Beside The Point

Raise Politics

Jennifer Kim
Jennifer Kim (Photo By John Anderson)

Hurtling through the metaverse, "Beside the Point" is adapted this week from "Wrong for the Wrong Reasons on Raises," a post I wrote on the Chronicle's news blog, Chronic, considering, along with council's pay raise, blogs and interactive Web sites. Confused yet?

Lying in the dentist's chair last Friday morning, there was something infinitely more painful than the drill cleaning out my cavities. That would be "Austin's Home of Soft Rock Favorites," Majic 95.5, wafting in through the speakers like dairy-farm aroma entering a passing car. Between Josh Groban's MILF-moistening caterwauling and inane dribble about this weekend's megaplex openings was an update delivered by one of the local news network's spokesbots. Surprisingly, the lede wasn't anything morbid or crime-related, but it still played pretty sensationally: Yesterday, City Council's members 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 the announcement mentioned that it was council's first raise since 2000, but it 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. The amendment was passed quickly and quietly, with a minimum of discussion; Wynn's and Kim's announcements went to the Statesman and city politics newsletter In Fact Daily. Odd they felt so strongly, yet didn't want to say anything for the record.)

Wynn we can somewhat forgive for refusing the raise. As mayor, he already made more than a council member, about $53,000 to their $45,000. (Respectively, the figures were raised to around $68,000 and $57,700 – respectable, yet still short of the salaries professionals of council's background command.) Secondly, Wynn gets a lot of high-profile gigs as mayor, fashion shows and bridge jumpings included. So, while Wynn should've taken his licks like the rest of them (i.e., his raise, the poor thing), it's understandable why he would feel the heat more than the rest of council.

Which leaves Kim, on the outs with council for reasons quixotic at best. Having recently taken a part-time job as vice-president of tech consortium Vias International (becoming the only council member to have outside employment now), she doesn't need the extra money, Kim says. "I'm fortunate," she says. "I'm really blessed to have a job where I can save for retirement." Which is important, granted, but creates a caste system on the dais, wherein Kim's the lone council member outside cash's insidious grasp. Wynn could get away with it, being of a different capacity, but for Kim to swear off the raise creates an inevitable distinction. Asked about this, Kim said, "I totally support the other members taking it – they're parents," while she has no mouths to feed or enrollment fees to shoulder. "It's their right to take it. I just didn't want to deal with it. I want to talk about what I'm working on."

In describing her reasoning, Kim cited negative reaction to the raise, largely the Statesman's online topic forum, which diabolically combines all the obtuseness of old media with the unexpurgated vitriol of the Internet. "Going by the comments on message boards," said Kim, "I was looking at all those, and I thought, 'Wow – people are really mad.'" And yes, most of the Talk of Austin comes from a bunch of reactionary mouth-breathers who make Jeff Ward sound like William F. Buckley. But is this surprising – or moreover, is it actually representative of public sentiment? No, blogs and comments are a self-selecting fever swamp of pet issues and petty grievances. Drive-time talk doesn't do nuance either, and Kim's smart enough to see that. No, despite her assurances otherwise, it appears she's looking to re-election, and, judging by some of her previous missteps – most notably, the recent Crossings kerfuffle – maybe rightfully so. Makes sense to us, but maybe we're not the ones she needs to explain to. Not naming any names, Lee Leffingwell told the Statesman that to support a raise but not take it would be "political grandstanding," on his part. With Kim, maybe the buck should've stopped there.

p.s. Council packs up and heads home for the holidays, returning to the dais Nov. 30, with the big-box ordinance expected Dec. 7. Ho-ho-ho!

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city council, Will Wynn, Jennifer Kim, city council raise, Vias International, Lee Leffingwell

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