Huntsville Mayor vetoes approved pay raises; council expected to override

Huntsville Mayor vetoes approved pay raises

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle vetoed council approved pay raises for his position and the city council on Friday. Devyn Keith, council president, responded Friday afternoon saying council will vote to override Battle’s veto at their next meeting.

Huntsville’s City Council passed an ordinance that would have increased salaries for the mayoral and council positions after the 2020 election during a Thursday meeting.

The ordinance increased the Mayor’s salary to $176,000 a year. It increased City Council Member salaries to $44,000 a year and the City Council President salary to $49,000 per year.

Mayor Battle sent this statement announcing the veto:

“I hereby Veto Ordinance no. 19-769 pertaining to the annual salary for Mayor and City Council.

As stated, while I deeply appreciate the intent of Council, I have said I am satisfied with my salary and knew what it was when I went into public service. My focus remains on our 2,100 employees and the job I was elected to do as Mayor.

The Council and I also have a philosophical difference on the job of City Council and how they should be compensated. I previously had the honor of serving as a Council Member. A Council Member should strive to be involved in the community, to bring constituent ideas to City Hall and provide an additional voice to the needs of their districts. I respect that Council Members deserve remuneration to offset hours away from their full-time jobs. This increase changes the intent of the position of citizen/lawmaker. Paying a City Council Member $44,000 to $49,000 a year is more than a City firefighter’s or a school teacher’s annual salary.

Again, this is a difference in ideas and beliefs. I think increasing Council salaries will make the role become more of an employee position than one as representative of the people."

City Council reaction:

WAFF reached out to City Council Members for a response to the veto. Council Member Jennie Robinson, who was the only council member to vote against the raise said she supported Mayor Battle’s decision. Robinson said she doesn’t believe council members should be full-time professional politicians. She echoed the Mayor’s sentiment that they should not be paid more than teachers, firefighters, or police officers.

City Council President Devyn Keith held a press conference Friday afternoon. He says he respectfully disagrees with the Mayor.

City Council President Devyn Keith’s reaction:

“Today our Mayor, Tommy Battle, expressed his concerns about offering a pay raise to elected public servants. He vetoed our ordinance, citing a fundamental “philosophical difference.”

My guiding philosophy is that working-class people, everyday Huntsvillians, should be able to afford to run for office if they choose to. As we all know, most people cannot afford to run for local office. Politics often excludes people in the prime of their working or educational career. Politics excludes people who have access to wealth, excluding working-class people.

Although I appreciate our Mayor’s integrity, I believe people who aren’t members of the developer class, people who aren’t lucrative business owners or wealthy, should be able to afford running for local office—whether that person is a freshly minted college grad, or a single parent. This decision isn’t about Mayor Battle or any particular City Council Member. I encourage him to take up the commitment that other elected officials have and donate the portion he feels is surplus to a local non-profit. This ordinance is about who can afford to influence the direction of the city they live in.

Mayor Battle also indicated his commitment to our municipal employees. I am not the only one who shares that commitment my fellow council members do as well. The mayor insisted on offering a one percent “Cost of Living Adjustment” for all city employees. The council fought for more. In my second year, I introduced a one-time bonus for city retirees, the people who are truly responsible for our city’s greatness. The council supported it. We introduced an ordinance that improved Huntsville Police Department pay and incentives. The council supported it. I’m currently working on legislation that improves firefighter pay. I expect the council to support it.

In my short tenure as District 1 City Council Representative, the mayor and I have been able to work together to accomplish great things for my community. The Johnson Legacy project is outstanding example. If Mayor Battle wants to share his ideas about how to further improve city employee pay, I will call an immediate work session.

The Mayor’s “philosophy” implicitly reiterates that only elites, people who’d find their salaries inconsequential, should be in charge of our city. I don’t represent one working-class person who would refuse a pay raise if offered one. I’m hopeful that one day, long after Mayor Battle and I have left office, working-class people will be able to afford to run for city offices. We need more working-class people in office, not less.”

This is the second time this summer the city council passed an ordinance giving the Mayor a pay raise. The first ordinance was passed in August and was also vetoed by Mayor Battle. Like the ordinance passed Thursday, the raise would not have gone into effect until after the 2020 elections cycle.

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