Battle Ground City Council votes to abolish salary commission

Alex Peru, Reporter
Alex Peru, Reporter

BATTLE GROUND — At a Monday night meeting, members of the Battle Ground City Council voted to repeal a city ordinance that had established a volunteer Salary Commission to review and set the salaries of the city’s elected officials.

The action of the city council repealed City Ordinance 14-20, which in part established the city’s salary commission to determine salaries of elected officials on the city council. The vote also changed the schedule of when raises for the city council would take effect.

At the council meeting, some members of the council wanted clarification before a vote occured.

Council member Mike Dalesandro asked why the action to repeal the city ordinance was being taken. He noted that the council wanted to “revamp and revise” the salary commission, and therefore asked why the ordinance establishing the commission was being repealed.

“Why repeal versus a revision?” Dalesandro said.

Council member Mike Dalesandro asked for clarification as to why a city ordinance regarding the city’s salary commission had to be repealed to make changes, rather than simply being revised. Photo by Alex Peru
Council member Mike Dalesandro asked for clarification as to why a city ordinance regarding the city’s salary commission had to be repealed to make changes, rather than simply being revised. Photo by Alex Peru

City Attorney Christine Hayes said that the ordinance could not be revised because the language on terms and conditions for removal of salary commissioners was derived from the Revised Code of Washington. She noted that the salary commission had already met and had taken action to establish the terms, and therefore the ordinance had to be repealed to make changes.

Mayor Philip Johnson said that the changes came about because he felt like he had unintentionally misled the commissioners as to their duties and terms of service.

At the meeting, Johnson said that he had told the volunteer commissioners that they would be on the commission for only a short period of time to review and update the council salaries. However, the commissioners had been appointed to serve up to a four-year term.

Council member Chris Regan said that he understood the repeal action was to “no longer burden the volunteers” with a four-year commitment that they may not have been fully aware of from the outset of the process.

In citizen testimony at the council meeting, Tim Gaughan, one of the salary commissioners, expressed anger that the council was seeking to abolish the commission.

Gaughan noted that the commission was not created until June of 2017, two and a half years after the council had established an ordinance that required the creation of a salary commission.

He noted that the commission had worked to create salary raises that were on par with comparable cities in the state, but said “now at least three of you are unhappy with the 50 percent raise and the process we used.”

At a city council meeting Monday night, Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson said that “I felt like I misled” salary commissioners when he told them the scope of their terms on the commission. Photo by Alex Peru
At a city council meeting Monday night, Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson said that “I felt like I misled” salary commissioners when he told them the scope of their terms on the commission. Photo by Alex Peru

The council members voted six to one in favor of abolishing the ordinance establishing the salary commission, with Deputy Mayor Steven Phelps being the sole negative vote.

In comments after the council meeting, Gaughan said that “they threw the baby out with the bathwater.”

He said that under the salary commission’s suggestions, the council members would have all gotten a raise at the same time, in the beginning of 2019. However, Gaughan said that the council did not like the conclusions of the salary commission, and wished to abolish it.

In a phone call with ClarkCountyToday.com, Mayor Johnson addressed some of these concerns.

Johnson said that the commission was made up of members nominated by members of the  council. The problem arose from comments Johnson made to the appointees.

He said that he had told all of the appointees that serving on the commission was a one time appointment. However, the city ordinance stated that commissioners would serve in a volunteer capacity for up to four years.

Johnson “had promised all five of them it was a one and done deal.” When he found out that it was not a one time appointment, Johnson said “I felt like I misled them.”

Johnson said at the council meeting that to address the potential misinformation, the ordinance had to be repealed.

According to Johnson, with the repeal of the city ordinance, the salary commission is abolished as well. However, he noted that the raises being considered by the council were the same values as those proposed by the salary commission.

If the raises take effect, the mayor’s salary will increase by $200 from $550 to $750 per month. The salaries of the council members will also increase by $200, from $400 to $600 per month. Johnson said that the main difference between the salary commission action and the city council action was the time frame under which the raises will be enacted if approved.

Under the salary commission, all raises would take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The council’s proposed raises would be staggered.

Council members Brian Munson, Chris Regan, Mike Dalesandro and Cherish DesRochers would receive raises effective on Jan. 1, 2018. The positions held by Mayor Johnson, Deputy Mayor Phelps, and Council member Shane Bowman would see raises in 2020.

“We did what the salary commission did,” Johnson said.

He also said that he understood Gaughan was “perturbed,” but that “nothing nefarious” was being attempted by the city council. Johnson said that he “made a promise” regarding the salary commission terms that he felt he could not keep, and the issue needed to be addressed by a vote of city council.

The motion to repeal the salary commission ordinance was passed Monday night. Johnson said that the city council members will vote to approve the proposed raises at the next council meeting, scheduled for Mon., Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. Battle Ground City Council meetings take place at Battle Ground City Hall, located at 109 SW 1st Street in Battle Ground.

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About The Author

Alex Peru is a 2017 graduate of Washington State University Vancouver. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and a double minor in Political Science and Business Administration. Peru grew up in Battle Ground, and graduated from CAM Academy in 2013. He worked for The VanCougar, WSU Vancouver’s campus newspaper, for three years, including one year as the editor-in-chief. When not working, Peru enjoys reading books about history, working on cars and enjoying the outdoors in Clark County’s beautiful rivers, lakes and forests.

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