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Commerce City Council OK’s Its Own 35% Pay Raise

Money bag

 

Commerce Councilman Joe Aguilar is retiring from the council, yet voted yes for the increase.

Commerce Councilman Joe Aguilar is retiring from the council, yet voted yes for the increase.

 

Commerce City Council

 

Councilwoman Denise Robles cast the lone no vote during second reading, outgoing Councilman Joe Aguilar does his friends a favor by voting yes for the raise.

By Tammye McDuff and Brian Hews

Two weeks ago, the Commerce City Council participated in a “first reading” and voted to give themselves a hefty 35.5 percent pay increase. The raise, with Councilman Ivan Altimirano making the first motion to vote, seconded by outgoing Councilman Joe Aguilar, was then approved by Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, Mayor pro tem Lilia R. Leon, and Councilwoman Denise Robles.

After learning of the motion, Hews Media Group-Community News emailed the Mayor, Mayor pro tem, and councilmembers for comment on the huge increase.

Not one official responded.

The “second reading” to authorize the pay increase took place at last Tuesday’s regular city council meeting with only a majority needed to approve the raise.

This time the vote was 4-1 with Councilwoman Robles voting against the pay increase.

The $371.89 boost, would raise council pay to $1,434 per month, up from $1,062.55, and will cost taxpayers an estimated $22,300 a year.

According to an LA Times analysis, the state guideline for Commerce City Council compensation is $12,191, the raise will take total pay to $17,208.

Adding other perks, such as health benefits and payment for sitting on special boards,  total pay will increase from $26,293 to $31,310.

In contrast, council members in the neighboring city of Norwalk, a city 15 times the size of Commerce, earn only $1,000 per month.

After the vote, Robles was immediately attacked by two of her colleagues.

An angry Mayor pro tem Lilia Leon lashed out at Robles saying, “so you approved the increase last week, and now you are voting no? Are you going to take the compensation?”

Robles responded, “I am not going to answer you right now, I will tell you in four months.”

To which Leon said, “the increase is next month is it not?” She was corrected by staff, who told a perplexed Leon that the increase was in April 2015.

Leon responded with “interesting” then requested the conversation be placed “on the record.”

After the meeting Robles told HMG-CN, “City council has not had an increase in a few years, and I do believe all should be compensated fairly.  However, as the decision makers and leaders of not only making decisions to pay, we also make decisions for [resident] fees.”

Robles went on to say, “the council has not reduced fees for residents to the level they were a few years ago, thus I cannot justify an increase to our salary.  We are in office to serve the people and do what is best for the residents.  Fiscal responsibility is a must.

I originally voted yes on the increase, due to being intimidated by one of my colleagues. After all I have been through during my term, I admit – I did not want to face controversy yet again.  But at the second reading of the item, I voted no, as I had originally planned. I had to do what is right, even if I am not in the majority. As expected I was immediately taunted by two of my colleagues. As a public servant I must continue to put the needs of the residents before my own.”

Once voters pick their next mayor and fill the council seats in the Mar. 3, 2015 election, the raise will take effect in April.

Because Commerce is a general law city, the current council had to vote to increase the next council’s pay, and California law allows them to increase salaries by an amount equal to 5 percent a year since the last adjustment.

That last adjustment was 2007 in Commerce’s case, and the council voted to increase salaries as much as the law allows.

“Thirty-five percent is excessive. Imagine if your employee group came to you for that amount,” said resident Mike Alvarado, “you would say no, I know the Commerce Council would say no. Being a Councilmember is not intended to be a full-time job.”

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