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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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Dallas City Council car allowance smells fishy

Well, that was shady.

We’re talking about the Dallas City Council’s recent vote to essentially give each council member a 20% pay raise, disguised as a $1,000 monthly car allowance.

In effect, the stipend raises each council member’s annual compensation from $60,000 a year to $72,000, a pay bump that normally would have required public approval to change the city charter.

Instead, the move came in the form of a last-minute budget amendment, proposed by council member Adam Bazaldua, who told our newsroom colleague Everton Bailey Jr. he was concerned about the “wear and tear” on council members’ cars. He also cited the burden on city staff to process all of those mileage reimbursement requests.

Really? To us, it was an end-around effort to pad City Council salaries.

The standard Internal Revenue Service mileage reimbursement rate of 62.5 cents per mile includes consideration for wear and tear. Having council members file mileage reimbursement requests and justify the expenses created a layer of transparency for Dallas taxpayers that is no longer there.

Mayor Eric Johnson won’t receive the stipend because he gets a security detail.

The council’s troubling decision came during a Sept. 21 review of amendments to the city’s $4.5 billion budget, which was later approved in full. In an informal “straw vote,” members held up either the red or green side of a card indicating their disapproval or approval of it. There was no discussion on Bazaldua’s motion to approve it. Not even a description of “Amendment 15.” The whole matter took all of 27 seconds.

It’s clear from the video of that vote that at least 13 Dallas City Council members, including Johnson, green-carded the amendment. It wasn’t clear from the video which way council member Paul Ridley voted, but he told us this week he opposed it.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn clearly opposed it, later calling it a backdoor way to increase City Council pay. “I think there’s a reason why it happened at the last [amendment] meeting,” she told us.

Mendelsohn said in an interview that each council member has a $25,000 discretionary fund from which reimbursement for mileage is a justified expense. She said one council member approached her before the amendment meeting expecting her to support the car allowance, noting that under federal law she is not allowed to claim reimbursement for commuting to and from work, and her home is the farthest away from City Hall. She dismissed that reasoning, aligning her with most American workers who can’t claim their commutes as mileage.

Mendelsohn said she never claims mileage reimbursement when driving around her own district and has only occasionally done so for out-of-town city business.

Bazaldua told this newspaper that city staff said the average mileage reimbursement per council member was just $300 a month. In coming up with the $1,000 figure, he said he just added that to $700 — the car stipend City Manager T.C. Broadnax receives. The allowance took effect on Oct. 1.

If Dallas City Council members want a salary increase, then they should say so. There’s a charter review process for that, and it is open to public discussion. The way this City Council agreed to essentially increase its compensation, though not illegal, was certainly not ethical and was unfair to taxpayers.

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