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First, decide job requirements; then consider pay

Coming up in May, Gresham's voters will have an opportunity to solve a real problem.

The Gresham City Council is leaving it up to voters to decide if the city's finance committee should be given the power to establish annual compensation for the mayor and city councilors.

It's an idea well worth exploring, and that we hope is not summarily dismissed by folks who view compensation as just more misspent tax dollars. This idea has merit, with the potential of paying dividends now and into the future.

This issue comes down to questions of what a community wants from its mayor; but it's also a matter of fairness.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis owns a restaurant in downtown Gresham. What most folks would find hard to fathom is that Bemis spends about 40 hours a week — most of his work week — at City Hall, performing the duties required of a mayor of the state's fourth-largest city. He spends a fraction of that time at his business, which he relies on to support his family.

Though Bemis makes it work, the same would not be true for just about anyone else. Few business owners or employees would be able to devote so much time away from their jobs in favor of volunteering full time for city government. But that's what's asked of Bemis. And because Bemis will not be mayor forever, it's what will be asked of his replacement.

In 2014, Bemis was compensated at $6,376 to cover such things as cellphone usage, travel and meals.

The lack of compensation will severely limit the pool of future mayoral candidates to people who are unemployed and/or independently wealthy, or retired and are looking to slow down.

The notion of compensating mayors and city councilors isn't new.

The city of Portland pays Mayor Charlie Hales more than $131,000 annually. The mayor of Beaverton is paid more than $165,000. In Eugene (the state's second largest city) the mayor is paid nearly $22,000 a year.

Generally, cities with a strong form of mayor — those who serve as mayor and city manager — tend to pay the best. Cities that employ city managers tend to pay their mayor and councilors much less.

In order to arrive at fair compensation, a city should really hone its expecations. If you want a mayor who will attend ribbon cuttings and council meetings, then a volunteer status may work just fine.

But if you expect a mayor to serve as the out-front advocate for the city by participating in meetings with nearby municipal, county and regional governments; taking a central role in strategic planning and implementation; serving as a lobbyist to state and federal governments; as well as serving in a ceremonial capacity, then you may well conclude that you're asking too much of an unpaid volunteer.

Gresham has moved beyond a time when the mayor could get away with a few hours a week for social events and city council meetings. The demands on Gresham's mayor have grown to the scale of a full-time job. It's time the residents of Gresham acknowledge that reality.

Gresham needs a hard-driving mayor who works every day in the best interests of the community.

Fast forward to May: Gresham's residents will be asked to amend the city charter by giving the city's finance committee the power to establish annual compensation for the mayor and City Council.

We hope the residents clearly understand the limitations placed on the pool of candidates when the job demands full-time service without compensation.

And we hope voters will at least acknowledge the inequity of reaping the benefits of a full-time mayor without offering fair compensation.

To a lesser extent, the same is true for city councilors, who also put in many hours, but not nearly as much as the mayor.

We strongly recommend that Gresham residents vote yes on this charter amendment.

Annual salararies

Here's a look at the annual salaries for mayors at 10 cities across Oregon. The cities are arranged in order of their 2010 population ranking, beginning with Portland and ending with Corvallis. In some cases, the mayor and even city council members receive other forms of compensation, such as a technology stipened to cover Internet service at their homes. Most mayors and city councilors are compensated for cellular phones, mileage, meals and other travel expenses. The dollar amounts shown here are specific to mayors and their budgeted annual salaries.

• PORTLAND MAYOR: $131,560

• EUGENE MAYOR: $21,791

• SALEM MAYOR: $0.00 (volunteer)

• GRESHAM MAYOR: $0.00 (volunteer)

• HILLSBORO MAYOR: $24,000

• BEAVERTON MAYOR: $165,516

• BEND MAYOR: $2,400

• MEDFORD MAYOR: $0.00 (volunteer)

• SPRINGFIELD MAYOR: $0.00 (volunteer)

• CORVALLIS MAYOR: $0.00 (volunteer)

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