In an effort to better compensate its staff members, City Council unanimously voted Thursday to help council aides build retirement plans under the state retirement system.

Starting June 1, council aides will contribute 6% of their pay to the Texas Municipal Retirement System (TMRS) and the City will match that approximately twice over, meaning it would contribute about 12% to the aides’ retirement plans.

“That’s huge,” Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) said. “A lot of our council aides don’t realize just yet because they might be a tiny bit on the younger side, but they will appreciate this and realize that many people don’t have a pension, and so this is incredible for us to be able to to achieve this today,” 

Like civilian City of San Antonio employees, City Council aides must work for at least five years before vesting in their retirement money through TMRS. Other City Council aide benefits, including health insurance and family leave, will also mirror that of civilian City staff, Chief Financial Officer Ben Gorzell said. 

The road to improving council staff compensation and benefits was put on pause last year after the coronavirus pandemic started. But the suggested changes came as a result of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) submitting a council consideration request in August 2019 to look at increasing council aide pay. Mayor Ron Nirenberg also tapped council members Rocha Garcia, Treviño, Ana Sandoval (D7), and John Courage (D9) to serve on a committee dedicated to recommending City Council staff compensation changes.

In January 2020, City Council adopted new pay guidelines and job descriptions for Council aides. City Council voted Thursday to not only establish the council aides’ participation in the state retirement system, but also implement the use of those pay ranges to keep compensation even across different council districts.

“This was our first big step in terms of moving towards and creating a pay structure,” Gorzell said. “So this structure, along with consistent pay practices, is how you really establish and maintain pay equity.”

City Council staff will receive updated benefits and compensation as employees of the City of San Antonio Council Aides Corporation, a local government corporation that the City of San Antonio created in March. Before the corporation was formed, each council member employed their staff members directly and without pay guidelines, which led to varied salaries across City Council districts in similar positions. Each council member can have up to seven full-time contracted staff positions and pay them as they see fit. Council members can have two part-time employees serving as the equivalent as a full-time staffer. 

Now, council staffers receive employment benefits under the umbrella of the Council Aides Corporation, which allows them to access the same health insurance and retirement plans as civilian City employees. The move also lightens some of the workload for City staff, Gorzell said. Previously, the City would have to go to a health insurance broker on an annual basis to find a plan for the aides. That was more costly, and could cause disruption in council staff’s health coverage if plans changed.

The corporation’s officers will comprise the mayor serving as president, mayor pro-tem serving as vice president, the city clerk serving as secretary, the chief financial officer serving as treasurer, and the City’s assistant to the City Council serving as executive director.

City Council members thanked City staff for their work on improving compensation for council aides and said that Thursday’s vote was a step in the right direction.

“This is a protection for them that this can be a career for them, and I fully support that,” Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said. “And I know whenever I leave this position here, I’m going to make it my mission to make sure that my staff has a place to go in a council aide position, if they so choose to do that.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.