- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

DALLAS For generations, Dallas mayors have had to serve for practically nothing more than the honor. But on May 5, voters here will go to the polls to decide if they will pay their mayor and City Council members decent salaries.

Dallas is one of the few major cities in the country that does not pay its mayor or council members a salary. Instead, they are paid $50 for each weekly council meeting they attend.

Voters generally have been proud of Dallas' successful management system, where City Manager Teodoro J. Benavides, who is paid $179,001, and a staff of highly qualified experts handle the day-to-day running of the eighth-largest U.S. city.

The mayor is but a figurehead, a man who spends as much time making speeches and leading trade and travel delegations as he does handling the nuts and bolts of the city's everyday activities.

Ron Kirk, the present second-term mayor and Dallas' first black mayor, is popular with voters and is generally considered a top-flight representative of the city. If he attends every council meeting and every committee session, Mr. Kirk might make $8,000 a year.

Mr. Kirk is also a law partner in one of the city's largest and most influential law firms, where he pulls in a middle-area six-figure salary and annual bonuses.

Until about 20 years ago, a downtown group called the Dallas Charter Association handpicked its choice for mayor. The choice was always a strong business leader, and more often than not a very wealthy person who could either take a leave of absence from his company or continue to work while serving as mayor.

Erik Jonsson, who became mayor in the 1960s, took a cut in pay of $80,000 from his chairmanship job at Texas Instruments to become mayor.

Others like Bob Folsom, Earle Cabell, Bob Thornton, Starke Taylor and Jack Evans were wealthy men who considered the honor enough. That was a good thing, because most of them made only $20 for attending the weekly council meetings.

It wasn't until the 1970s, when a popular former TV newscaster, Wes Wise, bucked the charter association and became the first "average Joe" to become mayor in generations.

By that time voters had agreed to a raise for the mayor and council, upping the payment to $50 a meeting. Even with that comparative windfall, Mr. Wise, who couldn't cover the news because he was mayor, quit in his third term and later filed for bankruptcy.

There has been virtually no suggestion that the present mayor has used his position to benefit those who pay him a dozen times more than the city does, but the specter of what could happen under this pay system looms.

It became a topic of discussion last year when popular council member Al Lipscomb, with more than a decade on councils, was convicted of accepting bribes from Dallas' largest taxicab company in return for favorable council votes. A second council member was rumored to be involved also, but was not charged.

"If we don't pay them," said one caller to a local talk show this week, "somebody else is going to and we might not like what they give away to make a few more bucks, just to live."

After weeks of discussion, the council last month said it would ask voters for $60,000 a year for the mayor and $37,500 for council members. Most council members all 14 of whom are up for election this year backed those numbers. And the jockeying and campaigning began.

The proposal is expected to be the only City Charter amendment on the May 5 ballot. The initial response has been in favor of the raises.

Still, seven other times in the past 32 years local taxpayers have been asked to raise the mayor's and council's pay. Seven times they voted it down, sometimes with gusto.

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