Community reacts as Durham city council members consider giving themselves a $10,000 raise

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — City council members in Durham could be receiving a $10,000 raise next year and there is mixed reaction from members of the community.

Councilman Pierce Freelon recently made the proposal to increase pay for city council members. He said he often spends more than 40 hours a week just on his duties as a city councilman, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for his second job as a musician and educator.

“This work requires a lot of hours,” Freelon said. “I’m on a dozen boards, we have city council meetings, work sessions, and there’s a lot of research that goes into being prepared for these meetings.”

Right now, Durham City Council members make a part-time salary of $25,378.

Freelon said he thinks city councilors should be earning a living wage and city staff came back with a recommendation to boost the salary by $10,000 to $35,200.

The mayor currently makes $29,875 and the proposal would boost that salary to $39,438.

But Durham already pays their city council more than both Fayetteville ($18,312) and Raleigh ($18,563).

Other cities like Concord ($10,441), High Point ($10,800), Cary ($11,493), Wilmington ($14,490), Winston Salem ($18,220) and Greensboro ($23,377) also pay their city council members less than Durham.

CBS 17 asked some community members in Rivals Barbershop in downtown Durham what their thoughts are on city council members potentially getting a $10,000 raise.

Barber Khedron Mims said that it’s important for city leaders to be paid well for what they do.

“Our city officials do work hard,” Mims said. “A raise may be necessary for them.”

Orlander Thomas said he also thinks a raise may be a good idea, as he said he has seen city council members out working in the community.

“To give yourself tirelessly to those efforts, it shows where your priorities are,” Thomas said. “We should always be in favor of supporting the needs of our elected officials.”

But when Sheryl Smith, a community activist who lives in Franklin Village, heard about this, she could not believe they wanted a raise of $10,000.

“I was like ‘what, you aren’t doing anything,'” Smith said. “Our communities and our families are living in fear, but they won’t work with us.”

Smith said she’s dealt with bullets hitting the side of her apartment and her grandchildren are scared to sleep in their beds.

“My babies still sleep on the floor because of the gun violence that we hear sometimes,” Smith said.

She argued city council members are not doing enough to combat the problem.

“Our elected officials who want a $10,000 raise haven’t shown that our tax dollars deserve to get them that,” Smith said. “To them, everything is wonderful in Durham, but to us, we’re living in hell.”

CBS 17 asked Freelon if he thought city council members deserved a raise.

“I get it, there is a skepticism of us voting for a raise and giving ourselves a raise in this pandemic,” Freelon said.

But he said it’s about making sure the salary is high enough for anyone to run for council, as he said it’s difficult for someone to find time for a second job.

“I don’t want people who are fully capable of serving to be discouraged because they can’t afford it,” Freelon said. “It’s an equity issue.”

Freelon has decided not to serve another term on council and would not benefit from this raise, but he said it’s important that the members are paid a living wage.

The city council will have a public hearing in the next couple of months where taxpayers can weigh in on if they think the leaders should receive a raise.

CBS 17 reached out to all of the Durham City Council members to find out how many of them have a second job.

Mayor Steve Schewel said he does not have a second job right now as mayor. He said he did teach at Duke University while he served as city councilman for six years. But he said there is no way he could have another job, as he said serving as mayor is more than full-time.

Council members Freelon, DeDreana Freeman, Mark-Anthony Middleton, and Charlie Reece all said they have another job outside of city council. CBS 17 has not heard back yet from Mayor Pro Tem Johnson and councilor Javiera Caballero.

In Raleigh, city council members are contemplating a similar pay increase.

The city of Raleigh appointed a study group to recommend raises for their city council members. Their report showed that increasing compensation could attract a wider pool of applicants.

Currently, Raleigh city councilors are paid $18,563. The report recommends that city councilors make $37,000 per year.

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