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Council Members Continue Debate Over Their Salaries

Dallas City Hall | Image by Harry Thomas Flower/Shutterstock
Dallas City Hall | Image by Harry Thomas Flower/Shutterstock

Dallas City Council members on Wednesday could not agree on how much of a raise they should receive — if any — after the Charter Review Commission recommended six-figure salaries for them.

“I watched a really robust process at the Charter Commission, and there were lots of data points that were brought in to consider, including comparable cities and what their elected officials were being paid,” Adam Bazaldua (District 7) said. “I believe that, from the feedback I’ve heard, what was proposed at $125,000 … was a little too high when it came to voters’ opinions. There was a clear understanding that we deserve more pay. I am not afraid to say we deserve more pay.”

The Dallas Express reported in March that the Charter Review Commission recommended raising council members’ pay from $60,000 to $125,000 and the mayor’s pay from $80,000 to $140,000. But on Wednesday, Bazaldua made a motion to the recommended amendment, proposing to increase council members’ pay to $95,000 and the mayor’s pay to $115,000.

“It allows us to still be under a six-figure salary, but it is comparable to those we are working with,” he said. “I looked at [the pay schedule] of assistant directors making upwards of $150,000 to $155,000. Directors are making $190,000 and closer to $200,000. Assistant city managers and deputy city managers are $250,000 and up.”

Bazaldua also argued that council members deserve more pay because their work never stops.

“This is a full-time job. The amount we put into work is second to none. I was an educator, and I know a teacher puts in much more than bell-to-bell. This is an equal increase for council and the mayor.”

It was the second briefing meeting since May 15 in which council members discussed the Charter Review Commission’s recommendations. No formal votes were taken in either meeting.

Kathy Stewart (District 10) offered an amendment of her own to the Charter Review Commission recommendation on council pay — $80,000 for council members and $105,000 for the mayor.

“I just don’t see the voters giving … double what we currently make,” Omar Narvaez (District 6) said. “But I think the city council deserves more. It’s not supposed to be a career, but it kind of is now.”

Other council members jumped into the conversation, including Carolyn King Arnold, who said she works full-time representing District 4.

“I do want the public to know it does cost to serve, and I’m happy to do that,” she said. “We want to be fair. We want to be equitable and be able to justify it. I’m not going to serve any less. I made more money before I arrived here, to be honest with you. It’s not going to change my attitude for service.”

The last time wages for the mayor and council members were adjusted was in 2014, during the last charter review. Dallas voters approved a measure increasing the mayor’s pay from $60,000 to $80,000 and the council members’ pay from $37,500 to $60,000.

“I do think it comes at a bad time,” Paul Ridley (District 14) said of revisiting salary increases, citing pending budget reductions and reconciling the Dallas Police and Fire Pension. “I think it strikes a bad note to our residents that we would be considering feathering our own nests by an increase of almost 60% of our pay, and I just cannot support that.”

Jesse Moreno (District 2) said he considers his work as a council member “a full-time job,” and Tennell Atkins (District 8) agreed.

“We are public servants,” Atkins said. “You do it because you want to do it. If you don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t be around this horseshoe. Please don’t send a bad message to the residents by saying we’re fattening ourselves. Like a pastor, he does not preach for the money. He preaches to serve the people. If it’s about the money for you, resign.”

Bazaldua then asked interim City Manager Kim Tolbert to return to the council on June 18 with a recommendation on salary increases, along with “guidance” on auto allowances for council members. After Tolbert called that “an effective exercise for us,” Bazaldua withdrew his motion, and Stewart withdrew her motion.

Among other Charter Review Commission policy amendment recommendations, council members agreed on Wednesday to consider revising language that would allow residents who are not U.S. citizens to represent the Dallas City Council on several boards, committees, and commissions.

In April, The Dallas Express reported that Moreno proposed “changing wording in the charter to be more inclusive, using ‘resident’ or ‘people’ in place of ‘citizen.’” On Wednesday, council members said they favored removing the word “authorized” from proposed language that limits representation on Dallas boards, committees, and commissions to “Dallas residents who are citizens or authorized residents of the United States [registered to vote] and meet the qualifications for service on a city commission.”

Across multiple forums, in municipal and other governments, and among taxpayers, the word “citizen” is used interchangeably. Generally, it colloquially describes someone who is a resident of a place, such as Dallas or Dallas County. However, “citizen” as a legal term is reserved to describe those persons who are legal residents of the U.S.

American voters have long questioned non-citizens’ participation in government. In March, the U.S. Senate rejected a bill amendment that would have blocked non-U.S. citizens from being counted when determining how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state receives, The Dallas Express reported.

A formal vote on the Charter Review Commission and council members’ amendments is scheduled for June 26.

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