a more impartial and standardized manner, using a different governmental body as a comparative reference point for determining fair and appropriate wages. However it is untrue that voter power is taken from them — Prop 413 still allows for a process where proposed salary adjustments can be presented to the voters for approval or rejection.

It is clear that our dedicated public servants need a raise, and the proposed measure, Prop 413, is a significant step forward for Tucson. It is not just about improving the financial well-being of our city officials, but it is also a crucial move towards attracting and retaining a diverse range of candidates who can better represent our vibrant and multifaceted community. These measures reflect the changing face of local government and the need for public servants to be fully dedicated to their roles. I urge everyone to vote Yes on Prop 413 so we can at least fix this for our city — because we deserve high-caliber, dedicated public servants who are able to focus on us entirely.

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