The Tullahoma Board of Mayor and Aldermen may receive a raise in three years’ time, thanks to a vote by the board at its most recent meeting.
At the meeting, Mayor Ray Knowis presented a proposal to raise the mayoral and aldermanic salaries starting with the current election year upon the election of new aldermen. The proposed ordinance would raise the mayor’s annual salary from $9,400 to $15,000, a $5,600 difference, and each alderman’s salary from $4,700 each to $7,500 each, a $2,800 difference.
During the meeting, the mayor said he spoke with City Administrator Jennifer Moody and City Attorney Steve Worsham about the wording of the ordinance and recommended it be amended to state the change would not take effect until the year 2024, as it would not be fair to only raise some aldermen’s salaries. Additionally, Knowis said, board members cannot vote to raise their own salaries while they are in their current term per state statute.
In 2024, Knowis said, none of the current aldermen nor he would be serving their current terms, which keeps the ordinance in line with state law.
According to city officials, the last time the mayoral and aldermanic salaries were raised was nearly 30 years ago, in 1993. Mayor Pro Tem Blanks has tried previously to raise the board salaries over the years, including during the last mayoral term of former Mayor Lane Curlee. At that time, Curlee resisted changing the salary, saying he would not vote to give himself a raise. Other aldermen, including Alderman Rupa Blackwell, also resisted the measure at that time. The measure failed to pass.
At the April 12 meeting, Blackwell again resisted the ordinance, stating the positions of mayor and aldermen should either be looked at as unpaid, volunteer positions or fully-funded, 40-hour-a-week jobs with pay.
“In my mind, my goal is to make this job something that people can do,” she said. “This pay raise doesn’t do that, per se, if we wanted to have more people involved and have more people run.”
Blackwell was joined in opposition to the ordinance by Alderman Robin Dunn, who said the mayor’s current salary is in line with other mayoral salaries of other city governments with a similar structure. She presented a box and whisker plot graph that demonstrated approximately 15 different mayoral incomes, stating the Tullahoma mayoral salary was well within the “normal” range for mayoral pay. The proposed salary, she said, would be “out of the norm,” which she disagreed with.
“I don’t have any idea how we should be out of the norm and why we would go past that,” she said.
Blackwell reiterated Dunn’s point, asking if the board salaries were already normal or average and why the city was looking to raise them when there are other things that community members ask to be funded instead. Specifically, she said the approximately $23,000 per year could go toward some of the nonprofits that routinely ask for city funding rather than give the board more in their pockets.
“I just don’t see us putting it [the funding] here,” she said.
Blanks argued that Tullahoma was a progressive city in that it tries to move forward, and the amended ordinance wouldn’t affect any current board member unless they chose to run for another term.
“I think it’s time to bump that up,” he said.
Alderman Daniel Berry argued that any of the aldermen could volunteer to give their salary back or donate it somewhere rather than accept and use the funds. He also said he spends 25 or more hours performing aldermen duties, as well as spending his own money for things. The last time the board salaries were raised, he said, the board members likely did not do as many things as current and future board members do and will do, which makes having some kind of compensation necessary.
“I spend more than I make,” he said of the alderman duties he performs, noting that he is a single-income household.
While ultimately, Berry said, the job of aldermen is a selfless one that each board member performs in service to their community, “there are expenses.”
Similarly, Alderman Jenna Amacher said the stipend helps her as a single mother raising her three children and agreed with Blanks’ argument that going more than 30 years without a raise meant it was “time” for some change. She also echoed Berry’s point that aldermen today are not simply going to two BOMA meetings a month, stating the aldermen go “above and beyond” in their duties with some kind of incentive.
“Nothing in life is free,” she said. “You want people to take those salaries so there isn’t corruption behind the scenes.”
She said she didn’t feel the proposed numbers did not mean people would flock to the candidacy simply for the money. Specifically for the mayoral position, she said, people very nearly must be retired in order to do the work that is involved in being the mayor.
As a single mother, Amacher said she hoped more women would step up to the plate and serve their community as an elected official in the future, but one hurdle to that goal was the current salary.
Alderman Sernobia McGee also agreed with Amacher, noting she was acting as a single grandmother to help raise her grandchildren. While she said she did not get into being an alderman for the pay, “it does help.”
“Children are expensive, and it’s something every day,” she said.
McGee also works a full-time job in addition to her aldermen duties and said “every little bit helps.” She said she wanted to be an inspiration for other women like her, who are helping to raise their grandchildren like she is but may also want to serve their community in new ways.
The ordinance was amended to reflect the change from 2021 to 2024, which was approved 5-2, with Blackwell and Dunn opposed.
The board ultimately passed the amended ordinance on first reading, with Blackwell and Dunn again opposed. The second reading should be voted on at the May 26 city board meeting.