Ever since Stephen Cassidy took office as Mayor of San Leandro I’ve been hearing grumblings about how he is just not around City Hall very much, he doesn’t go to ribbon cuttings and other community events and is just not available. His lack of availability is, of course, easy to understand. Unlike his predecessors on the job, Cassidy holds a full-time job and, as the father of two young girls, has predictable family obligations. Santos, the previous mayor, was retired and Sheila Young owns some kind of consulting business, I think, and did not have children at home.
Currently, the Mayor of San Leandro is paid about $30K a year for his services. This is quite a lot of money for a second, part-time job (the president of the School Board, by comparison, makes less than $3K a year), but it’s not enough as a primary income to support a family. It is possible for a Mayor to augment that salary by joining regional commissions that pay stipends, Sheila Young is said to have brought her income up to $80K by joining every paying commission she could, but I’m not sure if that’s wise from a policy point of view. There seems to be some good in involving the whole Council on intra-city affairs (something which both Santos and Cassidy have done).
But as long as we pay our Mayor only $30K a year, we are going to be limited to mayors who do the job part time, while holding another job, or who do not need the salary (e.g. people who are retired or who are not the primary wage earners in their families). The latter may not be the best choices for mayor of San Leandro (as we saw by voters choosing Cassidy to Santos & Starosciak), ad the former will just not be able to do the job full-time.
So I think we should start entertaining the idea of having a full time mayor and paying him a full time salary. The salary does not need to be extravagant, I’m thinking something in the order of $100-130K a year (+ benefits), about half of what a City Manager makes, but sufficient to attract educated, intelligent members of our community to the job. Yes, such a salary is probably way below what Cassidy makes right now as a partner in a major law firm, but public service does require some personal sacrifice.
If we are going to pay for a full-time mayor, of course, we want him to do things other than go to grad openings and meet with the city manager. We’ll want him to do, I would imagine, some of the policy work that the City Manager does. That would of course mean changing our City Charter to give him more responsibilities. Which ones exactly would have to be worked out by people who know what the City Manager’s job actually entails.
With a Mayor doing part of the City Manager’s job, we would not need to have a City Manager, a deputy City Manager and a Assistant City Manager. As the mayor would make less than each of those three, this would be a overall savings for the city. Fiscally, it makes sense to do.
But does it make sense from a policy point of view? I think yes. As things are, this is a City Manager ran city, where the Mayor has little power. The City Manager runs things, and one of the first things that Hollister did when he was appointed City Manager was move out of town – so that he would not have to live with the consequences of his actions or feel the ire of his own neighbors when he screwed up. Living out of town, the City Manager has no real incentives to do a good job for the community or day to day accountability for his actions. Plus he has no opportunity to hear the community, to experience what works and what doesn’t, to understand the city a way a resident does. We cannot require a City Manager to live in town the way we can require a mayor. If a Mayor angers the community, we can either recall him or not re-elect him. To do that to a City Manager, we would have to first get four members of the City Council in our side and then have to pay his contract off.
Now, it is true that a City Manager hopefully has technical knowledge that a Mayor does not have – but I don’t think we need to get rid of the city manager altogether, just limit his role to those areas that require specific technical knowledge, while leaving those that require more policy thinking to the mayor. For example, the Mayor could be responsible for hiring the Chief of Police (with the approval of the Council).
I’m interested in hearing what others think about this idea.