The issue of financial transparency has come to the forefront of recent discussions at Dallas City Council meetings this past week on holiday pay.
During Wednesday’s City Council meeting, councilmembers voted on an ordinance to allow holiday pay for city temporary employees, with an estimated annual cost of over $575,000. However, some council members pushed back on the proposal because the estimated cost had doubled since it was originally reviewed.
Councilmember Paul Ridley of District 14 expressed concerns about the ordinance, saying that it was not the same proposal he saw during a prior Government Performance and Financial Management Committee (GPFM) meeting on October 24.
“This is not the same item,” he said. “This is going to cost us $575,000. At GPFM, staff briefed it to us as costing less than one-half of that number: $277,000. There’s been no explanation of the doubling of the cost, and this changes the whole cost-benefit analysis of this item.”
“Staff failed to present any data really justifying this expenditure,” he continued. “We deserve an explanation at the committee level of this doubling of the cost so that we can assess whether this is still worth doing.”
Kimberly Tolbert, deputy city manager, was called upon to explain the dramatic cost change to the council, suggesting that the $277,000 price tag presented to the GPFM committee was calculated using the number of individuals who would be eligible after six months, while the $575,000 number takes into consideration every single temporary employee.
“When we presented [the item] to the GPFM committee, we actually gave you the number that would be considered eligible after six months, which was $277,000 annually,” she said. “What’s in the agenda item [is] if you were taking into consideration all the temporary employees whether or not they moved beyond that six-month period, so that’s why the number is higher.”
“But the annual estimated cost based on the number of temporaries who would actually qualify is the $277,000 that we presented,” she continued, “So that number in the agenda item is like the worst-case scenario.”
Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn of District 12 continued to question Tolbert about the cost disparity, saying, “I’m generally in support of this item, [but] I’m very concerned about the dollars. And I’m not concerned about the totality of the dollars. I’m concerned that we were briefed on one, and another one’s come up.”
Mendelsohn suggested that had Tolbert simply admitted that she made a mistake and briefed GPFM on the higher number from the start, she would have understood.
“But it appears that you’re presenting it to us as, ‘This was okay to sell you at GPFM, and now it’s okay that we’re doing this on your agenda,’ and I can’t match these numbers up,” she continued. “This is an ongoing issue I have about trust, and this is the kind of thing that makes me very concerned about numbers that come before council.”
Jack Ireland, the city’s chief financial officer, then stepped forward to explain further. “The difference is the number that was presented to GPFM included an assumption of paying for six city holidays, but we, in fact, have 12 city holidays,” he clarified.
Because temporary city employees enter a six-month probationary period before they are eligible for holiday pay, only six holidays were accounted for in the original budgetary calculation, Ireland explained, but he admitted that was a mistake.
Other council members, including District 13’s Gay Donnell Willis and District 6’s Omar Narvaez, argued that this item was less about the specific dollar amount and more about the “concept” of the city valuing and showing respect to its temporary employees.
However, Ridley maintained that there were still questions to be answered.
“There are still substantial questions about how this matter got to the full City Council after being briefed at GPFM at a totally different dollar amount,” he said. “This sounds like a bait-and-switch to me. And I think we as a council need to take a stand that we won’t accept this kind of action — that if something is briefed to the committee, it needs to come to the full council … in the same form at the same dollar amount, and not doubling the amount that it will cost us.”
“Put aside whether you think this is a good idea or not as a policy issue. The issue before us now is whether we are going to allow staff to come to us with a totally changed agenda from when it was briefed at the committee meeting just two weeks ago without sufficient explanation … as to why these new figures were not presented to the committee,” Ridley continued.
Councilmember Narvaez argued that while these are large numbers, they are relatively small when compared to the city budget — over $4.5 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
“When we invest in people, we get a better return and better people, better staff, [and] better productivity,” he said, adding that this policy will allow the city to show its temporary employees “some dignity and respect.”
“This is not about dollars and cents and cost-benefit,” added City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “This is about treating people with respect and paying them for the work that they do and rewarding them for what work.”
Ultimately, following almost an hour of debate, the council approved the ordinance, allocating $575,000 for holiday pay for temporary city employees.