‘Phony Scandal’ picked up by Chronicle

Ok, perhaps I should stop calling it that.

Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle wrote the cover story this morning about the Mayor’s allegedly unethical pay raises given to senior staffers in her first few years of office. As the astute will recall, KRIV had been drumming up this issue about three weeks ago, as I noted on three occasions.

The KRIV story alleged that these pay hikes occurred between 2009 and 2011. Of course, Annise Parker did not become Mayor until January 2010. I attempted to bring this to the attention of KRIV, thinking they may have made an honest mistake, but was rebuffed as they doubled down on the story. At that point, I dismissed the “phony scandal” as being untrue, because if the only two years compared were 2009 and 2011, it is comparison of salaries in the City Controller’s office and Mayor’s office, respectively.

However, Morris’ articles notes this, as the Chronicle does the due diligence required, and notes the differences between 2010 and the present. Raises still occurred, but they were far less severe than KRIV had insinuated.

For example, KRIV alleges that Parker’s Communications Director received a 68% raise, while the Chronicle places the number at 31%. Similarly, KRIV alleges a whopping 147% raise for Parker’s Finance Director, while Morris thinks 29% is a more accurate salary bump.

In fact, besides Waynette Chan, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, who both KRIV and the Chronicle place the alleged pay hike at 46% for, the Chronicle notes that most of these hikes were not all that extravagant, especially for senior staff.

Further, Morris goes on to note how, as Houston left the recession, most City workers received modest, but noteworthy, pay raises. It is also worth noting that the furloughs have long since ended, and that many –if not most– of the laid off workers have been rehired by the City. As Morris goes on:

City payroll data show that during Parker’s tenure, 22,357 city workers got at least one contractual raise. Those raises averaged 5 percent, with the amounts varying between the municipal, fire and police unions. For the 12,993 employees who also received a salary adjustment, promotion or merit raise – or some combination of those – the average overall raise was 11 percent.

Morris then goes on to note that both Ben Hall and the Firefighter’s Union, both with a vested interest to take down Parker by any means necessary, harshly criticized the Mayor for this issue. However, as the Chronicle continued in its pattern of due diligence for the day, Morris talks to all the other stakeholders in the matter, including the HPD Union, HOPE, the local AFL-CIO, as well as both prominent Democratic and Republican consultants:

Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, which has endorsed Parker, said the mayor’s staff salaries give him no heartburn.

“Anybody who got laid off during that year, I’m sure they’re very, very upset about it, and understandably so, but when you have a downturn in the economy and you’re trying to turn things around, you better keep your key people in those positions and you’re going to have to compensate them what you believe they’re worth,” Hunt said. “I personally am not concerned about the salaries of the top administrators in the city of Houston. I don’t think any of them are out of line with the private sector.”

Melvin Hughes, head of the municipal employees union, declined comment.

Richard Shaw, of the Harris County AFL-CIO, said the raises do not disturb him because the mayor now negotiates pay agreements with all three unions.

“As far as I’m concerned, she bargains in good faith with all employee groups and, from a labor standpoint, that’s what we ask for,” Shaw said. “The firefighters need to quit whining. They didn’t take any hits on layoffs. They negotiated that pay agreement with the mayor.”

GOP communications consultant Jim McGrath said the issue will be little more than water-cooler fodder at City Hall unless Hall can show a pattern of such decisions.

“Taxpayers and voters care about their well-being and their future and if the mayor has failed in some regard as it relates to that, that’s something you can get traction with,” McGrath said. “This inside baseball stuff will not fundamentally alter the dynamics of a race that isn’t looking good for Mr. Hall at present.”

Democratic political consultant Mustafa Tameez agreed: “This is not going to be seen well by the public, but something like this doesn’t make or break the election.”

As far as I’m concerned, I agree with them. I worked at City Hall amid all of the layoffs and the furloughs, and probably would be legitimately angered if the Mayor was indeed awarding these extravagant raises, but she wasn’t.

The average City Employee took in about an 11% raise. Of the 11 members of Parker’s ‘senior staff’ mentioned by Morris, five receive pay hikes over 11%, while six receive hikes equal or below 11%. There really isn’t a scandal here, and Morris & the Chronicle did a really good job at explaining why–right down to the headline.

Now that a reputable source has repudiated KRIV’s story, I wonder what Greg Groogan’s –the “journalist” who published this nonsense at KRIV to begin with– next move will be. I wonder if he’ll keep doubling down on it.

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5 thoughts on “‘Phony Scandal’ picked up by Chronicle

  1. Pingback: Eye on Williamson » TPA Blog Round Up (September 2, 2013)

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