300% Increase Justified Because of Council's Privileged Past - TribPapers

300% Increase Justified Because of Council’s Privileged Past

Eric Edgerton. Photo by Clint Parker.

Woodfin – As a member of the Woodfin Town Council, it is my sincere hope that our citizens take pride in the many superlatives that are correctly applied to our town. Woodfin is undoubtedly one of the safest and most naturally beautiful municipalities that one can find across the state. I suspect, however, that the average resident is unaware that Woodfin is exceptional in another way: it has historically compensated its elected officials less than virtually any other municipality of its size.

The $200 per month paid to Woodfin’s Town Council members is three to four times lower than that paid to the elected officials in Forest City and Marion (both smaller municipalities than Woodfin) respectively, and is more than 2.5 times lower than the average among similarly sized municipalities statewide. Based on the time required to serve as a town council member, we receive roughly $6.60 per hour, or about 10% less than the state minimum wage. With most entry-level jobs now starting around $15 an hour, the Town Council recognizes that the anomalously low compensation paid to its members constitutes a significant opportunity cost for those contemplating running for office.

Framed differently, because literally any member of the labor force could receive significantly higher compensation for their time than that which they would be paid for serving on town council. Only those with the financial privilege to forgo the opportunity to receive reasonable compensation for their time currently have the luxury of being able to choose to run for office. What is more, there is reason to believe that the barrier to entry that the Town places between its less-privileged citizens and its Council is in fact, yielding inequitable results.

An understanding of several objective data points is required to explain the inequitable outcomes the current compensation structure produces. From the 2020 Census, we know that the average age in Woodfin is 39, the average income is $31,000 per capita or $50,000 per household, and roughly one-quarter of the town belongs to a race or ethnicity other than white. With these demographic figures in mind, it is clear to see that, although it is tasked with representing the citizens of Woodfin, the current Town Council does not resemble the average Woodfin resident in the slightest.

We are, on average, older, whiter, and wealthier than the average Woodfinner; additionally, even a cursory glance at the portraits of previous councils that adorn the walls of our council chambers confirms that this is not a new development.It strains credulity to think that there could be no causal link between the economic barrier to entry described above and the fact that, for more than 50 years now, virtually every member of the town’s governing body has come from a background of privilege.

In recognition of the fact that it would be fundamentally undemocratic to allow a condition to exist that limits membership on the Town Council to the financially privileged, we have voted to bring Woodfin in line with its peer municipalities when it comes to the issue of council compensation. Because the entire goal of taking this step is to allow people who do not come from a background of privilege to run for this office and not to benefit those of us who are already on the town council, we have deliberately designed this compensation change in a way to minimize the benefit to current council-members.

Specifically, we have delayed the effective date of this change until after the November 2023 election, meaning that the majority of current council members will never receive a compensation increase (unless they choose to run again and are reelected), while the benefit to the minority whose terms continue past 2023 will be minimized to the greatest extent that is technically feasible given state laws governing council compensation.

And now I must ask for your help. While we have removed the barrier to entry posed by the town’s anomalously low council compensation, that change achieves nothing if the public is not aware of it. To that end, I would ask anyone reading this to consider who in their community might make an exceptional town council member and let that person know about the changes we have made. The candidate filing period for next year’s election opens soon, and I sincerely hope to see some new faces in the race when it does!

Editor’s Note: Eric Edgerton is a Woodfin Town Councilman.