The Oak Creek Town Board was wise to hold off on raising the mayor's salary.
At a meeting Thursday night, the board decided to table approval of an ordinance increasing the mayor's pay from $90 per month to $1,100 per month and providing nominal increases to Town Board members.
Town Board members have time to reconsider the ordinance, which is more than just a pay increase. In essence, the board's proposal constitutes a change in the town's form of government from a council-manager system to a strong-mayor system.
We believe such a fundamental shift in town government is a decision that should be made by the town's voters, not the Town Board.
Board members said the motivation for increasing the mayor's salary more than 10 times is that, in the absence of a town manager, the mayor is required to put in significant hours. Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman often works more than 40 hours per week, residents and staff agree.
The pay increase is not Rodeman's initiative, and it should be noted that she supports allowing residents to vote on the issue.
Rodeman had a key role in getting Oak Creek to this point. When she ran for mayor in April 2002, her platform included eliminating the town manager's position. She said a town manager was not a necessity in a community the size of Oak Creek and that eliminating the position would create considerable savings. Town Manager Ray Leibensperger resigned just before Rodeman took office and wasn't replaced.
The voters knew Rodeman wanted to eliminate the town manager's position when they voted for her. That was part of the deal. But paying her what amounts to a full-time salary to perform the town manager's duties was not.
Rodeman already is paid more than Oak Creek mayors have been in the past. Last summer, the Town Board voted to hire her as a grant writer at the rate of $25 per hour for 32 hours of work per month or $800 per month. We opposed that decision, arguing that it was inappropriate for the Town Board to hire the mayor for a paid position.
If Rodeman is re-elected and the Town Board moves forward with its pay increase, the mayor could be drawing as much as $1,900 per month from the town. At that level, the mayor's job should be very different than it is at $90 per month.
When the Town Board decided to table its decision Thursday, board members said they wanted staff to research whether a clause could be added to the ordinance reducing the salary back to $90 per month if the mayor doesn't put in enough hours. That's faulty logic. Either the town should pay its mayor or it shouldn't.
We're not opposed to paying the Oak Creek mayor a full-time salary. In fact, an argument could be made that the salary on the table isn't enough.
Oak Creek has an election in April. That's plenty of time for the board to redefine the roles and responsibilities of the town's mayor, settle on a fair and reasonable salary for meeting those duties, and finally, put the plan before the town's voters.