Thursday, February 18, 2010

Government of the People, by the People, for the Corporation

"Corporations pay for half of what we're going to do here ... We have to think about them as well as the people who go in and vote."
-- Richardson Mayor Gary Slagel

After the jump, what was Slagel thinking?

Slagel's quote came during the recent council work session deliberations about including in the 2010 bond package a $900,000 entry sign on US 75 at Richardson's northern border. He was arguing in favor of the expenditure as called for in the 2009-2011 Statement of Goals. That statement was agreed to by the city council just five months ago. The section on Economic Development is aimed at fulfilling "the City's recognized role as a partner with the corporate sector in Richardson." In it is this strategy:

"Prominently identify Richardson and the Telecom Corridor through entry portals along US75, the President George Bush Turnpike, the "red line" DART light-rail, the Cotton Belt DART line, the Telecom Corridor area and other major arterials."

A divided council ultimately couldn't bring itself to support the $900,000 US 75 entry sign. Now, I suppose some council members might be suffering sticker shock over the near million dollar price tag. And perhaps some might be having second thoughts because of the recession (although the economy was on even shakier ground in 2009 when the council approved this goal in the first place). And maybe some can't justify including this entry sign in the bond package when other worthier goals had to be sacrificed to keep the bond size affordable. I was struck by the inability of the individual council members to clearly lay out the reasons for either their support or their opposition. One exasperated council member said more than once that he couldn't make his position any clearer. Well, with all due respect, yes he could have. The council lacked an effective decision-making process. And no one even seemed to know it.

But while everyone else was busy arguing about entry signs, I couldn't stop thinking about fundamental principles of democratic government. Just who do the council members think they represent? Voters, because that's who elect them? Or corporations, because that's who pay a significant share of the taxes that fund the city? Slagel's comment implies that it's both. Maybe so, but I prefer to think of it in a slightly different way. Council members should represent the voters and only the voters. However, voters should recognize that serving the corporations that generate jobs and pay taxes is in their own self interest, too, and therefore voters should elect council members who will balance the needs and wants of all who make the city prosper, whether they are voting residents or corporations who do business in the city. Maybe that's what Mayor Slagel meant, but the way he said it, the way no one batted an eye at the way he said it, just didn't sound right to this listener.

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