By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
City Council members gave up their short-lived perk of a lifetime shopper’s permit when they voted unanimously Tuesday, Oct. 7, to rescind the reward they approved for themselves and former elected colleagues in June and modified in August.
Mayor Elizabeth Pearson had previously agreed that it would be a nice gesture for the city to cover the $80 cost of the two-year permits in perpetuity for any council member who served at least one four-year term, which she estimated at about $1,200 a year in lost revenue. But she had a change of heart based on an unfavorable public reaction.
Pearson said she’d gotten a lot of calls from people who didn’t think it appropriate for the city to cover that expense. Since the negative public perception outweighed any benefits, Pearson asked the Council to reconsider. She also noted that although she had approved the perk, it was Council member Toni Iseman who had originally suggested it.
Resident Ed Steinfeld, who opposed the lifetime permit when the Council approved it on Aug. 5, lauded the reversal. “I appreciate you bringing this back up,” he said.
Steinfeld had previously told the Council it was a bad idea to spend taxpayer dollars on something that served no public purpose. Council member Steve Dicterow rebutted that the permit was a form of compensation for Council members who are “grossly under-compensated as is.”
In fact, the item passed on June 17 returned to the Aug. 5 agenda to ensure that public documentation was included in the measure that explained why lifetime permits do not “represent a constitutionally prohibited gift of public funds.” Such an expenditure “is not a gift of public funds if it serves any conceivable public purpose,” Finance Director Gavin Curran said in a staff report. Offering the permits to Council members “serves a public purpose to honor, and signifies the city’s appreciation for, the commitment and dedication of persons providing a public service to the community,” the report concluded.
Steinfeld also pointed out that the council had recently given themselves a raise. Pearson replied that the stipend increase would not take effect until December and wouldn’t affect her, since her term was up at the end of the year.
On June 17, the Council authorized an increase of their monthly stipend to $749 from $560, effective Dec. 1, in a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen dissenting. Council members also receive an $80 per month cell phone stipend, are reimbursed expenses up to $450 a year to attend events, and may choose to participate in the Calpers employee retirement program.
Having voted 3-2 to award themselves lifetime shoppers permits, with Whalen and Council member Kelly Boyd dissenting, the Council voted unanimously Tuesday to reverse that decision.
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