Ethics behind closed doors: Why don’t we just pay councilmen more?

Is it possible to have ethics reform behind closed doors? That’s the question asked in a Dallas Observer piece by Patrick Williams, and he points out the yuckability of discussing how to clean up city council ethics while hiding the discussion from the public. I’m not as concerned, but it is kind of laugh-out-loud absurd at first glance.

Williams also highlights the most potent and controversial element of the current ethics proposal: Requiring three other council members to support zoning changes in another councilman’s district. Clearly, the quickest way to get three additional votes on a complicated project is to keep a list of who owes who what, since most council members don’t have time to bone-up on every single zoning issue in town. And if votes are being traded that easily, we’re probably not making much ethics progress, are we?

Perhaps a better idea would be to start treating the council jobs as full-time, which they are anyway, and pay the council members enough to make it a job rather than a well-paid hobby. I’m not suggesting this is the time to dole out more money, given the cutbacks currently occuring downtown, but if we want "professional" councilmen to do a "professional" job, it’s time to pay them more than $37,500 a year.

I’m not saying that’s chump change; I just don’t think it’s an appropriate wage given the amount of hours worked, the grief they take and the temptation they face. Michael Davis of Dallas Progress seems to agree, and he lists what other cities are paying their councilmen: His range is $48,000 in Baltimore to $149,160 in Los Angeles.

Hey, I bet a lot of us would run for council if we could get paid $149,000!


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