God bless Lee Kleinman. While his colleagues on the Dallas City Council were busy this afternoon working themselves into an oratorical lather -- this time over council pay raises -- he staked his position with a single sentence.
"As a fiscal conservative, I can't support any sort of raise at this time."
Kleinman's going to lose this fight. A solid majority of his colleagues expressed support for either the $60,000 pay rate proposed by the Dallas Charter Review Commission (a $22,500 raise) or for increasing pay to an even $100,000, and that's probably for the best. Council members -- the good ones, anyway -- are severely underpaid for the hours they put in and the importance of the work they do.
That said, there's an unseemly, pigs-at-the-trough element when council member after council member explains his or her support for a pay raise by monologuing about their own tireless work on behalf of constituents. Tennell Atkins has put 122,000 miles on his car during his seven years. Rick Callahan, a commercial real estate broker, has seen his business income drop as more and more time has been consumed by council duties. Jerry Allen recounted the "countless hours of Google searching" he endured "just to get up to speed" on the 13,000 agenda items he's voted on during his tenure.
Only Vonciel Jones Hill downplayed the demands of the position. "My job is policy maker, and that is not a full time job."
It was Philip Kingston who cut through some of the onanism to give the push for pay raises a philosophical gloss. There are, Kingston said, four types of people who serve on the council: the independently wealthy; those who have a job flexible enough to allow them to devote time to the council; those who are supported by their spouse or partner; and those who can live on $37,500 per year. (He left off the "childless weirdos" this time.)
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"That leaves out a big, big portion of our electorate," Kingston said. He said he's tried to recruit many passionate, qualified people to run for City Council but has consistently been rebuffed on the grounds that the financial sacrifice would be too great. City Hall is losing out on a lot of talent and a lot of valuable perspective.
Kingston, as he has in the past, floated the $100,000 figure, which would make it feasible for others, namely parents with young children, to hold office. "This city will fail if it does not serve the needs of working parents."
Kingston's proposal was as DOA as Kleinman's. The $60,000 salary is what will likely be approved by the council and put before voters, and it will probably a tough sell -- even if council members can manage to keep their mouths shut.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.