CITY MANAGER TED Benavides’ resignation shouldn’t come as a surprise to Dallas residents. The recruit of former Mayor Ron Kirk has not enjoyed an easy relationship with Laura Miller, and the past year’s fake drugs investigation and subsequent firing of Police Chief Terrell Bolton have not improved that relationship or his popularity with the city council.
What is surprising to most people, though, is the size of his retirement package. According to the Dallas Morning News, “Benavides’ pension is two-thirds of his $263,000 annual salary, approximately $173,600 a year, lifetime. And he has accrued approximately 26 weeks of sick leave and vacation time, which the city will also pay him.”
It’s no wonder that he’s leaving the contentious life at City Hall behind to, he says, “…paint fences on my mom’s ranch.”
What I don’t understand is why people are so mad at Benavides. We’re not known as “Deep-Pocket Dallas” for nothing, It’s not Benavides’ fault that the city offers such a lucrative retirement package to the top executive job in Dallas – the city manager is not a public servant elected by the people for the people. The position functions as the city’s CEO with CEO-sized benefits, answerable only to the city council, instead of the mayor.
Why should we blame him for waiting out Mayor Miller’s criticisms and second-guessing by the media while keeping his eye on the prize of his retirement package? He played by the rules that residents of Dallas have tolerated in their civic government – a system of little to no accountability that guarantees gridlock instead of innovation and change, a system that doesn’t reduce pensions based on performance or lack of it.
Sure, Mayor Miller would have liked to have gotten rid of Benavides long ago – she has said as much publicly. But firing him required a majority vote from city council, a council that can’t even agree that a police chief who presides over a department involved in fake drug convictions and the highest crime rate in the country needs to be replaced. Fat chance she can get them to agree on giving the city manager his walking papers for the same lapses.
What is surprising is that city residents actually tolerate such an ineffective form of city government, which guarantees that the top job functions as an independent entity with no checks and balances. The attitude of deep pockets appears again and again in city behavior, from the settlement by the city to officers fired by Chief Bolton, to the money spent trying the police officers responsible for the fake drug convictions. When are our pockets empty?
In a city that until recently had cut disability funding for injured and permanently paralyzed police officers, it is unconscionable that we would continue to offer such a generous pension package for a job not done well. As the city begins an “exhaustive search,” according to Mayor Miller, for a new city manager, it is time for Dallas residents to demand that this position and the current city governing system become obsolete. How many headlines do we need to see before we understand that the status quo isn’t working? What good does it do the voters of Dallas to elect a mayor who shares their vision for the city, when a city manager can stymie that mayor’s platform?
Now’s the time to ensure that in the future, the buck stops at the mayor’s office, an elected official who can be voted out of office for less than stellar job performance.
Dallas residents and elected officials are working very hard to create a city known for its parks, cultural institutions, sports venues, and the quality of its schools. Yet all of those endeavors are wasted if the top management position in Dallas remains a revolving door for individuals who can do a lackluster job and leave with their gravy train intact.
I don’t know about you, but my pocket has been picked for the last time.