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Council spikes mayor’s pay

The next person elected mayor of Demopolis won’t have to worry about the position’s meager $18,000 salary. The Demopolis City Council agreed Thursday to hike the next mayor’s annual pay to $30,000.

The council also openly discussed the “full-time” duties of the mayor, but did not specifically indicate the job title will be changed to full-time.

Austin Caldwell, who has served as mayor for nearly two decades, has symbolically worked as a part-time mayor during his tenure, and even he agreed that a pay raise is in order. Only problem for Caldwell, of course, is that he is not running for mayor in the city’s Aug. 24 elections.

On July 13, 2003, Mike Grayson publicly announced his intentions to run for the seat. Since then, no one else has even hinted at the possibility of replacing Caldwell. And to Councilman Thomas Moore, that was one of the reasons for the mayoral pay raise.

“I think we need to do this in an effort increase the pool of candidates in this election,” Moore said. “I’ve had some concerns raised to me about [the lack of candidates], and I happen to share those concerns.”

There are other reasons council members unanimously agreed for the pay increase — starting with a glimpse at Caldwell’s calendar.

“I think it’s a full-time position,” said Ronnie O’Neal, “and we need to make it a full-time salary. We’ve been lucky to have Austin, and if you’re going to do the job right, it’s a full-time position.”

Those familiar with the operation of city government in Demopolis fully understand O’Neal’s reasoning. Caldwell, who is retired, works far more than 40 hours a week. He attends ceremonies, fields phone calls at home and serves as host for nearly every public event in town.

“You’ve got the early morning meetings, the weekends, and I’m there from eight to five, except during wellness,” Caldwell said. “Then again, if I want to leave for a hair cut, I do.”

When asked his opinion, Caldwell — in typical fashion — shrugged his shoulders in agreement.

“I think it’s probably commensurate with the amount of work in the job,” he said.

Initially, Moore suggested the new mayor’s salary be increased to $40,000. Councilmen O’Neal and Willard Williams agreed. However, Mike Baker and Woody Collins were concerned with what amounted to a 120-percent raise for the position.

Along with the annual salary, the mayor also serves as superintendent of the city’s water board, which carries a $600 monthly salary. If the next mayor is appointed to that position by the council, and the water board agrees to pay that amount, the mayor would earn an extra $7,200 from the water board.

“I believe the position is warranted for a raise, but I do question the amount,” Collins said.

In the end, the conversation turned back to increasing the number of candidates who run for mayor.

“I’ve personally discussed this with all the council members, and I guess one of the concerns is that you’d get people running for mayor just for the pay,” Moore said. “But I think we have to trust the electorate not to select someone who will be there just for the money. I think we can trust the people, but it’s a concern.”

According to state law, a city must improve a pay raise for council members or the mayor six months before the election. Tuesday, Feb. 24, marks the deadline for increasing the pay. At Thursday’s council meeting, members simply agreed to raise the pay. A new ordinance that repeals the old salary will be drafted and formally adopted at a special called meeting of the council on Monday.

While council members openly discussed the need for the mayoral position to be compensated for full-time work, there is a fine line between the legal name placed on a mayor. If the council were to change the title of the mayor to full-time, municipal code has strict regulations on other jobs that mayor can hold.

After the meeting, Caldwell said he didn’t believe council members wanted to formally change the mayor’s position to full-time.

“If you do that, the mayor can’t own other businesses,” he said.

When contacted after the meeting, O’Neal initially believed the title should be changed. But upon understanding the intent of the law, he said that’s not something the city should do.