Dancing With Myself: A Correction and a Call for Dallas City Council Pay Raises (No, Really)

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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What I like to say is I told you so. What I do not like to say is I'm full of it. I am not saying I am full of it. But I guess I might be at about a quarter tank. Possibly a third.

Yesterday I talked about how Dallas is run by the Dallas Citizens Council, and they all live in the Park Cities, and they all use the N-word. The N-word thing, which I brought up in the comments, was ill-advised. Well, no. It was stupid. White people shouldn't call out other white people for racism. All I need to do if I'm hunting for racism is look in the mirror and wait.

A commenter provided a link to the membership of the Dallas Citizens Council, and I spent some time this morning running some of those names through county property records. About a third of my sample consisted of Park Cities residents. The rest live in Dallas or other suburbs.

But there's a bigger question. Is it a good thing or a bad thing for the city's rich people to be engaged in local politics? I lived once in a city where the rich people simply vamoosed. Gone. You couldn't find their footprints.

That's not good. We are a diverse and open society. People at different wealth levels have different interests that they need to preserve and promote. Everybody needs to be on board. So, much as it pains me, rich people got rights too.

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Of course the poor need to be at the table. I think we have that covered. What we haven't had in the past is a healthy representation of the middle class on the city council, and that was always because middle-class people could not afford to serve, especially back when the position was unpaid.

Imagine. You go home one day: "Dear, I feel called to serve my city as a member of the Dallas City Council."

"We have a kid in leg braces and another one about to start college," your spouse replies. "How much will you be making?"

"Why not a thing, my dear. 'Tis an uncompensated post that I seek, from the goodness of my heart and for the good of my community."

"OK, 'tis a phone number for a divorce lawyer that I seek."

Council pay now -- between $35,000 and $37,000 -- is money the rich members can afford to give to charity. It's money the poor members can scrape by on.

But put your own foot in that shoe. And please, please, just put out of your mind the notion that serving on the council can be a part-time job. It's a full-time job, and if you intend to keep the other one, the paying post, then that's your part-time job.

Some people can get away with that -- doing the council job and pushing the paying job off to weekends and evenings. But most of the truly middle-class members I have watched over the years get fired or lose their small businesses.

Sometimes it's not just about time. A lawyer who served on the council once told me that the head of his firm sidled up to him at a cocktail party and said, "Why is it that every time I run into someone important in this town now, they want to talk to me about you and not me?"

Just a joke, right? The lawyer was gone from that firm within months.

Or you have the school district member who worked for a furniture store. At one point, his boss wanted to sell some property to the school district. So next time the guy came to school headquarters, guess who he was working for?

At this moment, we probably have the best starter collection of smart middle-class people on the city council we've had in a very long time, with a basic core in Pauline Medrano, Tennell Atkins, Angela Hunt, Vonciel Hill, Scott Griggs and Sandy Greyson.

But they're all doing it at considerable personal sacrifice, and it's very hard to find more people who can or will make that sacrifice. The supply is thin.

So how do we recruit more members of the productive middle class to serve on the council and school board? This isn't really a hard question. Ask yourself: "How much would they have to pay me for me to give up my job, give up my seniority, give up my benefits and take a hiatus from my career? At what level of compensation would that be a responsible thing for me to do in my own interests and in the interests of my loved ones?"

That's the number. That's what we have to pay to get responsible middle-class people on the council.

The last note is this. You want to see what happens when you don't have a dominant middle-class component? You want to see what happens when all you have is very rich real-estate interests partnering with very poor people who need to get their cars fixed?

Keep watching that FBI investigation.


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45 comments
Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Don't have a problem with Rich people involved in politics. I do have a problem the the Rich's  involvement in politics that:

- isn't transparent; - done in a back room without public knowledge; - gets preferential treatment, i.e. access that the public doesn't get;- is under the table payoffs; AstroTurf front groups either PAC or "nonpartisan" think tanks; - providing free vacations masquerading as educational conferences.

Basically, "the Dallas way" things work in this city.

Billy MacLeod
Billy MacLeod

I can tell you from personal experience that just running for office is almost impossible while holding down normal job. It is not just the time you are away from the office or the liability for negative association or press that bosses worry about,  the fact of the matter is that even while being present at work the campaign never really leaves your mind. Serving in office would be even more difficult while working at a regular job. I appreciate the sentiment in this piece Jim but I would question the accuracy of your statement that Pauline Medrano should be considered "middle class". Take a close look at her Personal Financial Disclosure Statement from 2009 and you'll see that Medrano Properties Ltd. is a company which could use a lot more scrutiny.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/1750...

Matilda of Tuscany
Matilda of Tuscany

If the park Cities enjoy being involved in Dallas Politics so much, ANNEX THE PARK CITIES!

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Couldn't agree more.  If the pay were higher, I'd run for my Council seat, and I could win it, too.  Hell, my name's on the main Library!  In seriousness, though, I spend an amount of time on neighborhood and city issues that most people would call insane, and I would dearly love to turn it into a full-time gig, but I have a mortgage like everyone else.

Mike
Mike

We do not pay them big salaries because they are a board of directors. They and the mayor do not run the city. Mary Suhm runs the city for which she gets very well paid. We cannot afford to pay everyone. The council's job is not micromanaging Mary Suhm. They are there to decide the overall strategy of the city, not the time consuming things that obviously do not do anything to help the city and only contribute to the incorrect perception they are overworked.

george gobel
george gobel

Jim S:

Though you seem to have attempted to cast your true feelings as a tongue-in-cheel comment above, why, indeed, does it "pain you" that rich people have rights, too?  That one question could more or less serve to encapsulate every confusion your writings have caused me over the years.  

There are rich people who are crooked, there are poor people who are crooked.  There are white people who are crooked, there are black people who are crooked.  Yet the overarching theme of your work invariably tends to suggest that if a person is black and/or poor, they should always and immediately be assumed to be the victim.  And conversely, that if a person is white and/or rich, they should always and immediately be assumed to be dishonest.  

What baffles me, and leaves me with a sour, ironic disappointment, is that this sort of thinking is PRECISELY the sort of thinking the civil rights movement was trying to abolish: namely, that if a person belongs to a particular economic class, or has a particular skin color, you already know all you need to know about them, case closed, they're guilty.

We're supposed to be looking at the content of people's character.  Not the color of their skin, or their bank account.  You think you're helping open minds, but you're just promoting a different spin on the same old closed-mindedness.  

Facebook User
Facebook User

I suspect it would take about $150K in Dallas to get qualified folks to take a break and take their turn on the city council. We should limit council folks to a single term at a time to get more diversity on the council. I agree that the current pay level allows the uber-rich or the uber-willing-to-take-a-bribe to serve.

replay
replay

If it's not incompetence, it must be corruption. Kinda like a lowly-paid bank teller, doin nothin' all day except working with the bank's money. Everyone is shocked when Susie the bank teller gets caught embezzling. And, I'm not sure increased compensation is the answer. After all, the city manager, assistant city managers, and directors over at City Hall are well-compensated.....I wouldn't say the results from that team are stellar either.

Shutze is a libtard
Shutze is a libtard

Shutze is the biggest white-guilt libtard in Dallas. Why, he is so "progressive" that he fled Detroit!

AintNoSunshine
AintNoSunshine

Yeah, so who is more guilty? The rich white guy across the tracks or the poor "accommodator" on the South side of the tracks? Bottom line, they both should go to the PIN..........

I guess your middle class person seems to not play that game. What if the middle class council person really wants to be "upper" class? More corruption, in a modified manner. 

I dont know if this is the answer, but I do know, that was has been going on, between the "north" and "south" (Accommodation - if you didnt know) is going to be a thing of the past after the feds send people to the PIN, including some rich white folk from the "north." 

RTGolden
RTGolden

Good article, but it only covers one side of the political dice.  We are divided along more than simply financial lines.  There's always race, a powerful divider; religion, gender and age.  As it pertains to local government, however, I think the most important, and least looked at division, is the divide amongst us along lines of ideology.

We have our liberal lefties, and radical righties.  These are the fringe groups politicians pander to at election time.  These are the ideals politicians must identify with in order to 'carry their base'.  The problem is, combined, the extremes of right and left actually occupy a small percentage of the population.  The majority of people, the same middle class, JS is talking about, fall in the middle politically as well.  We're too worried about getting and keeping a house to worry about a 15% equity stake in commercial development.  We're too worried about filling enough grocery bags to feed our families to worry all that much about environmental impact of said bags.  The problem is, we're (self included) too busy trying to get ahead, we often fail to get involved.

Jay
Jay

Maybe it would cut down on corruption if we paid the council full time salaries, like we do the county constables and the county commissioners........ah hell.

Sd214
Sd214

So explain to me one thing that these "smart middle class people" Atkins, Medrano or Hill have done since they got there? How about two since theyve all been there six years

Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Lecter

Just remember, most of those "rich" got to be that way by being smarter than you.

And if you include Pauline Medrano in a list of "smart" people, then you're even worse off than I thought.

George Welborne
George Welborne

I was going to say excellent point, too, Jim, because I too feel compelled to suck up, but then I got to thinking.

If it's fine for the poor to scrape by on between $35,000 and $37,000, surely it's just as fine for the middle class to do so, too, right? They just have to get used to being more poor, like the poor. Or are the poor sort of, you know, just different from the responsible middle class in some fundamental way, more genetically suited in some way to scrape by on between $35,000 and $37,000 in ways that would just prove too horrific for the middle class? I guess I could understand that: a special wog-species of poor CC members naturally selected to survive on between $35,000 and $37,000 where their economic superiors could not, like the indigenous peoples who live naturally in the thin air of the Altiplano.

The other thing I was thinking was this. If you raise the CC salaries to attract more responsible middle-class people, how do you keep the poor wog people out of the CC trough so that the responsible middle-class people can feed? If CC seats are now paying $75K where yesterday they were paying $35K, that's good money for any poor person in any district, even more incentive for a poor-wog-citizen who should be used to scraping by on $35K to lunge for the golden ticket, and the more above $35K it is, the greater draw for a poor person in that district than a responsible middle-class one already making $72K.

So it really comes down to this, using only salary, how do you limit the number of poor potential CC members who might want to make some more bank at the horseshoe so that more responsible middle-class ones can serve in their places?

scottindallas
scottindallas

Don't think your list is Middle Class, they would be upper class.  They aren't the uber wealthy, but the city council pay is indeed middle class compensation.  I know everybody seems to identify themselves as middle class, but that's hogwash.  The fleeting nature of politics makes that pay awful low if it would jeopardize your future job prospects, that said, it should help one's personal marketability.  I appreciate the thrust of your comments, Jim, but have you seen starting salaries for college grads?  They ain't what they used to be. 

That would be fair compensation for me, the problem is trying to fund a campaign on that pay scale. 

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

Excellent point Jim. What about the School Board?

Observist
Observist

You mean the poor people who need to get their Bentleys fixed?

Parky
Parky

Thats exactly what should happen. 

Guest
Guest

And do you expect them to only put in the time that is expected of a board, i.e., quarterly meetings, a few days work before each meeting reviewing management recommendations, and no direct contact with voters?

I also don't think you are up to speed on how much directors of public companies are paid, but that is a different issue altogether.   

JimS
JimS

Ummm, I'm thinkin' here. The Civil Rights Movement was about getting people to respect the rich as well as the poor? Did MLK ever go to jail over that one? Which march was that? Maybe I missed one.I'm thinking there's some  pretty strong doctrine going way back in history, culture and religion expressing powerful skepticism about the moral worth and character of the rich.  I know you remember Jesus on this one: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."He got it from his mom, Mary, who in Luke I 53 says of God, "he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away."It's pretty unfair of me to use religion on you, since I don't much believe in most of it, but I'm just saying: if there's once class of people that history has said it's O.K. to discriminate against, it's ... uh ... well, you know who you are, I think. And by the way, why do you care? Doesn't it just mean we're all jealous of you?

scottindallas
scottindallas

you make a fair point, but to be fair, the point you latch on to is only an aside and not integral to his argument--that the middle class are excluded from being able to afford to serve.

Facebook User
Facebook User

i.e. one term and then out (they could run again after sitting out for a term).

JimS
JimS

I am all white. I can go to hell.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

It doesn't matter how smart or how committed a single council member is. In the 14-1 system, if half of them are idiots the entire group is fucked.

dr_jack
dr_jack

A lot of the "rich" got to be that way by virtue of birth.

scottindallas
scottindallas

not sure about that.  At the private school I attended for one year, I was, by test scores the smartest person in the school.  But, I didn't have the connections, the compromised morals, nor the shitty, douchy disposition of those bigoted, ignorant, spoiled children.  I was particularly bothered that the whole class would sneer at the maintenance workers who'd lunch beneath a tree--when those "lazy" workers worked harder in one day, than any of those spoiled children. 

Joe
Joe

Opportunity cost. If I make $100k, neither I nor my family are willing to cut out lifestyles enough to live like the poor just to serve an ungrateful city. If I make $30k, then it's a nice raise and not a sacrifice at all.

Joe
Joe

Well, if your benchmark is a 21 year old college grad, then you're absolutely right. But if you want someone with 15-20 years of meaningful experience then $100k is your starting salary. Hell, a first year attorney can make $160k with absolutely no experience.

Mike
Mike

I'm not comparing them to the board of Exxon with worldwide responsibilities.  Those people typically are world class leaders.  Excluding Fortune 500 companies, remaining directors of public firms don't get full time equivalent salaries. Yes, that's exactly what they should be doing.  These districts are not very big.  Simply living in them and doing every day activities should make them well aware of what the district needs.  The model is to be part of the community.  Your "contact with the voters"  is supposed to come from eating at their restaurants, shopping in the stores, worshipping in their churches, going to your friend's parties and graduations,  People fully engaged in these relatively small communities are the people that are supposed to bubble up and become the leaders. If they want to do the other things, that's fine.  Start cutting away at Mary Suhm's infrastructure to fund it.  If you want the Mayor and Council to run the government, then put in that form of government.. 

cp
cp

Think of it as a board of directors of a non-profit. Usually those people have to pay annual dues to serve on those boards.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I think term limits are among the stupidest of proposals.  If you had your way, lobbyists would have all the power.  I had a great professor of US history since the civil war who had a focus on city gov't reform.  All the new tricks used did nothing to change the fact that there are people who want to invest/do things in the city, and the gatekeepers/politicians are under huge temptation to play ball.  No reform will change that.  Ultimately, it's up to the citizens to give a shit, pay attention and vote for the best candidate.  Sadly, a slick liar will always win out over the guy who's got some hard, complicated message to offer.  Your gimmick is just another slick deception that will do nothing to fix this dynamic.  To the contrary, the politicos willing to sell out will have the richest campaigns and will be compromised.  A better strategy would be to vote 3rd party (in party supported elections) odd are he will be less compromised than those that are tangled in the party machinery.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Yeah but can you do a "White Guy wiff"? That definitely gets you a direct line to at least the fifth circle of Hell.

MrHellacious
MrHellacious

Way to put it to yourself Jimbo, and I concur, you are all white - you can go to hell........

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

"Just remember, most of those "rich" got to be that way by being smarter than you."

Agree with Dr. Jack's point, most "rich" got it the old fashioned way, they inherited it. Just check out the Forbes' list of wealthiest Americans, the majority inherited their money.

Don't think doing a good job "picking" your parents counts as "earning" you wealth. But then again, I've never met a trust baby that didn't think they got all their money based on merit.

scottindallas
scottindallas

umm, not so much.  $100k would put you in the top 5%.  Your figure on atty salaries is a pure fantasy.  Harvard cum laud, perhaps, but you're delusional. Very few attys earn $160K regardless of experience.

cp
cp

The lobbyists are already winning with the POWER OF INCUMBENCY. I ran and lost in the last city council election to someone who's campaign was funded by some pretty wealthy white businesses who all live in North Dallas but run their businesses along the Trinity River. I can't tell you how many PAC's interviewed me (or told me up front, dispensing with a useless interview), that they'd love to support me, but they had an unwritten rule of supporting the incumbent, even though they weren't particularly thrilled with the incumbent.  So, what's the point of running at all? What Scott Griggs did is never heard of. I can't think of another time in the last 15 years that an incumbent has lost.

cp
cp

And yet, mysteriously, voters have elected Carolyn Davis three times in a row...

cp
cp

Dude, the median income in Dallas is $37,500.

Guest
Guest

They hire some Ivy's at those firms, but mostly UT and SMU grads.  Even at the next tier of firms, the starting pay is $145,000.  And the firms I listed are not the "cream of the crop", they are just the biggest, which is why I used them as examples.  Each of those firms have more than a hundred attorneys in Dallas.       

But you are missing the point.  We want City Council members who aren't in the bottom half of their classes.  We want City Council members who are smart enough and hard working enough to get good jobs.  Those people likely have mortgages and families that are accustomed to a lifestyle supported by a six-figure income.  Why would those people give all that up to serve an ungrateful city?

     

scottindallas
scottindallas

You listed the cream of the crop of law firms.  My mother has worked at Baker Botts for twenty years, my father's best friend headed Vincent and Elkin's bankruptcy division for years--he is certainly well compensated.  There are also many stories of Lawyers going into trades cause the money as lawyers ain't all that great.  The firms you listed hire Ivy league attys who graduated with honors. Further, your SMU Law data, of which my father is a proud alum, might also fail to average in Law students who never go into law. Do you know their methodology? My old man would love an inflated number, he thinks you're all wet.

Guest
Guest

Like I said, I think the number is a little inflated, but probably not by much.  The firms I listed and several others start out first year attorneys at $160,000.  That is the national market rate for first year attorneys at big firms. 

Yes, many attorneys do make less.  Particularly law students out of Texas Wesleyan, St. Mary's, South Texas College of Law, and Texas Southern.  I personally think a few of those schools should be shut down entirely because they graduate a large number of people who have no business practing law (most of which I believe are unemployed at graduation).  But that is neither here nor there. 

The relevant question is what benchmark do we want for our city council.  I want relatatively successful people.  For example, for an attorney, I would prefer someone who did relatively well at a better lawschool (Texas, SMU, Baylor, Houston).  These people have options out of lawschool paying more than $100K, many of them starting at $160K.

        

Guest
Guest

By way of a specific example, Angela Hunt would be making somewhere around $250K at McKool Smith, the firm she left for the city counsel (last I knew, an 8th year associate at McKool made $220,000, Hunt graduated law school 13 years ago).  She went to UT Law.     

dr_jack
dr_jack

Just a couple minutes on Google makes me doubt that the average starting salary out of SMU law is 107 K.

http://www.aboutlawschools.org...

I would have to see some pretty reliable data to believe that SMU lawyers start out at salaries that are much higher than average law school grads.

Guest
Guest

The average starting salary out of SMU law is $107,000.  I personally think that number is inflated, but the fact is that dozens of SMU grads start at $160,000 every year at firms like Haynes & Boone, Vinson & Elkins, Baker Botts, etc.  I suggest reserving accusations of "delusion" for subjects that you have some general knowledge. 

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