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Gresham voters authorize compensation of mayor, city councilors

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Gresham voters approved compensation for Mayor Shane Bemis, above, and Gresham City Councilors. In an unprecedented move, voters in Gresham have said yes to giving the city’s Finance Committee oversight on compensation for the mayor and council.

The measures, 26-166 and 16-167, passed by 70 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

On 26-166, 5,485 residents voted for and 2,336 voted against. On ballot measure 16-167, 5,153 residents voted for and 2,632 voted against.

Of Gresham's 50,574 eligible voters, only 7,326 - or 14.5 percent - cast ballots.

“I’m in shock,” said Councilor Lori Stegmann. “It’s a confirmation that people really recognize and appreciate the sacrifices and the time that we’ve given.”

In March, the Gresham Mayor and City Council decided to put the measures to voters during the May 19 special election with some stipulations in place: the mayor’s compensation will not exceed 45 percent of that paid to the Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners ($147,604 annually) and the salary of the councilors will not exceed 45 percent of the compensation paid to an elected Metro councilor (about $40,000 annually).

Leading up to the vote, two citizen’s groups held forums on the issue where residents criticized the measures for not being more specific in what would be paid to the mayor and council.

Now that the measures have passed, it will be under the discretion of the Finance Committee how much compensation the mayor and council will receive and whether or not they would also earn things like health insurance and other benefits. The discussions of the Finance Committee will be open to public input.

Currently, the councilors and the mayor are not compensated, but they do receive stipends of $160 a month to cover such things as gas for city-related travel and cellphone usage.

Those that supported the measures argued during the forums that the city needed to pay its elected officials so that it could attract a wider range of individuals to serve the city. Without compensation, the pool of candidates is mostly limited to retirees or wealthy individuals with flexible jobs.

Historically, Gresham residents have voted down measures that asked for specific compensation amounts during at least three prior elections.

“It was never about the money and I would still do it even if it wasn’t paid,” Stegmann said. “But it’s just nice to have that affirmation of the value that a caring, dedicated individual brings to the city. It really validates the hard work that we’ve all put in.”