NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Council asks for pay raise

By Suzanne Sprague

DALLAS – Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Council members have been carefully monitoring public opinion on pay issues. But when they began formally debating a pay raise late Wednesday afternoon, there were almost more reporters in the Council chambers than citizens. Three people told the Council they opposed a salary for elected officials, but Councilwoman Laura Miller, who originally called for the salaries, was passionate in her support of the proposal.

Laura Miller, District 3 Dallas City Council member: And the number one reason I am for it is to increase the number of people who run for this position, and to enable the whole city to be able to make the sacrifice they will still have to make to come down here and serve the people.

Sprague: Last week, the City Council informally agreed to set a council salary of $40,000. But yesterday, Laura Miller made a motion to put $37,500 on the ballot. And only one council member, James Fantroy, spoke up to defend that.

James Fantroy, District 8 Dallas City Council member: And I don't see anything wrong with that. $37,500. Try to run this city with almost $2 billion dollar budget. What's wrong with trying to compensate a council person? I can't understand it to save my life.

Sprague: Council member Alan Walne countered such a salary would not be popular with voters.

Alan Walne, District 10 Dallas City Council member: People don't really want us, for this to end up being our "job" with all of our benefits and everything being derived here.

Sprague: Walne suggested paying council members for each meeting they attend, raising the stipend from the current $50 to $500. That measure failed. Councilwoman Donna Blumer called it transparent because it amounted to almost the same annual pay as Laura Miller was proposing. And, Blumer also questioned what council members were willing to offer voters in return for a raise.

Donna Blumer, District 13 Dallas City Council member: Are you going to keep regular hours? Are you going to be here nine to five? How many of you were in your seat today at 9:00? I venture to say very few of us.

Sprague: To discourage council members from abusing a flat salary, Councilman John Loza suggested their paychecks should be docked if they miss more than 10% of their required meetings.

John Loza, District 2 Dallas City Council member: So if you miss 12% of the meetings, your salary gets cut 12%.

Sprague: Although Loza's measure was eventually adopted, Mayor Ron Kirk questioned how it would be enforced, saying later he couldn't see council members refunding the city for failing to attend meetings.

Ron Kirk, Mayor, City of Dallas: (Laughing) I'm told that we'll figure out a way to make it make sense. (More seriously) We'll find a way.

Sprague: At the end of the debate, only two council members - Alan Walne and Donna Blumer - voted against putting the salary request on the May 5th ballot. However, Barbara Mallory-Caraway wouldn't cast her vote until the City Secretary said she had to. Term limits prohibit Mallory-Caraway from running for reelection, but her husband is vying for her seat. Council members were divided over whether Dallas residents will vote for the measure. A council pay raise has been rejected seven times since 1968. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.