City Council takes step towards full-time job with full-time pay

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/18/2021, 6 p.m.
Full-time City Council members? For the first time, Richmond’s governing body is planning to seek authority from the General Assembly …
Richmond City Council members offer congratulatory applause after the ceremony swearing in members for new four-year terms on Jan. 4. Photo by Regina H. Boone

Full-time City Council members?

For the first time, Richmond’s governing body is planning to seek authority from the General Assembly to hike the pay of members so they could become full time.

The proposal is included in a package of changes to the City Charter, or constitution, that the council is poised to send to the legislature for approval in the upcoming session that begins in mid-January.

The pay legislation appears to be the most significant.

Ninth District Councilman Michael J. Jones introduced the proposal to give the council the power to set its own pay.

Though he is a full-time minister as well, Dr. Jones stated, “It’s not about me. It’s about the job of council.”

He and others have noted that members put in 40 or more hours a week in carrying out their council duties and are on call 24 hours a day.

Currently, council members are limited to the pay allowed by state law.

City Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District, makes $27,000 a year, while the eight other council members receive a salary of $25,000 a year. That’s less than half the annual pay of their liaisons or staff members whose pay currently starts at more than $55,000 a year.

Council members want to take control and believe they deserve a salary that at least equals the pay of the five elected members of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors.

According to the county, the base pay for a member of the board is $57,143 a year, with the chairperson earning $65,717 a year and the vice chair earning $62,857.

The supervisors also receive extra pay for serving on certain boards and commissions, county spokesman Steve Knockemus reported.

The plum post is service on the county Planning Commission, which provides a $20,000 stipend, Mr. Knockemus stated.

Each member who serves on the Capital Region Airport Commission, the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission or the Henrico Social Services Board receives an additional payment of $3,000, he noted, while a supervisor serving on the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee receives $75 per meeting.

The Richmond charter change language City Council is considering, which has largely flown under the radar, offers no specifics on the size of the salary hikes being contemplated and whether any approved changes would remain on hold until after an election.

Instead, the wording simply asks for the council to gain the salary-setting authority, either by act of the legislature or through a charter change.

The council created a commission to review and make recommendations on charter-change proposals submitted by the mayor and City Council members but has largely avoided public discussion. The commission endorsed the salary proposal.

Other charter changes are largely technical and mainly seek to clarify city authority.

For example, with billions in federal funds becoming available for improving broadband service, a proposed change would specifically allow the city to be involved in running fiber cables.

Another proposed change would allow the city to create an electric utility for its streetlights and allow for a system of fees to be developed to support it.