Friday, October 21, 2011

What I Learned from LWV about the City Charter

Wednesday night, the League of Women Voters of Richardson presented a program "Is the City's Current Charter Right for Richardson?" I had low expectations for this program. Maybe I was just in a bad mood because, long after the LWV set its date, the opening game of the World Series, featuring the Texas Rangers, ended up landing on the same night. I naively hoped that when the conflict became known, things would get rescheduled, but Major League Baseball wouldn't budge. It turns out to have been a blessing in disguise, as I was spared having to watch the Rangers lose to the Cardinals (I'm a poor sport when my team is losing.) And, the LWV's program taught me a thing or two about city charters.

After the jump, what I learned from the speakers, former Richardson mayor Ray Noah and Robert Lowry, professor of political science at UT-Dallas.

I've blogged before about what I think are the main issues raised in connection with the Richardson charter, for example, direct election of the mayor, single member districts and term limits. I treated these as independent questions. Now, I see they are better thought of as pieces of a puzzle that best fit together only in certain ways.

Richardson's charter is modeled closely on a classic council-manager form of government. An elected city council, with a largely ceremonial mayor, performs the legislative functions of the city, and hires a professional city manager to perform the administrative and executive functions. The council-manager form of government arose in the late 19th century as a reform movement in response to abuses and corruption in the big city "political machines" that used the other most common form of government, the mayor-council form.

In mayor-council governments, the legislative and executive functions are combined in a city council, headed by the mayor. This is more common in cities large enough to require (and to be able to afford) full time mayors and councils. Large cities are also more likely to have diversity (ethnic, religious, socioeconomic) and geographic segregation. Council members themselves hold administrative power, typically in single member districts, whose borders are drawn to increase representation of minorities and to increase attention to the unique needs of each district. The mayor is typically elected at large to ensure there is one elected official accountable to the whole electorate.

Robert Lowry suggested that Richardson voters first need to decide what form of government they want, then many of these other issues tend to fall into place by themselves. Richardson's city fathers, when they drew up a charter in 1956, obviously preferred the reform style council-manager form of government, as did many cities around Texas and around the nation. This form of government grew in popularity in the 20th century, a popularity that endures in the 21st century, especially among mid-sized cities like Richardson.

It appears to me that what itch there is to overturn Richardson's council-manager form of government (from what I can tell, the itch is felt by only a minority of Richardson residents) arises out of dissatisfaction with some of the incumbent council members and the city manager appointed by them. The thinking seems to be that if you can't convince enough of your fellow citizens to vote 'em out under the current rules, then change the rules and try again. Ironically, there's no evidence that single member districts or direct election of the mayor would have resulted in a different council or different results. Even more ironically, the suggested changes being thrown around are more aligned with the big city "political machine" form of government that 19th century reformers were trying to abolish. "Forward to the Past" is not a strategy likely to lead to much satisfaction by anyone, I'm afraid.

Based on all I heard Wednesday night, I'm inclined to leave our city charter more or less alone. And, Go Rangers!


Sassy Texan said...

Yes, we could leave the Charter alone, but that does not stop or validate the breeches that have already come to light. I posed the question as to whether the creation of a resolution or ordinance could change any part of the charter or statute and the answer was NO, to which I say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!! And since there are several instances that this has happened a change will have to be made. Either so the council can act as they wish or to get the council and staff to hold and ethical and reasonable approach to what is their mandated responsibility. And I was glad the LWV took the initiative to discuss. But I guess if you are not versed in the disparities of the violations, I can understand why you made the comments you have, Mr Steger. What you don't know can't hurt you, right?

To save time, please refer to another blog with my comments of the evening:

Mine are the last 2 posts.

Sassy Texan said...

BTW, the minority in Richardson are those that vote. The majority is the part of our population who have no idea what goes on at city hall. They have no idea what's a truth and what's a lie. Power always breeds in ignorance. And just for clarity's sake (whoever clarity is! :-) ), my point has been that here is the law, just follow it! No matter how convoluted it has become. I compare it to someone who talks too much to the point you cannot hear what they say anymore. Hence we have volumes and volumes and volumes of text about goverance. How moot can moot become anyway?

mccalpin said...

Everyone agrees that the City should follow the Charter...the problem is when some citizens accuse the City of not following the Charter...but the City is following the Charter and the accusation is simply wrong ...

Let's see:
1. "Refinancing the city's current debt, according to the City Charter, is illegal." - oops, according to the Charter, it's perfectly legal - in fact, when interest rates drop, it would be nonsensical NOT to refinance the debt.

2. "The Richardson City Council is violating the City Charter by selling bonds without the consent of the voters" - oops, according to a law that has been on the books for FORTY YEARS, it's perfectly legal for certain bonds. It's frightening that it was YOUR attorney, Cheri, who made this preposterous statement. See

3. "The City Council violates the Texas Open Meetings Act by discussing the City Manager’s compensation package in executive session" - oops, the Attorney General wrote an opinion that specifically allows this. See

4. "The City Council attempted to violate section 21.02 of the Charter by advertising for bids before the funding was approved" - oops, the person who claimed this Charter violation didn't understand that advertising for bids wasn't the same as awarding bids. See

5. "The term limits language in the Charter is "bogus" because you can change seats to avoid the limit" - oops, reading the actual Charter language shows that this is not true - just ask former Councilman Dennis Stewart who listed the term limits change as his primary accomplishment in office - do you really think that he would have approved language with such a loophole? Of course not! See

6. "GASB 34…holds very strict guidelines for a balanced budget to be "total revenues and expenditures, non-inclusive of reserve fund balances"." - oops, while the City has to report finances using the guidelines of GASB 34, GASB 34 says NOTHING about "balanced budgets"! See

There are many more examples of where certain residents made claims that turn out to be completely false...but they never admit to being wrong or please excuse me when I say that I would like to see some PROOF of malfeasance before I assume that the City is run by, as Nathan famously but quite inaccurately proclaimed, "a gang of well-entrenched thugs".

The "gotcha gang" has been wrong so many times that the people of Richardson deserve real proof, not the same old laughably inaccurate gossip.


Sassy Texan said...

It seems your "twist" for the dialogues discussed works for you, Mr McCalpin, no matter how amusing it is. You are allowed to do so, but to believe the world is just ONE WAY and there is only ONE WAY and perspectives are only ONE WAY and there is only ONE WAY to analyze something- and you have the exclusive gift of YOUR WAY. What absurdity and arrogance on your part. When did you become the end all of perspectives? The real world offers that we make decisions or assuptions based on the information known at the moment. And as more information is presented, quite often perspectives change. And if there is one thing I know for sure, it is in the reality there is more in the world that I don't know I do not know. As infinite that concept is. A good analogy would be 5 people witnessing an accident and have very different stories on what happened. Did they lie or is there a difference in perspectives and criteria?

I would offer to you a suggestion to make a few open records requests and read a few documents because they are the REAL PROOF you demand. Your perspective of not willing to do so is accepting another form of gossip as truth. So let's try this one. As a little girl, my grandfather used to say God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason. If you are not willing to hear me or anyone else as you have proved over and over again through the years, why listen to you? It is a promotion of "You don't hear me, I don't hear you!". And what does that do for you or anyone in the big picture of things? And you have no idea what Nathan Morgan or anyone else knows or believes because you have already made your assumptions based on what you do not know.

I have several instances of REAL PROOF and they all came from the city hall's documents. You can assume what ever you wish!

mccalpin said...

"Ms. Duncan-Hubert"...your posting is let's try a simple test...

Is it true or false that you made the following post on this very website:
"One other thing! A friend just reminded me in 1999, GASB 34 was created and enacted in 2001. It holds very strict guidelines for a balanced budget to be "total revenues and expenditures, non-inclusive of reserve fund balances"."

Is true or false that GASB 34 makes this statement?

Have you admitted (on this website preferably) that your previous post was in error?

Let's keep is simple. Did you post that? Was it true? Have you admitted your error?


Sassy Texan said...

Yes, and I pointed to the pages in the CAFR and the website. The reporting changes disclose the up/down changes in net assets. I have several financial analysts that agree with me. Or I should say I agree with them. There is no error to admit.

Wasn't it you touting the budget was balanced in the first place? And I have heard council members say the same thing many times. I just offered that the question is how it is balanced and what the definition of balanced means. That seems pretty darn simple.

Must be one of YOUR WAY or no way items.

glbeach said...

Mark, thank you for recapping the LWV meeting last Wednesday for those of us unable to attend. It sounds like it was a good forum to gain deeper insight into our city government and insights into any possible improvements for the charter so that our city government can serve all citizens of Richardson better and more effectively.

mccalpin said...

"There is no error to admit."

This shows the futility of continuing this discussion.

You stated that GASB 34 said something that it clearly did not say, and you refuse to admit that you were wrong.

Then, rather than offering any proof that you were correct, you try to change the subject.

Until you 'fess up on this item, I see no reason to keep filling up Mark's webspace...


Sassy Texan said...

Obviously you deemed it important to respond again


GASB feels these reporting changes will help users assess:

1) Whether citizens paid for the services they received in the current year, or if the costs of services were shifted to future-years;
2) Whether a government's financial position has improved or deteriorated as a result of the year's operations.

Correct, there is no error to admit. If you do not understand the intent of the reporting changes, Mr McCalpin, then that is another issue beyond the topic.

mccalpin said...

Cheri, have you forgotten that on August 29, 2011, that you typed with your very own fingers the following?

"One other thing! A friend just reminded me in 1999, GASB 34 was created and enacted in 2001. It holds very strict guidelines for a balanced budget to be "total revenues and expenditures, non-inclusive of reserve fund balances"."

So your latest response is irrelevant for two reasons:

1. The link you pointed to doesn't say anything about GASB 34 having strict guidelines for a "balanced budget". Go ahead, search for the word "balanced" - it isn't there!

2. The link you pointed to is NOT from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) anyway, but from the Colorado Department of Education.

So despite your multiple responses, you have still failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that your statement of August 29th was true.

Come on, Cheri, you are far too intelligent a woman to continue this misspoke on August 29th about GASB 34 "hold[ing] very strict guidelines for a balanced budget to be "total revenues and expenditures, non-inclusive of reserve fund balances"."

In truth, you had no idea what GASB 34 actually said - why can't you just admit it?


Sassy Texan said...

I have given you yet another example in my last post of another opine. I understand the source and I understand the intent.

I disagree with you Mr McCalpin. Why report in the manner that is required - revs and exps - and then transfers? And we can't have reserve balances if they are spent? And why do you think the reduction in net assets is not a statement of balance? The financial statement itself is a BALANCE of debits and credits. In that regard, I just picked up the chart of accounts in the last few weeks. All 830 pages. What ever you are trying to say you are stuck on something not worth anymore effort.

Back on topic with the post that you have gone on a 'topic trip of no return'....As I said before there are many documents the city has created that are available to you if you chose to request them. READ THEM TOO!! I am sure you are far too intelligent not to!

I often admit when I am wrong. This particular instance I disagree with you. And since I am the only one 'in here' to know what I have read and haven't read, think or not think, do or not do, I am the only one who gets an opinion on ME in this regard. You are just not that qualified.


mccalpin said...

There is a type of behavior that is destructive to the common good. This behavior is easy to identify:
1. Someone makes a statement that is unsubstantiated or simply untrue.
2. When challenged, that person tries to change the subject.
3. When challenged again, that person resorts to personal attacks.

We have seen all three steps above.
1. GASB 34 certainly does not define a "balanced budget".
2. On every challenge, Sassy Texan tries to change the subject to some vague statements about the City's finances.
3. When pushed further, Sassy Texan then said "What absurdity and arrogance on your part" and "When did you become the end all of perspectives?"

Instead of trying to change the subject or attacking me, the only thing that needed to be done was to produce even one iota of evidence that the GASB 34 statement was true. Clearly, after all this time with no evidence forthcoming, no one can believe the claim that GASB 34 defined a "balanced budget" - and that destroys the author's credibility.

So how does someone restore their credibility? Do what RumorCheck does...lay out the statement, tell the story, educate the reader on the background, and summarize the conclusion, all the while including copies, links to source materials, and eyewitness or expert testimony.

Someone claims that former Mayor Slagel hid a conflict of interest? RumorCheck provides not just one but THREE eyewitness statements that proved the accusation was false.

Someone claims that there was no handout at an RCA meeting that stated that debt in Richardson had gone up more than any other city? RumorCheck gets a copy of the "missing" handout, scans it, and posts in online - then shows how the statement on debt is completely false using provided public records.

Someone claims that selling debt without voter approval is a violation of the Charter? RumorCheck shows the reader the Charter and explains why the person made that statement, then shows the reader the Texas Certificate of Obligation Act and how it overrides the Charter.

That's how people get credibility, not by stating conclusions without evidence, referring to anonymous financial experts, or modifying City records.

I know you're mad at me, but I am doing you a favor, because the way you're going about this is all wrong. Lay out simple direct statements (not vague accusations), provide source documents and expert statements, and lead the reader through the process by which you arrived at your conclusions...and then, just like at RumorCheck, be prepared in the spirit of open and civil debate to have your data and conclusions challenged...


Sassy Texan said...

I am not mad at you. What an odd ending comment. And you have your way and I have mine. I never once attacked you. I said I disagreed with you. You are rather creepy-odd to me, but hey there are all kinds of people in the world. Neither good or bad. You can take that as an attack, but the intent is my personal observation. If you choose to take it on that is an issue you must deal with.

Truths and beliefs sometimes get confused and when someone thinks there is only one way, then that is what you get. One Way. I have just never known one person so stuck like this. Structure is useful but not an end all. I wish the world was just one way, but it is not. If you want to believe you are doing me a favor, I guess you can. Doesn't change my day or life at all. I still believe and know what I know until something new comes along to change the perspective.

So the next person who wants to call me and tell me McCalpin has said something again that is untrue, don't call. He is who he is.

I still believe the purpose of GASB 34 was a change in accounting structure (with notes) to bring to light (and understanding) the sources and uses of funds of the current year. There are other requirements, but that was the point of the discussion at the time.

When you spend more than you bring in, you have a deficit and and reduction in net assets. 5 dollars in and 6 dollars out still leaves 1 dollar short. Covering it is the story. It's just math.

Oh, and just for clarity's sake, I did not read all of his last post! LOL

After watching Sister Act the other night with some little people in my world.... all I can say to McCalpin is "Go with God, Crispy!".

mccalpin said...

"Go with God, Crispy!"

I have to admit that this is the first time anyone ever said this to me...whatever it means ;-)