5:26 PM EST, January 30, 2013
The charter revision process invites new ideas, but new ideas aren't always good ideas. Take for example the audacious and spectacularly tone-deaf idea put forth by Hartford councilwoman Cynthia R. Jennings to the city's charter revision commission. She has proposed that council members become full-time and be paid $90,000 a year, plus $15,000 for expenses.
Not happening. Not a chance.
Ms. Jennings, a first-term council member, said Monday that council jobs are "not part-time" and members should be paid for the full-time work they do. She said members should not make less than their staffers do, as is now the case, and should have salaries comparable to city department heads.
A full-time salary would allow council members to give up other jobs and avoid potential conflicts of interest, she said. Ms. Jennings, a lawyer, said she has had to cut back on the scope of her legal work to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The issue of whether members of legislative bodies should be paid, and if so at what level, has been around for decades. Hartford council members are paid $15,000 a year, making them the highest-paid council members in the state. Her proposal, with increased benefits, would stick the city for $1 million a year.
Hartford is almost broke. If it could find another $1 million, there are more pressing needs. The charter envisions the council as a part-time policy-making body whose main duties are legislative and budgetary. To adopt the changes Ms. Jennings proposes would fundamentally alter the system, and there is no need or perceptible taxpayer demand for such a change.
Hopefully Ms. Jennings went into the job with eyes wide open. As councilman Kenneth Kennedy said in opposing a council raise proposed in 2008, council work is public service, a privilege that involves some sacrifice. Ms. Jennings said she and other members devote a lot of time to community events. That's to their credit, but it must be its own reward.
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