Monday, July 11, 2011

Retirement Benefits For Reva Trammel?

According to Richmond’s great metropolitan daily newspaper, Councilwoman Reva M. Trammel has proposed an ordinance that would restore retirement benefits for members of the Richmond City Council. These benefits were cancelled by the 1996 edition of the City Council. As described in the Times-Dispatch article, Ms. Trammel’s proposal would reinstate benefits for members of the council who have served for ten years and who were in office on July 1, 2011. My research and the TD article indicate that the first member of the City Council who would become eligible for the restored benefits if Ms. Trammel’s ordinance is enacted is—you guessed it—Reva M Trammel.

Reader, I do not object to our elected officials in Richmond being paid a reasonable compensation for their service, including retirement benefits for extended service. Nor are we dealing with a huge amount of money. The TD article indicates that if the retirement benefits are restored the annual cost to the taxpayers would be about $60,000 per year. (Of course, with the suddenly reborn concern about poverty in our city, perhaps it would be better to spend that $60,000 to create two new jobs for unemployed residents of the city, but that’s just my opinion). But, what upsets me is that nobody, including Ms. Trammel, seems at all concerned about appearances.

A bit of history: During the debate on ratification of the Constitution, anti-Federalists expressed concern over Article I, Section 6, clause 1, which gave the members of the Congress the power to set their own compensation by statute. To deal with this concern, the First Congress included the following amendment among the twelve they submitted to the states for ratification as the Bill of Rights: “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.” This amendment was intended to make sure that if the Congress voted itself a pay raise the electorate had the opportunity to voice their displeasure by voting those members out at the next election. (The amendment only referred to election of representatives because until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 Senators were appointed by the state governments rather than elected by the people.) As it happened, only ten of the Bill of Right amendments were ratified by the states and the compensation restriction lay dormant for over 200 years. It was not ratified as our twenty seventh amendment until 1990.

Reader, I am not suggesting that Ms. Trammel made the effective date of service in her proposal July 1, 2011 to assure that she received a pension even if she were defeated for reelection next year. However, she is the only member of the council for whom this is true. No other incumbent member of City Council can attain ten years of service and qualify for the proposed benefits without facing the voters next November. The voters of eight council districts in the city can protest their councilperson giving him or herself a compensation increase by defeating him or her at the next election and making sure that member does not benefit from the increase. This is the right that the Twenty Seventh Amendment gave voters for members of the Congress. It is only the electorate of the Eighth council district that will lack this right.

It is important that the members of the City Council avoid any appearance of impropriety in enacting legislation for the city. The council should amend Ms. Trammel’s proposed ordinance so that it applies only to members of the council serving on and after January 1, 2013.

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