The Dallas City Council Could Soon Make More Than Rookie Cops and Teachers. That's OK.

Categories: City Hall

Your Dallas City Council representative doesn't get paid nearly enough for this crap.
The best part of Scott Goldstein's Dallas Morning News piece about the Charter Review Commission's proposal to hike Dallas City Council salaries by 32 percent, to $49,530, comes at the very end:

"Fifty-thousand dollars a year, that's not bad," said [former City Attorney Tom] Perkins, whose city salary was $258,343 when he retired last year. "Regardless of whether it's a full-time job or not, council members work hard. I think they're committed to their communities and to their constituents."

Perkins' salary, in other words, would be merely five times as high as his 14 titular bosses, as opposed to the sixfold salary advantage he had when he stepped down.

No one's suggesting that council members make $250,000 per year, though some, like D's Eric Celeste, think six figures would be fair.

The logic goes like this. Being on the Dallas City Council (and we mean actually being an effective and responsive public servant, not just phoning it in) is a complex, demanding, important, and full-time job. These are the people, after all, most responsible for shaping the city.

The current salary of $37,500, the argument goes, is far too low to attract the best and brightest who, however strong their sense of civic duty, have lives to lead and families to support. Those who wind up running tend have to be either independently wealthy, have a job flexible enough to be squeezed into a demanding council schedule, or be willing to engage in ethically shady side dealings with people with business before the council.

A 20 percent increase won't fundamentally change that dynamic, but that's what the Charter Review Commission, a 16-member body convened once every decade to tweak Dallas' basic governing structure, thinks it can get past voters. And even that won't pass without some controversy.

Here's Dallas PD homicide detective Scott Sayers on Twitter this morning:

Not to pick on Sayers -- I just happen to be following him on Twitter -- but is the starting salary of a rookie cop ($43,000), or a teacher ($46,000 in DISD), or [insert underpaid public servant here] really the right benchmark? Cops and teachers do yeoman's work and are probably underpaid, but the City Council sets policy that affects everyone in Dallas. They should be paid accordingly.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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Why would anyone volunteer for this kind of service? No matter what any city council person decides on any question, he or she is always wrong. Every time. It is impossible to please every one of the 90,000 or so people in each council district. Someone will always disagree with whatever a council member decides on any particular question.

Officially it is a part time job. Officially. Do the voters want council members who treat it as a part time job? I know I don't. If I have an issue that rises to the level of council action, I want whichever council member who represents me to act on the problem, and do it when it needs action. I don't want one who only comes to work sessions, regular council meetings, and committee meetings. That's all the job officially requires. 

I want a council member who takes the time to do the job and do it well. I want a council member who goes out in the district and takes the time to get to know the folks and the issues across the district. I want a council member who makes time to attend the various continuing education opportunities afforded to council members across the country. I want a council member who understands the public policy role a council member plays, and is good at crafting public policy solutions. And that takes time, talent, and dedication. 

Do all the Dallas council members satisfy this description? Obviously not. Very obviously not. Does that mean the job should be essentially volunteer? Nope. Not at all. The DFW Metroplex is home to a large number of the largest cities in the state and across the country. Cities are the public policy incubator for the myriad problems we all face. Council members play an essential role. Even the ones who apply for, and get the job for the wrong reasons deserve to be paid for the time they actually are on the job. If they break the law or are ineffectual, then voters have a regular opportunity to term limit those folks and vote in somebody else.

Pay the council. The proposed increase is a token amount that in no way adequately compensates a council member. Any council member who is otherwise employed is going to take a severe pay cut, not to mention the toll it takes on family. It is not an easy job and it is hard to find good, qualified people to serve - people who would advocate for good public policy solutions and be able to push those solutions through. We need more of them. Better pay is one way to attract them to what in many ways really is a crappy job. You really do get what you pay for...

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Council just approved a $45 million grant to the developers of the old Statler Hilton.  I'm thrilled to see that this last side to Main Street Park will finally be part of growing residential neighborhood downtown. 


All of them put together wouldn't make one good civic representative...


What are the odds that more than only 1 or 2 will actually earn it?


We have an extra layer of government.  We have a Mayor, City Council and City Manager, all complaining they work full time and deserve full time salaries. Every other city gets away with 2 of 3 layers or pays two of 3 as part time.

Somebody's not doing his or her job.  Get rid of one of the three layers and give that money to the remainder.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

Let the people of each district vote to pay their council member based on his/her performance in the interest of the constituents.  It doesn't matter what you raise the salary to, at 50K/yr they'll just seek graft and payola at a higher level, 100k/yr an even higher level.  It will never be enough.


Let's just put a tip jar out each city council meeting. 

TheRuddSki topcommenter

I dunno.

On the Federal level, you can enter congress strictly middle-class and emerge a multi-millionaire with a pension and perks that are 10x Americas median income. Of course not many city councils or county commissions, etc will offer the same level of opportunity, but it's all relative.

After all, look how well JWP has done. If he were already a successful entrepreneur or such, Dallas would have never benefited from his eagerness to serve the city. If you raise pay, you'll get slackers.

everlastingphelps topcommenter

In all fairness, Eric was probably paid by the city council to shill for them for a raise.

Isn't he about due to quit D Magazine again anyways?


I'm not a fan of our city council; however, I have long argued that we should pay these people enough that you don't have to be rich or corrupt to run our city and our county. Pay them, say $150K and limit their term to two years. This would attract the best talent from all parts of our city AND all but eliminate corruption and cronyism.


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  But let's say we accept all of your premises as a given -- how should the problem be addressed? I think we can agree that you don't want /these/ Councilmembers, but some other ones... how do you propose to get them? I live in Arlington, not Dallas, but the Arlington City Council just gets some teeeeny little stipend; Arlington is literally not a problem I can afford to try and fix. You can only rule Arlington if you're already independently wealthy.

(To be fair, most of the power in Arlington doesn't see that as an issue.)

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

"They should be paid accordingly."

I'm am going to paraphrase (the family friendly version) John Nance Garner on this one:

"They ain't worth a bucket of warm spit."

Remember this is the Council whose members over the years have run down the library system, the park system, the roads, sanitation, the police and fire departments and have brought us gas wells in parkland, string thingy bridges and soon to come a horsey park, a golf park and a Floodway Tollway.  And don't forget our killer whitewater feature on the Trinity.

It is my opinion that the City of Dallas government is corrupt and no longer follows the rule of law.

Of course, I may be a little harsh here.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter


The Council (per the City Charter) is supposed to set City policy for the City Manager, City Attorney, Police Chief and Fire Chief to implement.

Instead, we have a bunch of Mickey Mouse Maroons who end up micromanaging because the City Manager manages to dodge all decision making.

With 14-1 we have all of the disadvantages of ward politics with none of the benefits.

Other wise how could Atkins hold up the construction of a sanitary sewer line that would allow free market development to take place in southern Dallas.  Instead, we have to wait until a developer shows up  that Atkins approves of.


@Anon. It is a part time job because we have 2x the number of council persons we need and we pay a city manager close to $300K to do part of their jobs.  I understand we have more people on Council than we need to divide up the demographic spoils.  So be it.  That does not mean they deserve full time salaries.  If their districts were not so gerrymandered stretching in every which way, they could bike or walk across their districts in an hour.  The political process in Dallas city is a borderline failure.  Simply paying people more to do the same things will not improve the process.  Change our structure and then we can talk about salaries.


@everlastingphelps  I don't work at D Magazine. I'm a freelancer. How can the Bidness Overlords Who Run Everything send me a 1099 if I'm not a freelancer? Think about it.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter


I think you may have missed my point.  It is my opinion that the City of Dallas is basically a corrupted and corruptible organization.  Paying a salary as proposed will only worsen this situation as people now will run for office who are power hungry and don't know how to exercise their power.

Another way of looking at this is to remember that the position is important, not the people in it.

ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul  be careful or benwellsstreet will come along and issue this wonderful statement 

"the standing wave is bad ass and you're probably just mad about the mhhb because you live in some crappy suburb instead of overlooking the skyline from glorious kessler park lol"

If you dare repsond this is the reply

"We're getting another calatrava soon so get your gold bond ready, because your panties will be bunched up pretty bad.

Suck it, suburbanite. You wished you lived in oak cliff."


I like how you mix Disney and Warner Brother cartoons there. I see what you did...


@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @jesdynf I'm sorry, but I haven't missed your point -- I've rejected it wholesale. If you don't like the people that are there, then you need different people, and if you make no changes then the new people will be from the same pool as the ones you don't like -- independently wealthy people who remain that way through their close connections to established interests.

I don't think offering a living wage is going to make people run /so they can get paid/. Nobody's going to canvas door-to-door because they're too lazy to get a job. 

What about /you/? You don't seem like you're happy with City Hall, why don't you go fix it? Of course, you'll have to do it for something pretty close to free. If you've got bills to pay and you're part of a household that depends on your efforts you might find it's simply not something you can consider.

If you want people who work for a living to make decisions that shape Dallas, then /you're going to have to pay them like they work for a living/.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@jesdynf @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul 

Burning down the place with everyone inside would probably be a good start.

The problem is that the people who are on the City Council and higher levels of City government think that they are important.  In reality, they are not all that important.  Their position and what they do is important, but the actual people, not so much; after all we have council elections every two years and mayor every four.

Besides, I have done my stint in local politics and with the inmates in charge I have no interest in going back.

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