Friday, September 10, 2010

Report Card For Richardson City Council

The Richardson Coalition, a political action committee whose support helped all seven city council members win election to the 2009-2011 term, emailed an editorial about the PAC's view of how the council is doing. (Sorry, but I can't link to it, as the editorial does not appear on the neglected Richardson Coalition website.)

After the jump, my report card on the PAC's report card. (I know, it's kind of meta, but if that bothers you, don't click through.)

Still with me? Good.

The PAC credits the council with setting goals for the term. Goal-setting shouldn't be confused with achieving goals, but for our city council, once an issue makes it onto the approved goal list, its eventual approval by appears to be assured. So, maybe agreeing on a set of goals is deserving of credit for accomplishment. Furthermore, once goals are established, most of the drama for a council's term is over, despite the PAC saying that the council "has been able to have spirited debate."

The PAC credits the city council for attracting or retaining business development such as Digital Realty Trust, BlueCross BlueShield, The Shire Phase II, Brick Row and Eastside developments. Given the deep recession the country has suffered the last two years, keeping this economic activity going is indeed noteworthy, even if much of it was set in motion well before the current council took office.

The PAC credits the city council for shaping and getting voter approval for a $66 million bond program for street improvements, park and recreation facilities, municipal buildings and neighborhood vitality projects. The city's AAA bond rating keeps Richardson's borrowing costs low. The PAC is right to credit the city council on a bond program that funds programs that will benefit Richardson residents for years.

The PAC says "Major progress has been made with respect to the Cotton Belt route and new UT Dallas DART station for our city." The "progress" seems to be a decision to explore public/private partnerships to accelerate plans for this route. I don't know how much credit the council deserves for this versus DART, the T and/or RTC/NCTCOG, but at least the Richardson city council had the good sense to throw its support behind this effort to provide direct light rail service between Richardson and D/FW Airport.

The PAC supports the city council's encouragement of new major development for open land near the Bush/75 interchange. It's still early, but this could be a big economic engine for Richardson. The city council has its work cut out in drawing up zoning plans and economic incentives that work to both the developers' and the city's best interest.

The PAC wants to see more progress on redevelopment in other areas of the city, specifically Central Expressway, but also Coit Road, East Arapaho/Collins, Main Street/Old Town and West Arapaho. It's ambitious to expect a full court press in all areas at once, but the PAC is right that all these areas need attention. Most of the redevelopment attention thus far has focused on the West Spring Valley Corridor, which has been forecast to be a decade-long redevelopment effort.

The PAC supports the establishment of an ethics policy for the city. It looks like the council is on track to approve a policy by year-end. An ethics policy is mostly a feel-good measure. Integrity has no need of rules (Albert Camus) and rules won't stop someone without integrity. Still, having an ethics policy is better than not having one, so I'm all for it. I've blogged before (see here and here) about a couple of changes I'd like to see in the draft proposal -- no ban on disclosure of discussions during executive session beyond what's required by state law and no statute of limitations.

The PAC also wants to see "better, faster and more timely communications" with residents. I'm all for that, too, and have blogged about it several times. The city created the new position of communications director, which the PAC mentions, but what impact this is having, if any, is not evident to the public. The PAC fails to mention two important initiatives in this area -- video coverage of council meetings and an online checkbook register. The former was achieved last year. The latter is likely to be achieved by year end. I consider each to be campaign promises delivered.

I've had some differences with the Richardson Coalition PAC in the past, but overall, my own assessment of the city council's performance in the 2009-2011 term aligns fairly well with this report card by the Richardson Coalition PAC.

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