The Times has written several editorials about pay increases for Wilson’s seven council members and the mayor. In this time of political turbulence, the paper’s efforts to hold public servants accountable merit praise.
What does not merit praise is misstating the facts: On June 5, the Times said that the pay “increases would amount to $20,000 in a $200 million budget, or roughly 0.1 percent.” Based on the Times’s own figures, the increases actually amount to only 0.01 percent of the city’s budget.
In the same editorial, the Times also said that the increases represented “37 percent raises for council members and the mayor.” But that’s not right, either. If council member pay goes from $8,730 to $10,881, that is a 25 percent increase — not a 37 percent increase. Finally, the Times claims that “Wilson residents had no opportunity to weigh in” on the proposed increases. But we have had since January to weigh in. In fact, the Times ran several news stories and editorials about this issue and the public hearing on the budget will be held next week.
Perhaps more important is the fact that wages for council members have not increased since 2000. According to a Jan. 23 Times editorial, the cumulative inflation rate since 2000 has been about 35 percent. In other words, the rate of inflation alone argues for a greater increase than the one currently proposed. So, too, do the earnings of nearby council members: In Rocky Mount, city council members earn $13,590. In short, Wilson city council members are underpaid.
The Times is certainly correct that “anyone motivated primarily by the paycheck is not running for the right reasons”— but even at their increased levels, the paychecks for council members are hardly sufficient to entice unprincipled politicking.
Pay raises for elected officials are always unpopular. Donald Evans should be commended, not maligned, for having the courage to do what is right even though it might well be political sabotage. And while the Times should also be commended for holding public officials accountable, it must avoid producing “fake news” in the process. There is enough of that going around as it is.
Editor’s Note: City council members receive combined compensation of $8,730 per year, which includes a $5,400 stipend and $3,330 travel allowance. The proposed $1,998 annual increase would be applied to the stipend only, with the travel allowance unchanged. The stipend would then increase by 37 percent. This has not been adequately explained in news stories and editorials. The Times regrets the omission of this detail. The writer is correct that the proportion of the proposed increase in Wilson’s 2017-18 budget was inaccurate in Tuesday’s editorial. It is 0.01 percent, not 0.1 percent. The Times regrets the error.