Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) initiated the review process through budget and council consideration requests. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg appointed a group of City Council members Wednesday to oversee a review of how they pay their staffs and potential increases to district budgets for that compensation.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who initiated the review process through budget and council consideration requests, will serve on a temporary, ad hoc committee along with councilwomen Ana Sandoval (D7) and Adriana Rocha-Garcia (D4) and Councilman John Courage (D9).

Treviño originally wanted a 30 percent increase to each district’s Council aide budget to start at the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct.1, but City Council ultimately approved a fiscal year budget that includes that increase starting in February after a thorough internal analysis of the kind of work that aides do and comparable job descriptions and wages for other City staff.

That analysis is currently underway and a consultant will review that information to make pay range recommendations, said Lori Steward, the City’s human resources director. “A market review of the pay and structure in other large cities will be conducted [as well].”

Treviño said he’s glad to be on the committee as he and his staff have already done significant research into pay disparities among Council aides and City staff.

“They need to be compensated equitably – valued equitably and treated as peers,” he said, noting that he would have preferred a more aggressive timeline to roll out the changes. City Manager Erik Walsh had proposed an April implementation, but they compromised on Feb. 1. The Governance Committee will review the results of the analysis in December and Council is expected to vote on changes to Council aide pay in January.

“If the City of San Antonio wants to be an employer of choice, should our Council also be emblematic of that mantra?” Treviño told the Governance Committee Wednesday as it was discussing his council consideration request. “My answer, and the answer of many of you and many of my past colleagues, has always been yes.”

Council aides are contractors, not City employees, and their compensation is determined by the Council member they work for. The job doesn’t come with the same benefits and routine raises that City employees enjoy, but over the last three years some health benefits, allowances, and pay increases have been added to Council aide budgets.

Council is allowed seven full-time positions, but it’s up to Council members to decide if they want to split a contractor position into two part-time positions. Chiefs of staff, for instance, are typically the highest-paid Council office employees and are full time. Some Council members have specialized, part-time contractors who focus on certain topics like constituent services, development, or zoning cases. Contractors are allowed to work for political campaigns, while City employees are not.

“Ensuring that Council offices are able to recruit and retain the talent that they need to do their work comes with appropriate compensation,” Sandoval said. “We also need to be able to be flexible. … There are different needs in each district and there are also different priorities of each Council member.”

Though the review process is underway and funding is secured to start in February, Treviño said the ad hoc committee was needed as “another layer to make sure that Council offices are included in the discussion.”

Sandoval said the quick turnaround for implementation requires a policy-focused committee. The Governance Committee meets only once per month and typically has a full plate of policy to consider.

“I expect this committee to work closely with City staff,” she told the Rivard Report. “It’s important to keep in mind that currently, those Council aides are employees of each Council member. They receive a check signed by [us]. It’s my responsibility as their employer to be part of developing an evaluation and compensation process. I don’t think it’s appropriate to delegate that entire process to City staff.”

Included in this review will be a discussion surrounding how Council district office staff is structured. Currently, each Council member gets one City employee to perform secretarial duties. The rest are independent contractors hired by the Council member. Some have suggested that Council aides could become City employees; others have suggested a blend of employees and contractors.

“I’m not convinced which model is the best yet,” Sandoval said. “Even though [the city manager] may be [City staff members’] boss, there are structures where that person will report to [a Council member].”

For instance, in addition to a secretary, the mayor’s office is allowed three City employees.

The current contractor model can lead to massive office turnovers depending on election results – and a loss of continuity for constituents who were working on initiatives or neighborhood problems with previous administrations.

“City Council wants to talk about the independence of the City Council from City management. … If the city manager’s recommendation is to make them all City employees: who is that benefitting?” Treviño said. “This is the opportunity to understand what are our real options. It’s not an either-or, I don’t think.”

Nirenberg said he expects the ad hoc committee to help guide Council offices through the review process and ensure consistency across the City budget.

“We want to make sure that the structure and compensation of Council offices moving forward are legally defensible and achieves a level of equity we want to see across the entire community,” Nirenberg said.

The ad hoc committee could have its first meeting as soon as this week, Sandoval said.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org