Modesto's mayor is more accountable to voters than ever, but that accountability comes at a cost, says Mayor Jim Ridenour.
That's why he's asking the public panel that's reviewing his salary not to recommend cutting his pay. In a letter to the city's salary-setting commission, Ridenour urged the panel to suggest keeping the mayor's salary at $41,040 a year.
"If there were any reductions to the mayor's salary, it would be impossible for someone to be mayor and support a family at the same time," wrote Ridenour. "This cannot be a responsibility that is available only to the wealthy or retired."
Ridenour's and other City Council members' salaries are under scrutiny by the salary-setting commission, which looks at council pay every two years. The panel's recommendations will then go to the City Council.
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The salary panel received Ridenour's letter at its Thursday meeting. Councilman Dave Geer attended the meeting and asked the panel not to suggest giving the council raises because the city is facing another year of budget cuts.
The session ended with commissioners leaning toward keeping council pay as is, said Chairman Hugh Rose III, a retired judge. But the panel won't make a formal decision until the public has a chance to weigh in, he said.
The five-member commission was created by Measure M, a set of government reforms voters passed in 2008.
That same ballot measure created new powers for Modesto's mayors, giving them more influence over the city budget. Before Measure M, the city manager prepared the budget on his own, then presented it to the council for tweaking. Now the mayor is involved in the budget process from the beginning, recommending cuts and spending increases.
That new role increased the demands on the mayor's time, Ridenour told the commission. Before Measure M, he spent about 40 hours a week on all of his mayoral duties. Now, during the spring budget season, Ridenour said he spends at least 40 hours a week on budget duties alone.
Ridenour noted that he also maintains a brisk travel schedule representing Modesto's interests from Sacramento to Washington, D.C.
Ridenour retired in 2003 as an executive at an ambulance company. He still works as a reserve sheriff's deputy. Since Measure M, he said he spends only a few days a month at the job.
Ridenour, who terms out in 2011, said he wrote the letter not to preserve his paycheck, but with an eye toward whoever runs for his job next year.
"I'm not telling them that I should make $100,000, but they're going to have to pay a living wage or they're not going to have somebody that can spend the time there," Ridenour said. "In one year and however many months, somebody could be looking at this job saying, 'Wait a minute, I can't close my business or quit my job.' "
When the salary-setting commission met in 2008, it recommended raises for the mayor and City Council members. Council members' pay was increased to $2,000 a month from $800. Some council members declined the raise. Last year, some council members, including the mayor, volunteered for 5 percent pay cuts in light of the city's budget troubles.
The salary-setting commission's next meeting is scheduled for March 11 at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. The exact time and location haven't been announced.