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By C. Jayden Smith
A proposal by Mayor Gene James could more than double the pay that San Clemente’s elected officials make. During the previous council meeting on Feb. 15, James motioned to start the process of potentially doubling future councilmembers’ pay, from around $400 to $860.
James’ motion was supported by Councilmember Laura Ferguson and Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan, which will allow city staff to produce a report on the matter and soon bring it back to the council for consideration.
After several people approached James and mentioned how little pay San Clemente councilmembers receive in relation to other elected officials in Orange County cities, he felt comfortable enough to try to agendize the discussion at the meeting.
“We have not taken a pay increase in 23 years,” James said during last week’s meeting. “We’re allowed to calculate 5% per year, and not give ourselves a raise, but to give the next council a raise.”
The council could do so under California’s Government Code Section 36516.4.
The proposal follows an Orange County Register article published in late January that listed the stipends city councilmembers receive in Orange County, with Anaheim topping the list of the highest average compensation in one year.
According to the California State Controller’s Office, San Clemente’s councilmembers received an annual compensation of $4,984 in 2020, with $186 going to a deferred compensation plan—the only support the city provided in terms of a retirement and health contributions.
Monthly, councilmembers receive $399.83 in stipends.
As the longest serving councilmember in San Clemente, Kathy Ward said the reason the stipend has remained so low was that previous councils wanted to discourage candidates from running for financial gain.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Duncan jokingly responded, which was met with a laughter from the audience at last week’s meeting.
During an interview on Wednesday, Feb. 23, James said he felt that the current council’s pay was too low for the amount of work that the officials do and time they spend for the city, which can total as much as 40 hours.
He said that the $400 does not even cover his gas bill for all the miles he drives within San Clemente alone.
“There’s no way we’d ever get compensated at market rates for what we do,” James said. “However, at the very least, we should receive some amount of compensation to at least cover our expenses, such as gasoline, buying an occasional lunch for a constituent, that sort of thing.”
San Clemente resident Bill Malamud is one private citizen who has been vocal about the council receiving higher pay for several years. He remembers multiple occasions in which the matter has been previously discussed, with all failing at some stage or another.
“It’s kind of nonsense,” Malamud said. “It’s not like the amount matters that much.”
Regarding the time-consuming nature of the position, he believes it is reasonable for councilmembers to be paid more, as much as $1,250 per month, in his fair-but-frugal view.
James said he was pleasantly surprised by the support he received at the meeting by the other councilmembers, especially considering that he had not talked privately to any of them before mentioning the raise, nor since.
That lack of conversation also made James unsure of whether a future vote would pass, and he figured that since he was contacted about the issue, other councilmembers may be as well, which could swing the way the vote goes.
Conversely, Malamud is confident that a proposed raise would receive enough votes to pass.
“I don’t see why they would turn this down,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that political of an issue, frankly.”
As of this posting, Councilmember Ward was unavailable to provide additional comment for this story.
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.