Pay raise for Fort Worth mayor, council top election issue as early voting begins

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A gigantic pay raise for Fort Worth’s mayor and city council members is among the issues facing voters in the May 7 local elections. Early voting began April 25 and continues through May 3.

Elections are being held in a number of Tarrant County cities and school districts, including the Fort Worth Independent School District, but by far the most attention is focused on Fort Worth where proposed pay raises would increase the mayor’s salary from $29,000 to $99,653 per year and council members’ pay from $25,000 to $76,727.

Besides the large pay boost, the proposal also would create an automatic system for future pay adjustments “indexed” to the pay rates of top city administrators. The mayor would receive a salary that is half the base rate of city department heads. The salary of city council members would be half the average base rate for assistant department heads.

The pay raise is one of 13 proposed amendments to the city charter that will appear on the ballot.

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Also on the Fort Worth ballot is a $560 million bond package that includes funds to fix and improve roads, add and repair parks and recreation facilities, build a new library in far northwest Fort Worth, upgrade police and fire facilities and expand the city’s open space program.

And while they’re considering all that, voters in Fort Worth’s District 4 will also choose a new council representative to replace Cary Moon, who forfeited the seat to run for the Texas House of Representatives. Moon sought the District 93 House seat that will be vacated by Matt Krause, who is running for Tarrant County District Attorney. Moon lost his legislative bid in the March 1 Republican primary; he must leave the city council when a successor is elected.

The four candidates running for the District 4 council seat are Alan Blaylock, James H. McBride, Teresa Ramirez and Tara Wilson.

Fort Worth’s pay raise proposal has been criticized not only for the amount of the raises but also for taking future decisions on mayoral and council salaries out of the hands of voters and linking the elected officials’ pay raises to that of  department heads and assistant department heads.

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The pay rates would be built into the city’s annual budget, which the council would then vote to approve.

City Manager David Cooke said that while the proposal would eliminate the need for voter approval of future pay raises, it doesn’t mean the mayor and council members would get a pay raise every year.

“One of the reasons for providing an index to a pay range or pay increase is that the pay can move up and down or stay flat, based on economic conditions,” Cooke told the Business Press.

A vote to include the pay plan on the ballot was approved unanimously by the council on Feb. 8.

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Mayor Mattie Parker and other council members expressed support for the pay increase because elected officials devote extensive time in those roles, making it difficult to juggle a full-time job with city duties.

“The only people who have time to serve in elected office are people who are retired, independently wealthy or have jobs with immense flexibility,” said District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck.

Beck said higher pay would bring more diversity and open doors so younger people could serve on the council. As it is, teachers, nurses and construction workers are shut out because they don’t have the time to devote to public service and their jobs, she said.

The last time a pay raise proposal was presented to voters was in 2016, when it was resoundingly defeated. That proposal would have raised the mayor’s salary to $60,000 and council salaries to $45,000.

Fort Worth is the nation’s 12th largest city and Texas’ fifth largest, but mayoral and council salaries lag behind more populous metro competitors.

Data presented by the city shows that Dallas pays its mayor $80,000 per year and council members $60,000; Austin pays its mayor $97,656 and council members $83,258 per year; San Antonio pays its mayor $61,725 and council members $45,722 per year.

“I just don’t see how it could pass,” Thomas Torlincasi, a grassroots advocate for government transparency and accountability, said of the salary plan. “There are some good propositions on the ballot and I hope (the salary plan) doesn’t drag them down.”

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