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Pay Raises for County Commissioners? About Damn Time.

Pay Raises for County Commissioners? About Damn Time.

Guilty little secret time. I'm glad the Dallas County Commissioners voted themselves a 4 percent pay raise Tuesday.

I would appreciate it if we could keep this just between us here on Unfair Park, because it's not exactly the best thing for me to be saying out loud in terms of my own personal career interests.

They deserve it. And more. Yeah. I wish they could boost the pay for that job even more. But let's back up. Yesterday between our own Eric Nicholson here and Mike Hashimoto at The Dallas Morning News, I think we got all the requisite digs and snarks in.

What about all the stupid stuff they do like fencing off reporters so they can't close enough to ask Commissioner John Wiley Price about the FBI investigation he's under? Did they ever think about giving the taxpayers a break instead of themselves?

Sure. I say stuff like that all the time too. It's the job. The founding fathers didn't put freedom of the press into the Constitution so government could get more support and adulation.

But like most reporters who cover local government over time, I have developed a totally grudging, unwilling, unexpected and, frankly, awkward admiration for people drawn to public service.

I sure as hell ain't gonna do it. And couldn't. Wouldn't be any good at it. Few of us would. But some people just are, and our system of government and civic politics is very good at recruiting those few among us who do have the gift.

The thing you do not get from media coverage -- sure as hell not from me very often -- is how good the good ones are and how rare is the gift. I could tick you off a list of local politicians that might surprise you, especially given how far some are from my own political persuasion, whom I nevertheless consider to be or have been extremely gifted at the business of local government.

Dallas County Commissioners Elba Garcia and Maureen Dickey, the late John Leedom, former Commissioner Roy Orr, and, yes, in spite of everything else, John Wiley Price. Don't even get me started on the Dallas City Council, where I have witnessed a parade of brilliance over the years -- something I really try hard to keep to myself.

I don't think people can even imagine what those jobs are really all about without witnessing it at close quarters. The chief executive of a private company has it so easy, so simple next to what local elected officials face every morning when they wake up and maybe even in their dreams. Elected officials would love to have something as easy as mere profit to worry about.

Everybody wants something from them. Everybody wants it right now. Everybody's going to die if they don't get it. Everybody thinks the elected official is a treacherous low-I.Q. bribe-taking pervert if the official fails to give it to them.

Problem? Nobody knows what it is.

Seriously. We don't go to local government for anything concrete like money. We go to it for happiness, a better life, a nicer neighborhood, less fear, more security, healthier health, more optimistic optimism.

If you put the typical constituent call on a post-it-note, it would say, "Constituent Schutze calls, anxious about cancer from mosquito spray, desires a more certain sense of personal well-being, would like council member to call and allay fears of mortality."

Council member looks at it, starts to put it in manila folder, pauses, says to assistant, "Does this say, 'fears of morality?'"

"No. 'Fears of mortality.'" "OK That's a different file then."

It comes at them from every direction, all day long, and they have to be able to process all of that through this kind of gestalt-computer that can weigh every single thing everybody demands and come out with an answer at the bottom of the page, "Do this," or, "No way."

It's a gift, just like music, math, medicine, business or even that highest and most exquisitely arcane form of creative endeavor, blogging. A few people have it. Most do not. We should want to do everything we can to recruit the ones who do.

I'm not making the usual argument -- pay them or they will take bribes. Crooks take bribes no matter what they're paid. They do it because they like taking bribes.

I'm just saying that we should put a high value on public service and reward it accordingly. In order to serve, you shouldn't have to be either a rich retired guy or a pauper happy for any pay at all. We want a system where the pay is at least good enough that anybody -- a teacher or a young lawyer or a woman who owns half a liquor store -- could look at it and say, "Yeah, I could do that without bankrupting my family." Well, you're never going to get the woman with the half liquor store, but you see what I mean.

So I'm glad they got a raise on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Just don't tell anybody. Now, while I'm feeling all respectable and Sweety Two Shoes, gotta take this hatchet back to the grinding wheel, see if I can do something about all these unsightly red stains.


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