Media (and Jennifer Kim) are wrong for the wrong reasons on council pay
By Wells Dunbar,
11:14AM, Fri. Nov. 17, 2006
Lying in the dentist's chair this morning, there was something infinitely more painful than the drill cleaning out all my cavities. That would be Majic 95.5, "Austin's Home of Soft Rock Favorites," wafting in through the speakers like a car passing a dairy farm. Between Josh Groban's MILF-moistening caterwauling and inane dribble about this weekend's megaplex money-minters, was an update delivered by one of the local news network's spokesbots. Surprisingly, the lede wasn't anything morbid or crime related but still played pretty sensationally: how yesterday, City Council had voted to give themselves a near 30% raise – plus an automobile allowance! The nerve!
Of course, the piece of "news" failed to provide much context. I can't remember whether they mentioned that it was council's first raise since 2000, but to their credit, they did provide one salient tidbit about yesterday's vote: that despite its unanimous passage, Will Wynn and Jennifer Kim would forego the extra scratch. Not that there was any discussion of this on the dais. No, the amendment was passed quickly and quietly, with a minimum of discussion; Wynn and Kim's announcements went to the Statesman and city politics newsletter In Fact Daily. Odd they would feel so strongly, yet not want to say anything for the record.
Wynn we can somewhat understand. As mayor, he already made more than a council member, approximately $53,000 to their $45,000. (Respectively, the figures were raised to around $57,700 and $68,000.) So, for one, he's not hurting. Secondly, as mayor you get a lot of high-profile gigs – Wynn, late of fashion shows and bridge jumpings, somewhat infamously so. So, while he still should've taken his licks, it's understandable why he wouldn't want the citizenry remembering his recent raise next time he's doing his job – discussing hybrid cars in Canada, mixed-use development in Aspen, or whatever.
Which leaves Jennifer Kim, in an unfortunately characteristic move, on the outs with council for reasons quixotic at best. The explanation, best as I can wager, is that having recently taken a part-time job (the only one on council to have one now), the extra money isn't needed. Which is a pretty great luxury and all but one which looks to create a holier-than-thou caste system on the dais. The mayor could get away with it, being of a different capacity than the rest of council, but for Kim to swear off the raise lowers her colleagues.
In describing her reasoning to In Fact Daily, Kim cited the local blogosphere's negative reaction to a raise. She might have meant the public forums papers and networks are offering increasingly, which diabolically combine all the obtuseness and sensationalism of old media with the unexpurgated vitriol of Teh Internets. (Not that we'd know anything about that.) As illustrated earlier, most of the "Talk Of Austin" comes from a bunch of reactionary mouthbreathers that make Jeff Ward sound like William F. Buckley. This KXAN "feedback forum" overflows with "when did you stop beating your wife"-type reasoning ("The move comes after the council spent $16,000 of your money at a retreat held at a spa") – and that's only the truthy lead-in to the comments section.
No, blogs and comments are a self-selecting fever swamp of pet issues and petty grievances, and Kim's smart enough to see that. What she's doing is looking to re-election, and, judging by some of the mistakes she's made, maybe rightfully so. Thing is, the self-perpetuating cycle could stop if she stopped making mistakes – like the one she's made here, again.