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Pridgen to withdraw contested proposal for stipend

Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen said Wednesday that he intends to withdraw his request that the Council's president pro tempore position receive a $2,500 stipend.

"Because my intentions are pure regarding the position of pro tempore, I'm willing to withdraw the request of $2,500 until we have proven the value of the position," he said.

Pridgen said he spoke with outgoing Council President David Franczyk and Niagara Council Member David Rivera on Wednesday and told them that he doesn't want anyone to question his motives in suggesting the stipend.

"I know I have the votes right now to move the change in the law to give the pro tempore $2,500," he said, "but I came to this Council promising to bring some cooperation among its members, regardless of whether you're in the minority or the majority."

University Council Member Bonnie Russell has been discussed as a choice for the president pro tempore position.

Members of the outgoing Council majority had criticized Pridgen's resolution, calling the stipend an unwarranted gift of public money for what is essentially an honorary position.

"My fear was that this was just given as a Christmas gift to boost the new majority politically," said Franczyk. "That $2,500 was put in there for an unpaid position to sweeten the pot, to seal the deal for a five-member new majority. It's a gift to themselves, to the new Council member."

The president pro tempore's primary duty is to preside at Council meetings in the president's absence or when he relinquishes his seat to debate an issue from the floor.

But the president pro tempore's position does not give a Council member other significant special powers or authority, unlike committee leadership positions, which carry a $1,000 stipend. Neither is the position in the line of succession for the mayor's seat, as it was long ago, Franczyk said.

Council members earn a base pay of $52,000.

Pridgen advocated for the stipend by saying the position would carry more responsibility. The president pro tempore would be responsible for the development of a stronger college internship program and for providing education and training for Council members and their staffs.

Given the additional duties, he said, he thought a stipend was appropriate.

"When I put something before this Council, I want it to stand the test of integrity," Pridgen said. "I am confident in a year, when we look back at this, our colleagues will look back and be pleased with the results that we produce."

Franczyk said he strongly supports a better internship program. But he also said internship programs and Council training can be undertaken by any Council member at any time or can be made a duty of the Council's chief of staff.

If the new majority wants to make the pro tempore position worthy of a stipend, he said, its members should consider more substantive changes to the City Charter to imbue the title with more authority.

"As it's written," he said, "it doesn't merit any stipend."

The additional responsibilities Pridgen discussed are not part of the recommended changes to the City Charter, but Pridgen said he wants to have the expanded duties recognized at the board's January meeting.