In what was a heated meeting last night, the Jacksonville City Council approved a bill that would require each council member to submit, in writing, notification of whether they are accepting or rejecting any salary increases, much to the dismay of the original bill’s author, Republican Rory Diamond.
As it was originally filed, Diamond’s legislation, which he called the “No Obligatory Pay Enlargement” or NOPE bill, would have removed council members' salary increases from the annual budget and would have required the council to file a separate, standalone bill to increase pay across the board.
But the language was amended to give each individual council member the power to accept or reject their own pay raise, which is based on the cost of living.
“The amendment guts the bill,” Diamond said. “It denies a public hearing, it denies public participation, it denies the ability for our constituents to know how we vote, either yes or no, on a council pay raise.”
Several of Diamond’s council colleagues accused him of playing politics.
“I believe this is posturing. I believe that this is designed to divide us, and the irony of it is I had no idea we actually got a raise,” said Councilwoman Brenda Priestly-Jackson. “I thought it was something to do with my flexible medical spending account and something changed. I really didn’t know.”
The 2020 budget included a raise of more than $2,000 for all council members, bringing most of their salaries above $52,000.
Councilman Matt Carlucci said Diamond could have just rejected the raise as he did. Diamond said he didn’t know that was an option. “Had I known, I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “I ended up having to give mine to charity.”
But Carlucci said not everyone can afford to pass up an opportunity to earn more money, even those serving in an elected position.
“I have served on city councils where members needed a little bit of a raise, and they were great contributing members, but they didn’t have a lot of wealth,” said Carlucci. “And I think that’s part of our diversity, that’s part of what makes this body great, is that anybody can run and if they’re elected they can serve.”
In the end, the council voted 11 to 7 to approve the amendment, which Councilman Michael Boylan described as a compromise. “The amendment offers us an opportunity to truly be transparent, individually,” he said.
The council members’ individual decisions regarding pay raises will be posted each year on the city council website.
“I know this has been a tough vote. I’ll take a first down if I can’t get a touchdown, so I ask everyone to support the bill even though it has been gutted,” Diamond said ahead of the final vote.
The legislation was approved unanimously as amended.