Compensating City Councils

By Zale, Kellen | Stanford Law Review, March 2018 | Go to article overview

Compensating City Councils


Zale, Kellen, Stanford Law Review


Table of Contents  Introduction I.   City Council Compensation      A. City Council: Forms and Functions      B. The Question of How Much: Compensation Amounts      C. The Question of How: Compensation Procedures         1. Procedural mechanisms: city council compensation            a. Threshold issue: state or local control            b. Compensation-setting procedures         2. Procedural mechanisms: state and federal legislatures II.  How Process Affects Outcomes      A. Theories of Legislative Compensation         1. The problem of overcompensation            a. The civic republican ideal            b. Fiscal effects            c. Nonpecuniary benefits         2. The problem of undercompensation            a. Limiting office to those who can afford to serve            b. Good governance            c. Conflicts of interest and corruption      B. The Distorting Effects of City Council Compensation Procedures         1. City council control         2. Referenda         3. Benchmarking and other formulas         4. Independent commissions. III. Improving the Institutional Design of City Council      Compensation Procedures      A. First-Order Institutional Design: Structural Tools      B. Second-Order Institutional Design: State vs. Local Control Conclusion 

INTRODUCTION

If you could set your own salary, how much would you pay yourself? Would you give yourself a raise? Would you care what other people thought if you did? What if your pay hadn't increased in over a decade? Would you consider whether increasing your salary would lead to pay cuts for other people in your workplace?

These questions may seem like the daydreams of Office Space employees, (1) but they are the very real concerns that city councils (2) across the United States must grapple with. While some city councilmembers' salaries are fixed by state law or subject to voter approval, in vast numbers of cities-particularly large and midsize cities-city councils have the authority to decide their members' compensation. (3) Like members of Congress and state legislators, (4) city councilmembers are placed in the uncomfortable position of determining how much of other people's money they should pay themselves. And when put in this position, lawmakers face an inherent conflict of interest.

Most obviously, when in control of their own compensation, city councilmembers can engage in financial self-dealing by increasing their own pay when doing so would not be in the public interest. As James Madison recognized in the context of congressional compensation, "[T]here is a seeming impropriety in leaving any set of men without control to put their hand into the public coffers, to take out money to put in their pockets...." (5)

But another form of self-dealing can occur when councilmembers opt not to increase their own compensation when doing so would be in the public interest. (6) This type of self-dealing is best understood as a form of reelection rent-seeking. (7) As Adrian Vermeule has observed in his scholarship on congressional compensation, "[T]he political benefits of conspicuous self-denial may dominate purely financial losses." (8) That is, although a salary increase would boost councilmembers' welfare in terms of monetary gain, if they think that increasing their own salaries is likely to hurt their chances of reelection, then they may opt not to increase their own pay.

At first blush, it might appear that this variant of self-dealing is not particularly harmful. After all, the city council is saving public money by denying itself increased compensation. But there are a number of reasons to be concerned about the systemic effects of reelection rent-seeking. While pay should not become the incentive for government service, most would agree that lawmakers' compensation should be set at a "rate that fairly compensates [lawmakers] for their work and attracts highly qualified candidates." (9) While few go into government work to get rich, common sense, as well as the political science research on the issue, tells us that pay is a consideration for at least some people in making the decision to enter-or continue with--government service. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Compensating City Councils
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.