Monday, May 3, 2010

Sideshows To A Bond Election

In case you weren't aware, the City of Richardson is holding a bond election Saturday, May 8. On the ballot are four packages: $24.7 million for street improvements, $22.6 million for parks and recreational facilities, $10.4 million for municipal public buildings, and $8.1 million for neighborhood vitality projects, for a total of $66 million.

The Dallas Morning News has recently given some coverage to some sideshows to the bond election. After the jump, I follow the News down the rabbit hole.

Early voting runs from April 26 through May 4. The Dallas Morning News chose this time period to run two stories about Richardson city government. On the very first day of early voting the News ran a story about Richardson city staffers cashing in unused time off.

There are several aspects to this story that are curious. First, the timing. It's old news. The bulk of the cash-ins happened in 2007. Running the story now, on the first day of early voting, entangles the story with the bond election. Pay and benefit policies are not related to the bond election. Whether the voters approve or reject the bonds, personnel policies won't be affected. And tightening up the compensation policy won't provide the $66 million needed for all the projects in the bond election.

Still, the size of the cash-ins is certainly eye-popping: more than $380,000 went to city manager Bill Keffler alone. Reportedly, Keffler cashed in 75 weeks of sick leave. Granted, he's worked for the city a very long time, since 1977, but that's still a lot of sick leave. A lot. A review of the policy does seem to be in order. Just don't confuse it with streets and rec centers and fire stations.

The other story run by The Dallas Morning News during early voting concerns disputed claims over a conflict of interest Mayor Gary Slagel might have regarding one of the items in one of the bond packages. The item is the extension of the Galatyn Parkway overpass west of US 75, where Fossil Watch has an office. Fossil chairman Tom Kartsotis is an investor in Mayor Slagel's own company, STARTech. The city attorney's opinion is that there is no legal conflict of interest. Slagel does not have a financial stake in Fossil Watch, the company that would indirectly benefit from the road project.

Critics argue that Slagel should have recused himself from deliberations and votes regarding this bond item. I agree. Even if the city attorney sees no legal conflict of interest, elected officials should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Recusal would have saved these questions about ethics and wouldn't have hurt Slagel's goal to see the bond passed. Instead of a 7-0 vote by the council to hold the bond election, it would have been 6-0 with one recusal. In any case, whether the city builds that overpass or not is going to be decided by the voters, not Slagel. Whether or not Slagel has a conflict of interest should be a factor the next time Slagel himself faces the voters, not now when voters need to decide if the streets package that includes the overpass is good or bad for Richardson.

Just in case you care more about the bond election itself and not the mud flinging (and I hope you do), you probably want to read an independent, non-partisan analysis of the bond packages. Sadly, I don't know of any. But the League of Women Voters of Richardson has the next best thing. Their Voters Guide gives the arguments for and against the bond election. They do no analysis. They do no fact-checking. You'll have to do all that homework yourself. But if want to see both sides presented side by side, the League's voters' guide is for you. Read it, then vote on May 8. (In the interest of full disclosure, yes, I'm related to a member of the League of Women Voters of Richardson.)

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Today, after two weeks of early voting, The Dallas Morning News has a story up about the bond election itself. With more and more people voting early, waiting until two days before election day to run a story about the election is waiting too long. Better late than never, though, and the story is informational and balanced, so I say, read it.