Flaws found in process of setting elected officials’ salaries

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SAN DIEGO — The city of San Diego should change the way salaries for elected officials are set and place alternatives before voters next year, the county grand jury concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The current system is “fundamentally flawed” and “creates a conflict of interest by requiring council members to vote for their own base wages,” the report says.

Every two years, a Salary Setting Commission made up of residents meets to determine the appropriate salaries for council members, the mayor and city attorney. Its recommended adjustments are then sent to the City Council for approval.

Because San Diego municipal finances have been so weak until the last year or so, the council members have been loath to raise their pay. As a result, the base compensation of the mayor has been frozen at $100,464 since 2003, and the pay of council members has been $75,386 since that time.

The grand jury said the cost of living has risen 25 percent in the interim.

“The resulting relatively low compensation, as compared with private- sector salaries for jobs with similar responsibilities, may discourage qualified individuals from running for public office,” the report says.

“The grand jury recommends an amendment to the City Charter by which salaries of the mayor and council members are determined by an external benchmark,” the report says. “This would eliminate the need for a council vote on mayor and City Council salaries.”

The grand jurors found that of the eight largest cities in the state, San Diego’s mayor has the lowest salary — despite having the second-largest population. City Council pay, which varied widely among the cities, was fifth.

The grand jury suggested linking the salaries to two commonly used benchmarks — the pay of Superior Court judges or the consumer price index — but did not recommend either one.

The report called for the City Council’s new Charter Review Committee to look at the salary issue and place a City Charter amendment on salaries before voters in the June 2016 election. The committee was set up to examine San Diego’s primary governing document and place recommended changes on the ballot.

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