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Common Council reconsiders smartphone stipend

March 5, 2014

With a $40 smartphone stipend approved by committee, the Common Council this week talked itself out of what some characterized as a $480 annual raise.

After a lengthy discussion, the council unanimously sent the matter back for more study.

The question of whether or not it would be a raise was part of the issue. Alderman Jeff Roznowski said that, as most members of the council already had smartphones and were paying for data plans, the stipend was pure and simple extra money — a raise.

But Alderman Peter Doengan objected. "It's not a raise, it's an expense reimbursement."

Alderwoman Jill Organ defended the stipend as a little extra compensation that helped make a position on Common Council a better-paying proposition, perhaps attracting low-earners.

"We want our Common Council to be a representation of a cross-section of the community," she said. If a little extra income encourages some to run for office who otherwise might not have, it's worth it, she suggested.

Smart iPads?

Alderman Dennis McBride said a data plan doesn't help constituents reach him. He said he keeps in touch by phone, by email and in person. But, as discussion moved on to the idea of providing alderman with smart iPads — iPads with data plans — he warmed to the idea.

Council members were provided with Wi-Fi-only iPads in October 2012. The iPads have saved on paper and copying costs. However, these iPads are not upgradeable to function everywhere the way a smartphone can, said City Attorney Alan Kesner.

But McBride and others suggested that an iPad would be more useful in the field — easier to write on, better for maps and so forth.

Moreover, as Alderman Brian Ewerdt said, not everybody has in-home Wi-Fi, using himself as an example. If he wants to download Common Council packets, he has to go to a hot spot.

Kesner said the iPads, which cost $390 each, would have been $100 more to be data-plan functional. To buy new smart iPads would be a far greater expense than providing a $40 stipend for smartphones, he said.

On the other hand, a $40 stipend would be counted as additional income for council members — council members giving themselves a raise, effective after facing an election — while a city purchase of new iPads would not be accounted for in that manner.

Common Council members make $4,200 a year. The stipend — $480 a year — would represent an 11 percent raise.

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