Rock Hill City Council members on Monday approved a pay raise for themselves which will go into effect in January.
Councilwoman Kathy Pender cast the only vote against the pay increase.
Monday’s vote was the second and final decision on the council salary increase proposal. Late last month, the council gave its initial unanimous approval to increasing council pay – making up for nearly 25 years of no salary adjustments.
The last time Rock Hill’s elected officials approved a pay raise was in 1988, when the mayor’s pay was increased from $10,560 to $12,560, with an annual $3,600 expense allowance. Then, council members’ pay was increased from $6,000 to $8,000, with an annual $1,800 expense allowance.
Now, council members will make $16,348 each and Mayor Doug Echols will make $25,667. Under the new pay levels, annual expense allowances have been eliminated but the council can submit receipts for reimbursement of certain job-related costs.
While she agreed with some fellow council members’ justification for the pay raises, Pender said after Monday’s vote: “I just didn’t feel comfortable voting myself the raise.”
Other council members noted Rock Hill’s growth and public service improvements over the past two decades as reasons that salary increases are needed. Some said that while they do not serve to make money, increasing the level of pay could help ensure quality candidates are motivated to run for office.
The council first voted in September on the pay raises after a mayor-appointed committee met twice to discuss the elected officials’ compensation.
That committee formally recommended an increase of more money than council members eventually approved. The committee also recommended that the city use a formula to consider future pay raises more frequently.
The council adopted a process on Monday that calls for evaluating its pay every two years.
During discussions in September, many council members said talking about their own salary was uncomfortable.
Monday night’s vote came three weeks after the council’s first vote on the raises.
In that time, Pender said, the “discomfort” surrounding the issue grew for her.
Rock Hill resident and conservative political activist Paul Anderko told the council on Monday night that he saw no problem with council members receiving more money for their service.
The council and mayor actually deserve more than what they approved for themselves on Monday, he said.
But Anderko said he takes issue with the way in which council pay raises were introduced.
The public, he said, did not have an adequate chance to learn about the issue or even know a committee was formed until just before the first council vote.
“It should have been open and it was not,” Anderko said.
The appointed committee members met twice in City Hall to discuss the council’s pay. The meetings weren’t advertised to the public or mentioned at any public meetings until just before the council’s first vote.
The process Rock Hill’s council used to start discussion over the pay raises was not transparent, Anderko said.
And, allowing a mayor-appointed group to discuss spending taxpayer money without inviting the public to attend may have violated South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act or FOIA law, he said.
Anderko referred to a S.C. Supreme Court ruling from 2001 that dealt with an appointed advisory committee.
In that case, Quality Towing vs. the city of Myrtle Beach, state Supreme Court justices found in favor of a business that challenged the legality of closed-door meetings where bids for a city contract were vetted.
Justices wrote then that FOIA law is clear about which government meetings must be opened to the public.
Lawmakers intended for meetings of “advisory bodies” to be open to the public when that group is set up to make recommendations to elected officials, according to the court opinion.
The purpose of FOIA, justices wrote, is to “prevent the government from acting in secret.”
Echols and Councilman Kevin Sutton both said they disagreed with Anderko’s assertion that the committee meetings legally needed to be open to the public and that the process lacked transparency.
The council’s two “readings” and votes on the pay raise proposal, they said, provided a chance for the public to comment on the issue.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068