We Journalists Want You Taxpayers to Be More Generous

Categories: Schutze

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Imagine this is your gold. Now imagine that we journalists are feeling very generous with it. Still with us?

You maybe know by now that a some-kind-of-a-whatever-committee at City Hall has been kicking around the idea of giving the Dallas City Council a big pay raise, from $37,500 to $60,000 a year. Eric Nicholson here pointed out last month that council members would make more than rookie cops and firemen under such a formula, an idea he liked. Another interesting Eric, Celeste at D Magazine, said the raise should be more -- something in the six-figure range.

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

Now columnist James Ragland is in The Dallas Morning News today with an encyclical suggesting state law banning pay for school board members should be changed so we can give them a hefty paycheck, too.

So what's with journalists? We just want to give away other people's money? You thought we hated public officials.

No. Not exactly. And about here is where I need to show my own cards. I'm for all of the above. In fact, if there were a poll of local journalists, I bet you'd find the vast majority on the side of much better pay for elected officials. Let me count the reasons.

One. We see them work. Sure, we're shouting nasty questions at them while they do it, and we're always trying to catch them at some scam, but the fact remains: We just see them work. So we know that service on the City Council or the school board goes way beyond a full-time job. It's more like full-time trench warfare.

Two. Beneath all the devil's advocate adversarial relationship, we also see that our system of grassroots community politics recruits a special kind of person to public service. Typically long before they pop up on the council or the school board we reporters have come across them in those endless droning painfully boring (for us) far-flung meetings where people are trying to hash out small-bore community and neighborhood issues. Why are they there? Somebody's got to do it. They're a certain type. They put their hands up and volunteer. We'd all be screwed if they didn't.

Three. We know that this same system tends to lift up people who have a very special gift for building consensus and solving problems. Oh, not always, of course not. You get some real losers in there sometimes, too. But more often than not the system rewards the ones who have the right stuff.

Four. In Dallas, with no-to-low pay for most of these positions, the door is slammed shut to the big middle of the community, the people who are not paupers but also are not among the idle rich. If you're somewhere in the middle, making a good life for yourself but working your ass off to do it, elective office is a ruinous proposition. I can't tell my how many times over the years I have seen middle class council members, often among the brightest and most dedicated of the lot, lose all their clients or get bounced from their firm because they're spending so much time at City Hall.

My last observation would be this: Never has the middle class been more important to Dallas than now. In those ranks we will find the younger candidates with the new, more creatively urban mentality that is this city's greatest opportunity and promise. We need to get more of them into elected positions as soon as possible, but there has to be a way they can serve the city without totally screwing themselves financially.

So, I'm with both of the interesting Erics above and Ragland, too, in saying I think we should pay elected officials and pay them pretty well. Is there a chance, once they get those pay raises, I might pursue a story about spoiled entitled elected officials lying around on couches while scantily clad flunkies pour wine into their mouths from goat-skins? Yeah, I can see myself in such a scenario. Just because I want them to be paid doesn't mean I want them to be happy.

But I think there is general support among the journalists who watch elected officials do what they do for paying elected officials and paying them fairly well. Now ask us how we would feel if we had to pay them with our own money. What money?


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25 comments
AdamsonScott
AdamsonScott

If the City Council wants to get paid on a professional level, then let them run the city - ditch the Manager-form of government and finally make the Council do what we elected them to do.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Such a low salary, yet such large bank accounts.  Must be magic. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The concept of no pay comes from the theory we get better leadership from people who have demonstrated successful leadership.  It's not their first rodeo.

Whether it be in the clergy, military, small business, big biz, or meteorology, it is crucial for the citizen to see a record of leadership.

Professional politicians, particularly at the local level, need not apply.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Why do we have three groups working "full time"  when everybody else has two?  Get rid of one of the three:  Mayor (Can just be one of the councilpersons given the gavel), City Manager or Council.  If we are going to raise pay, why do we need 14 on Council?  Why can't we get along with 7, still in districts so we do not have conflicts on demographics with at-large?


You cannot take a system laid out to be part time and then just boost everyone's salaries.  That won't improve anything.  The Charter Commission should have recommended fundamental changes to accompany these salaries.


Also no one deserves a pension for working 8 years or less unless they are President of the US.  If that is in benefits package as anything besides a defined contribution 403 (401K for gov't) for some reason as a Councilperson, it should go.

lftay
lftay

On this we agree.  First of all, even if we paid each board member $1 million per year, it would be little more than a rounding error on the city or school district financials.  And if it resulted in better governance, the rewards would far outpace what it costs.  Also, the board members who are tempted to work a little grift around the edges will think twice about it if they are already on the gravy train with a good government salary (and pension, I hope).  A little government honesty could go a long way in this city.  Though the local FBI office may have to make some layoffs.

WylieH
WylieH

I agree.  Timely column, Mr. Schutze.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Considering that journos of the DO level are likely net tax recipients and statist liberal democrats, why would anyone be surprised that you would be on board with hitting the taxpayers harder?

Dallas being blue in a sea of red, you'd think the organized-community spirit would be reflected in eagerness to govern for the collective good, not filthy lucre. Wassup, comrades?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Ya mean they aren't smart enough to be making way more already with their insider knowledge?

Guesty
Guesty

@holmantx But a demonstrated record of successful leadership does not necessarily make someone independently wealthy, and in fact is likely to lead the other direction.  So what you are really suggesting is that the only people who should be in public office are older business owners who's primary distinguishing feature is good luck (luck distinguishes most upper-middle class business owners from the truly wealthy ones).

Conversely, you are saying the following should never be in public service regardless of how impressive their demonstrated accomplishments are: police officers, prosecutors, soldiers, teachers, nurses, stay-at-home mothers turned public service organizers (e.g. head of Red Cross, etc.), the clergy (being wealth and being a good leader are mutually exclusive in my mind if you are in the clergy), and any number of other people.  

Guesty
Guesty

@MikeWestEast  

1: This really isn't about the City's budget.  You could pay them all $250,000 a year and it wouldn't even be a rounding error on the City's books.  The salaries of 1 mayor and 14 council members probably wouldn't even match the amount it spends on its toner for printers in a year.  The fight is entirely symbolic (that doesn't mean it doesn't matter).

2:  The mayor really is just part of the city council.  He has no other real power, so it's silly to act like he is in some other "group."  Thus, Dallas like most other cities only has two groups working full time.  And like every other city, the city staff salaries are far more significant to the budget than anything the elected members ever could make. 

3:  Does anyone really believe the city council is "laid out to be part time"?  The budget they have to review and approve is massive.  And the idea that they are responsible for every damn thing the city does or doesn't do in their district means they have a lot of work that they quite frankly shouldn't even be looking at.  But constituents expect their council members to be at least a little bit responsive when they get all NIMBY, and they should pay for that.   


4:  I'm inclined to agree about the pensions.  I have no idea what they get, but I think a standard 403 with a match would be fine.   

JFPO
JFPO

You obviously over-worked your "brain" in the climate change thread. This is extra stupid, even for you.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@Guesty @holmantx Those groups can be in all kinds of public service, probably getting more done than anyone in the Council.  I agree the meetings should be more organized, less during the day and more at night. 


The standard is not make it possible for single human to get on the Council.  I do not want to be led by someone that has not achieved anything outside of being elected to Council because 2.5% of electorate plus 1 likes him or her.  In most cases achievement translates into some kind of steady employment in a leadership, usually exec slot.  They do not need to serve for 4 terms when we pry them out of those seats.  From what I can see, it looks like a job you can contribute well almost immediately.  If financial issues get too much, leave after one or 2 terms.  We thank you for your service and get another person.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Guesty @holmantx  

I didn’t say I agreed with the premise however, those you list are not in it for the money.  It is important that those who seek elected office first demonstrate they possess the necessary leadership and communication skills, along with a history of dealing honestly and fairly in their chosen profession.  In a representative republic where the people who are selected for public service come from, and are elected by, the governed, I see no other way to measure the suitability of a candidate than by his or her track record.  

Otherwise, we must take a flyer on a charismatic.  A political Hail Mary.

And we can see how that works out.

Subnx
Subnx

Yup, I don't want teachers and clergy spending tax money.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Guesty @holmantx  

Those types are poor candidates because they just can't seem to understand how to properly weight the cost / benefit ratio of public service. Elect those sorts of service minded individuals and pretty soon we'll be making decisions that actually help taxpaying citizens at the expense of tax-breaks for the job-creators.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@Guesty @MikeWestEast We do not pay them to be responsible for everything.  They clearly are not responsible for everything because they kick it to City Manager or make some statement and leave it at that.  They are directors as at a major corporation.  I do not expect my councilperson to do more than be prepared for the council meetings.  They are not aldermen or selectmen.  They should not even be talking to city employees directly anymore that a board director of Penney's can call a store manager.  It is the same thing with DISD, trustees giving regional ok on schools in their district.  When did that start?  The mayor is different because he is the only one that has independent actions.  Every one else can only act with the majority.


The 14-1 is supposed to provide reps across the community so when they act COLLECTIVELY every group has a voice.  Instead we've have gotten ourselves into some kind of screwed up mishmash of mayor and manager, with incredibly poor performance.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JFPO

Were just thankful you chose not to work yours at all.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Guesty  

Too stupid to even respond to.

work on it.

Guesty
Guesty

@holmantx @GuestyThat probably is a meaningless comparison because:


1)  The Texas legislature's hands aren't tied by conflicting propositions effectively requiring the legislature to spend vast amounts of money while at the same time preventing it from taxing to cover the expense;


2)  The Texas Republicans can pass anything no matter how vile or harmful because of its super-majority.  It is efficient in what it does, but that doesn't make what it does any good; and 


3)  The Texas legislature actually is much closer to being a part time job that the local officials we are talking about.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Guesty @holmantx  

Compare the our state legislature's performance with the California state assembly.


Guesty
Guesty

@holmantx @Guesty"those you list are not in it for the money."  Depends what you mean by "in it for the money."  Most of those people couldn't do the jobs they have without the salaries they draw.  So if you are talking about school board, or city council, even they couldn't afford the pay cut to move to elected service even though they are not in it for the money.  


And that still leaves all the upper-middle class people who would be great, but who are not willing to upend their entire family's financial well being to be a trustee, etc.  

One thing that is very awkward about the whole thing is that we pretend like only working 20-30 hours a week leaves time to continue with some other real job.  But very few could maintain or find a professional job with such a large time commitment, particularity during the work week.  So if you make a very good living now, you probably couldn't just cut back your hours and make proportionately less.  You must be willing to cut back to next-to-nothing.   

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

JFPO

I can't speak for all, but I'm impressed that you would take your time to not only announce on another thread that "all of you suck", but would flatter me with your attention.

As to your work, what do you do?

JFPO
JFPO

Well, admittedly I don't work it here...every thread...every day. I have a job...and a life...

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