Orange City Council members are looking to cut their successors — and potentially themselves if reelected — $600 monthly checks from city coffers following the 2022 general election.

Council members voted 4-3 Tuesday night to adopt ordinances granting future elected officials an option to get a salary, compensation that was eliminated a decade ago.

“Our candidates have the opportunity to not be disenfranchised because they can’t afford time or money or any other barrier to participate in the City Council.”

Councilman Chip Monaco

Monaco, who could accept compensation if reelected to office in 2022, said he “likely won’t take it” if selected to serve another term.

According to a city staff report, residents indicated the lack of compensation could be a financial barrier to serving as an elected official.

In 2016, the City Council cancelled the general municipal election because the only ones who filed candidate papers were incumbents.

Mayor Mark Murphy, as well as Councilwomen Arianna Barrios and Kim Nichols, voted against compensation Tuesday.

“We had a lengthy discussion and an argument that we couldn’t go to a special election because it was $120,000 and so the fact that we would then turn around and pay ourselves just doesn’t sit right for me. So, I have a really principled problem with that.”

Councilwoman Arianna Barrios

Earlier this year, Councilman Mike Alvarez resigned from his seat after a Superior Court judge ruled he was ineligible for another term. The council appointed county employee Kathy Tavoularis in his place instead of going through a special election.

In the last November election, about 75% of voters in the city of Tustin approved a measure to give their city officials compensation according to the limitations of state law.

Nichols said the council should ask the community about compensation at the next election.

Orange council members also voted 5-2 — with Murphy and Barrios dissenting — to adopt an ordinance to reimburse themselves for expenses incurred while on official duty, something the City Council also got rid of a decade ago. 

“We’ve seen that the city specifically is not represented at numerous items where we should be advocating for things that we not only need but we demand of our state government and our voices have been silenced because unfortunately, we can’t constantly go to Sacramento, fly back and forth,” said Councilman Jon Dumitru while voting for reimbursement of expenses.

The salary and reimbursement decisions came during the same meeting where over 20 people showed up to rally around Mary’s Kitchen after the city chose to shutter the longstanding local soup kitchen.

If all seven people on the council accept the salary compensation, it would cost the city $50,400 the first year from the general fund, according to the staff report.

City of Orange Civic Center. Credit: JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

Orange and Villa Park are the only cities in Orange County where officials are not paid to serve in their elected positions.

“$600 a month is peanuts and the council deserves it. Orange is not Villa Park,” said Tavoularis. “We need to be like every other city. If Villa Park wants to be out there on their own and not pay their council, that’s their business, but I just feel like this is a little backwards.”

The report also states council compensation is set by state law at $600 a month for cities like Orange with a population of 75,000-150,000 people. The amount can be raised by 5% each year with adoption of an ordinance amendment.

The money will be offered to elected officials after the Nov. 8, 2022, election when the terms of a majority of the council members will have ended.

Council members Dumitru and Ana Guiterrez’s terms end in 2024 and they along with anyone reelected to the council could benefit from the future compensation approved Tuesday.

Everyone on the current council is eligible to run again except Nichols who is serving in her second consecutive term, according to the city clerk’s office.

Council members can also decide to waive the stipend.

City officials, however, voted 4-3 not to adopt an ordinance offering council members $2,115 a month to purchase health, dental, and vision plans, as well as life insurance.

The benefits would have cost the city $177,660 annually out of the general fund if approved and all seven council members accepted the benefits.

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In 2011, the City Council eliminated salary compensation, reimbursements and benefits.

Dumitru, who was on the dais back then, said getting rid of such financial support for council members started off with good intentions as staff was going to forego a bump in salary but turned into a “fiasco.”

“It morphed at that point in a discussion on the dais into — (for) lack of a better phrase — gamesmanship to one up each other. ‘You’re going to do this, I want to do this.’ And much like we’ve seen on some other items and it kind of had egos take over and so in the end, it was all eliminated and in retrospect, a lot of that was significantly an error,” Dumitru said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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