City voters will decide if they want to give the City Council a 155 percent pay raise, and make it easier to fire top city bureaucrats, on Nov. 2, as part of package of City Charter changes that would also remake city elections.
The changes would also give Tucson's mayor additional powers - powers that are now limited to the six council members - allowing the mayor to count toward establishing a council quorum and vote on big issues such as firing the city manager.
If voters approve, gone would be the current staggered terms that see half the council up for re-election every two years. Instead, all council members would run in the same election cycle, beginning in 2013. Those candidates elected to the mayor's office, and for Council Wards 1, 2, and 4, would serve two-year terms after they are elected in 2011. They would join the rest of the council members on the ballot in 2013.
Supporters of the ballot measure - a diverse coalition of business interests, unions, Democrats, Republicans and tea party members - point out that the package of charter changes would save the city about $140,000 to $160,000 annually.
And that includes the council raises, which are by far the most controversial part of the proposal.
The council is now seen as a part-time position, and council members are paid as such, making $24,000 a year. The mayor makes $42,000.
The charter change would make the council more like a full-time job at $61,280 for council members and $76,600 for the mayor, although critics point out there is no language in the ballot item that requires them to work full time.
Council pay would be indexed to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, whose salary is set by the state.
The Yes on 401 group has acknowledged that salary increases are the issue that could sink the charter amendment, but said polling data show that the more voters are educated about the initiative, the more they are willing to vote yes.
Jim Hannley, treasurer of the Protect Local Control: No on Prop 401 campaign, said the group's primary opposition is to the raises, and to increasing the power of the city manager by giving him the power to fire department heads and deputy department heads more easily.
"We feel in a time of severe budget constraints it makes no sense to pass a charter change that would triple the pay of the council and increase the pay of the mayor by 50 percent," Hannley said.
In addition, he said the city manager and the mayor will get too much power under this initiative. "We feel it provides too much power to the city manager," Hannley said.
Other opponents are bothered that the changes were pushed by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Opponents such as Tom Prezelski, a former state legislator, said many Leadership Council members are business leaders who live outside the city and don't reflect the diversity of the community.
Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers said he rejects that as a viable concern because of the diverse group of people who have shaped the charter changes.
"There's really no organized opposition except for two to three individuals," Rogers said. "It's a significant step forward in improving efficiency and accountability to voters."
As for the council salary increase, Rogers said more people will run for office if the salaries are increased. He questioned why someone making $24,000 a year should be handling the city's billion-dollar budget. "That's who you want to make decisions for a city this size?" he asked.
The yes campaign has a significant advantage of resources over the no campaign.
The "Yes on 401" Tucson Charter Change Coalition had raised $47,000 through last week, campaign filings show. The opposition raised only $320 through the end of the last filing period.
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or email@example.com