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Editor, Valdez Star 

Council votes to pay itself in second ordinance reading last week

Stipend cannot be paid out until after next municipal elections in 2017


The Valdez City Council voted to institute a stipend for attending regular council meetings.

The move came a week ago Tuesday during a second reading of the ordinance.

Council members Chris Moulton, Lon Needles and the mayor, Ruth Knight, voted against the ordinance.

Council members Ryan McCune, Dennis Fleming, Nate Smith and Lea Cockerham voted to pass the ordinance, that will pay a stipend of $100 to council members for attending regular meetings. The mayor will receive $125.

The stipend will not become effective until after the May, 2017 municipal elections.

The stipend will not be paid for attending special meetings, work sessions or other council functions.

The move, which is not unusual in Alaska or other communities across the country, proved controversial in Valdez.

In the 2016 elections voters said no to pay in an advisory vote, which was not binding.

Smith said he felt the advisory vote, which failed to pass by only four votes, was on the ballot to give council a feel for the community's opinion on the stipend.

He felt that community opinion on the matter is split, 50/50.

He said that meeting was the 31st meeting or function he had attended as a council member this year alone.

"Realistically, not only do I volunteer, I pay to be on council," he said.

Knight, who voted against passage of the council stipend ordinance in its first reading, said she stands behind her original statements.

"I still stand with my comments from last time," she said.

In the first August meeting, Knight said if the stipend passes, she will donate her stipend to charity.

Fleming said he originally opposed paying council a stipend, but has changed his stance once he understood the actual amount of time it takes to serve on council.

"No one's getting rich on this," he said.

He also said that Smith had said in previous discussion that he would pledge his stipend to charity.

"I know it was a very close vote," Moulton said.

While he said he personally supports council members receiving a stipend, he heard the voters, who said no to pay.

"The votes weren't there," he stated, and later added "I'll just wash my hands of the whole thing and just say no."

McCune said if a member does not want the stipend, then donate it.

"If you didn't want to take the money then you put it into charity," McCune said.

The public also weighed in on the topic before council voted.

Alan Sorum, who is married to the mayor, said he believes sitting on council should be a volunteer position. He is also a former council member, has sat on the Ports and Harbor Commission and is a current member of the board of education.

"I really think you shouldn't get paid for that," he said. "There's plenty of people that are willing to do it for no pay."

Carl Hedman also spoke against the stipend.

"Numerous times I've heard from council 'you're here to do the will of the people, not interpret the will of the people,'" Hedman said.

Sara Irwin-Goudreau, a frequent community volunteer, spoke against the stipend.

She said the notion that unwanted stipends being donated to charity, while well intentioned, put an unfair taint on those who choose to keep it.

Doug Davies spoke against the ordinance, but said it was simply not enough money.

"A hundred bucks a meeting, that's chump change," Davies said.

If the logic of a stipend is to offset costs, make it a higher amount he said.

Before voting, Cockerham also weighed in on the topic.

"I hear you as far as volunteerism," he said, referring to remarks that no other volunteer boards or commissioners are paid, and he thanked them for their service. He supported the argument for the stipend that believes paying council members will encourage more people to run for public office. "But this is something I hope will encourage others in the future."


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