When the Dallas City Council approved the contract for new city manager A.C. Gonzalez this week, it included a starting salary of $400,000 per year. That’s almost $100,000 more than his experienced predecessor, Mary Suhm. And it has at least one former council member asking questions.
On Facebook, former council member Veletta Lill posed this question to her more than 2,000 friends: Does anyone else think it looks odd to pay a woman with eight years of experience 31 percent less than the new hire, a man?
The conversation went public.
“Looking at it from the outside, it looks like they didn’t value the female city manager quite as much as the male manager,” Lill said.
Lill wants the council to openly discuss why it decided to pay Gonzalez that much, making him one of the highest paid city managers in Texas.
Compared to Suhm’s salary, it looks like gender pay inequality, Lill says.
“When the president of the United States brings this up in his state of the union, one assumes that we are in tune with that issue,” Lill says. “At the same time, it appears that we don’t have gender pay equality and this may very well be one more example of that.”
But City Council member Rick Callahan, who voted against Gonzalez’ new contract, says that’s not what it’s about.
“Mary, had she remained, she was due for a pay raise," he said. In addition, he said, Suhm's salary was affected during the economic downturn: It was cut by 6 percent as part of an effort to balance the city budget.
Callahan says he was more comfortable with paying Gonzalez less than what he's earning.
“It’s striking that he’s now making what the president of the United States is making,” he says. “And he’s just served now one day on the job. I just feel like that we should have started him at a much lower level and let him work up to the 350 or 400.”
But Gonzalez, Dallas' 15th city manager, says the council voted on his salary based on the market.
“The setting at 400 really speaks more to how underpaid Mary was, not how inappropriate this salary amount is,” Gonzalez says. “It’s really in the middle of the market. When you look at the private sector in terms of what payments would be for a comparable position, this doesn’t even come close.”
Another council member, Dwaine Caraway, reportedly wanted to pay Gonzalez even more.
Gonzalez, who's been at City Hall for much of the past two decades, vows to earn his salary.
“What they pay me is going to be returned in new dollars, from either governmental or private sectors, in multiples of what they pay me," Gonzalez said.
Related story: A.C. Gonzalez sits down with KERA for an in-depth talk in our "Friday Conversation."