City Council Conflicted Over Potential Aide Pay Guidelines

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Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1)

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) called for better aide compensation during the recent fiscal year 2020 budget process.

San Antonio City Council will vote later this month on pay ranges and experience requirements for contracted staff who work for Council members, but it’s unclear if those standards will become flexible guidelines or mandatory.

Council aides, who are employed as contractors by each City Council member, don’t receive the same pay increases or benefits received by City employees.

The City last year hired a consultant to review comparable job descriptions in district offices and City departments and develop pay range recommendations. However, some thought those recommendations fell short and City staff in the Human Resources Department developed an alternative, wider pay ranges.

This chart shows a comparison of pay ranges and required experiences for various Council aide positions as recommended by Werling Associates and City of San Antonio (COSA) Human Resources staff.

Courtesy / City of San Antonio

This chart shows a comparison of pay ranges and required experiences for various Council aide positions as recommended by Werling Associates and City of San Antonio (COSA) Human Resources staff. Click image to enlarge.

More work is needed to make other benefits such as health care, retirement savings, and education incentives on par with those given to City employees, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), who spearheaded the pay increase effort.

“There is still some confusion and a lot of work to do,” Treviño said.

City Council is slated to vote on the compensation structure during its Jan. 30 meeting.

Treviño called for better aide compensation during the recent fiscal year 2020 budget process, which resulted in Council approving an additional $870,284 for staff members that will be divided evenly among the mayor and Council district offices. Staff pay increases begin Feb. 1.

City rules allow each Council member to have a maximum of seven full-time contracted staff positions and pay at their discretion. They also can have two part-time employees as the equivalent of a full-time worker. The mayor’s office has three additional employees and each district office has a secretary, who is a City employee. 

Council members currently have complete autonomy when it comes to staff count and compensation. City staff recommended implementing baseline standards for nine job titles and pay ranges, said Human Resources Director Lori Steward.

The standards would help achieve consistency across the offices while providing flexibility so Council members can “customize their staff complement so they can best fit the needs of their constituents.”

A more equitable pay structure would support recruitment and retention as well, Steward said.

Staff’s recommendation also comes with baseline work experience requirements for each of the nine aide positions, which include chief of staff, policy director, events services director, and more. Aides, unlike City employees, can work on political campaigns.

But Council members should not be required to only hire people with certain education and work experiences, Councilman John Courage (D9) said. 

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) took issue with setting a cap on how much an aide can make while noting it’s difficult to compete with City salaries and benefits.

Council aides work just as hard as City staff members, Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said, so they often look for work in a City department because the pay and benefits are better.

Pelaez said his employees often are recent college graduates and as they gain experience, “I can’t afford the [same employee] five years from now.”

Treviño took issue with the third-party analysis done by Werling Associates Inc. because it did not factor in the mayor’s additional staffers. Also, Werling did not conduct aide and Council member interviews, City staff did. 

“[Werling’s] recommendation is completely flawed,” Treviño said, “and I think that’s why city staff came back with their own recommendation.”

Treviño served on an ad hoc committee that monitored the compensation review process along with Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, Sandoval, and Courage (D9).

As chair of the committee, Rocha Garcia directed Human Resources to come up with alternative recommendations to the Werling report.

“When the third-party came up with recommendation we knew that there was room for improvement,” she said.

These reviews can at least help new, incoming Council members get their bearings for running an office, Rocha Garcia said, noting it was difficult after her election last year to hire a staff with no standard procedures in place.

That ad hoc committee will continue to work on right-sizing other benefits beyond pay, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. That will likely have budget implications as well.

“We’ll continue to advocate [for better benefits],” Treviño said. “We’ve finally put this on the radar.”

In November, an anonymous group of Council aides threatened legal action against the City if it didn’t agree to mediation sessions.

No formal sessions have taken place yet, but the City has been in contact with the group’s attorney, according to a City spokeswoman,

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