Sunday, April 11, 2010

Atkins's timing stinks

Dallas city Council member Tennell Atkins, a man I have admired for having the courage to say things that need to be said even though they are not popular, is at it again, atlhough I'm afraid he is going to be on the losing side of the argument again. This time, however, it will be because of his timing as much as because of what he is proposing.

Atkins is recommending a charter review commission increase the pay of council members from $35,000 a year to between $80,000 and $100,000 a year and increase council members' terms from two years to four. Sorry, Tennell, this just won't fly.

His reasoning behind thie salary increase is that no one can live on $35,000 a year, which is a major insult to all those Dallas residents who wished they made that much, plus had the expense accounts, the free meals and the other benefits that come with serving on the City Council. It wasn't that long ago that Dallas thought serving on the City Council was strictly for public service, not for pay at all. It was considered a part-time, volunteer position. Up until that time council members were paid something like $50 for every council meeting they attended. The argument against this practice was that only the very wealthy could afford to serve on the City Council.

But the problem with Atkins's recommendation is that it is coming at the worst possible time. As Dallas Morning News reporter Rudolph Bush so accurately pointed out, the city is facing "drastically reduced services, layoffs and pay cuts" in order to balance its budget again this year. Do you for one minute think a citizen juggling two jobs to keep food on the table for his/her children, who now may not have a safe place to go after school because the neighborhood rec center is closed, is going to approve giving the person who closed this center a 200 to 300 percent pay increase? Not bloodly likely.

I don't like Atkins's idea to extend term limits either. I want to be able to go to the ballot box every two years to offer my performance review for my city council representative. Atkins' argument here is that city council people have to spend all their time fund raising for re-election. I have a couple of responses for that. First, if that's too hard on you, don't seek re-election or even election in the first place. Second, members of the U.S. House of Representatives have to do the same thing and they have to do it over a wider geographical area and raise even more money. Finally, all I have to do is point to the recent tribulations of former city council member Don Hill to argue why I don't want council members so firmly entrenched in their seats. Two years terms with a four-term limit is perfect and if you don't like it, don't seek the job.

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