Monday, February 6, 2012

Selection, Election, and my Defection

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,
adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
I'm allowed to change my mind. I've done it before. Now, I'm doing it again. After long opposing the direct election of the mayor of Richardson, I'm now in favor.

After the jump, my reasoning, not that reason is all that important here.



I've long thought of the Richardson mayor's role like that of a chairman of the board, a speaker of the house, a foreman of a jury, a captain on a football team. That is, a leader chosen by his peers. If he doesn't have the trust and confidence of the rest of the team, teamwork breaks down and the team falters. No outsider should pick the team captain and expect the team to jell. In the case of the mayor, the voters may pick the members of the team, people who have their trust and confidence, but the council should pick its own leader, someone who has their own trust and confidence.

I had other reasons why Richardson's method of having the city council select the mayor from among their own ranks is a good system. You can go back and read my reasons again, if you'd like, but in the end, they don't really matter. There's a reason for that.

Choosing a form of government is not like building a bridge. In that endeavor, you're dealing with physics and chemistry and engineering -- the force of gravity, the properties of matter, the local geology and environment. You can measure and predict how these factors behave. There are objective measures you can use to judge whether a design will meet requirements. Choosing a form of government is something else entirely. You're dealing with people. Bricks and stones and steel don't have biases, knowledge gaps, emotions. People do.

It turns out that letting the voters directly elect the mayor "because it's the right thing to do" is an emotionally rooted, deeply felt, widely held belief among the electorate, one that I dismissed too cavalierly. Amir Omar cited this feeling in his arguments last Monday night in favor of placing the issue of direct election of the mayor before the voters. He said he was struck by how important it was for many voters to know who he was going to support for mayor. So many cared so much about it that he thought it best just to transfer that responsibility directly to the voters themselves.

I argued that there were compelling reasons not to. I was approaching it as a bridge-building exercise. Lay out the pros and cons and objective metrics to judge competing alternatives and let the analysis guide our decision. But this isn't a bridge-building exercise. It's a people-pleasing exercise. What matters is not that we end up with the most efficient government or even the most fair government. What matters is that we end up with a government that a large majority of citizens are happy with. Because, in the end, it's their government.

So, forget all those reasons I gave before for opposing the direct election of Richardson's mayor. As the saying goes, "When mama's not happy, nobody's happy." And mama's not happy in Richardson. If she won't be happy until she can directly elect her mayor, then let her directly elect her mayor.

P.S. Don't let mama read this. I have a feeling that even if I'm giving her what she wants, she won't like my reasoning. She won't be happy with that.

15 comments:

Sassy Texan said...

Thank you!

Nathan Morgan said...

Good for you Mark! A little simplistic, but good, just the same.

Far too many citizens do not participate in the electoral process, then complain about the result. Discontent among the people is the motivation that leads to all kinds of social ills. Richardson is certainly suffering its share.

Removing the artificial stimulants and constraints leaves the market to operate free of the incidental bias. Consequently, sunshine becomes the best disinfectant. Mold only grows in the dark.

The people of Texas rightly included direct election of their Mayors in the State Constitution. It's time the City of Richardson comes to recognize the wisdom behind it.

Alan North said...

Great article, Mark.
I think mama would be pleased.
It would be great to have the citizens of Richardson vote directly for the candidate they feel would be best qualified to be mayor.

mccalpin said...

"The people of Texas rightly included direct election of their Mayors in the State Constitution."

Actually, no, they didn't.

In the 1876 State Constitution, this section was written like this:
"SEC. 3. All qualified electors of the State, as herein described, who shall have resided for six months immediately preceding an election within the limits of any city or corporate town, shall have the right to vote for mayor and all other elective officers; but in all elections to determine expenditure of money or assumption of debt, only those shall be qualified to vote who pay taxes on property in said city or incorporated town; provided, that no poll tax for the payment of debts thus incurred, shall be levied upon the persons debarred from voting in relation thereto."
see http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/constitutions/text/IART06.html

Why was it written this way? As the Convention Journal notes:
"Declaration, That no property qualification shall ever be required in order to vote or hold office within this State, and..."
see http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/constitutions/pdf/pdf1868recon-1/06.24.1868.pdf

The men who were rebuilding the Texas Constitution in order to make it acceptable to the United States after the defeat of the South in the Civil War, wanted to make sure that the backsliding Texans didn't slip in language that would prevent freed slaves - who presumably didn't own any property - from being able to vote for the town's officials. THAT'S why the section was written this way - i.e., every one gets to vote for officials, but only property owners can vote on debt - but not to make a statement about the mayor.

Over time, the language about debt and property ownership was removed, leaving a section that seemed to suggest that a town's residents could vote for the mayor. But since there is not a statutory requirement that a town even HAVE a mayor in the State Constitution, this can't be read as a mandate.

I might feel differently if there were a court case or an Attorney General opinion or even a legislative update that addressed this issue...but, oddly, despite the belief of some people that it is obvious that direct election of the mayor must be allowed, no one to my knowledge (and to the knowledge of the General Council of the Texas Municipal League) has ever read the text that way or contested the interpretation.

I do have two expert witnesses on this issue. In 1988, Mr. Jim Shepherd, well known in Richardson as an attorney who specializes in municipal government, who served on the Richardson City Council, and who is the City Attorney for one or more local cities in the area, spoke at a public forum on the proposed Charter Review. According to the official minutes of the February 4, 1988, meeting, Mr. Shepherd said the following:
"Vote on all seven City Council candidates [ED: at-large voting was OK with him], City Council should elect the Mayor [ED: as opposed to popular vote], 7 member council is fine, [ED: Council members should have] 2 year terms, but stagger them [ED: the terms]."
see http://www.rumorcheck.org/MinutesCharterComm.html

If Mr. Shepherd, an attorney and expert on municipal government, didn't see a problem with electing the mayor from the Council, who are these "experts" with no law degrees and no background in municipal government to try to tell us differently?

(cont.)

mccalpin said...

(cont.)

Not impressed with Mr. Shepherd? How about Terrell Blodgett? Who? He's a Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs (at UT), author of numerous books and reports on urban and state management, and consultant to governors and mayors on urban and state management problems. He wrote the following at "COUNCIL-MANAGER FORM OF CITY GOVERNMENT" (Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/moc02), accessed February 07, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association):
"COUNCIL-MANAGER FORM OF CITY GOVERNMENT. The newest of the three major forms of city government, the council-manager form quickly gained acceptance among cities of all sizes and continued in 1994 to be the most popular form in American cities of more than 10,000 population. In Texas this form is even more dominant: 251 of the 290 home-rule cities in Texas operate with a city council as a policy body and a city manager as the chief executive-administrative officer of city government. The plan's original features included a mayor elected from among the city council members after all of them assumed office. The council was nearly always elected at large, received no pay, and spent little time at city hall. Today, in most council-manager cities, mayors are elected at large. "

Note carefully: the council-manager form of government's "original features included a mayor elected from among the city council members after all of them assumed office". But the statutes for home rule cities were created decades after the language about residents voting for mayor was inserted in the State Constitution. So in the 20th Century, the language that appeared to say that the residents had the right to vote directly for the mayor couldn't possibly have meant that.

Compare the evidence: on one side (that the mayor must be directly elected) there is no citing of court cases, Attorney General opinions, legislative updates, research into the origin of the language, or expert witnesses...on the other side (that direct election of the mayor is not mandated by the State Constitution), I present the history of the language in the Constitution, expert testimony, and the complete lack of any official concern on anyone's part that the Constitution might be interpreted this way.

It's clear that the argument that the State Constitution requires that the mayor be elected directly by the voters is completely without merit.

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

Clear as mud by the above bloviation. The spirit of the law in this land is to enable the people to elect their own representatives, and not by conveying that right/obligation/privilege to the second-hand self-interest of an elected Representative. That notion only puts distance between the people and their leadership selection. That's simply not what the good people of Texas want. Bill's rendition is what politicians love, a comfortable space of deniable accountability.

Nope, Bill. Sell your high-minded contrivances of the law down the road. We're all full up here. Richardson has suffered this B.S. long enough. It's time to get back to the basics of good citizenship, and stop blocking the people's will through manipulating the intent of outdated law.

I am sure I am joined by many good Richardson citizens in hoping you will stop trying to justify behavior that has brought nothing but discontent to the people of this fine town.

mccalpin said...

Nathan's non-answer has proved me correct. I presented the history of the language in the Constitution, expert testimony, and the complete lack of any official concern on anyone's part that the Constitution might be interpreted this way.

Nathan presented...nothing.

Oh, wait, he did say "That's simply not what the good people of Texas want."

You see what he did? First, he claims that the State Constitution requires that cities have direct election of the mayor. When challenged on the facts, he doesn't provide any proof that he's right, he changes his statement to "but it's what the people want"...

Notice that he doesn't present any proof of that either.

Nathan's non-answer simply proves that he agrees that there is no requirement in the State Constitution that requires direct election of mayor.

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

Texas Constitution, Text of Section 3:

Municipal Elections; Qualification of Voters

All qualified voters of the State, as herein described, who reside within the limits of any city or corporate town, shall have the right to vote for Mayor and all other elective officers.

Shut up, Willy.

Mark Steger said...

"Shut up, Willy."

Commenting rules ask to "keep it courteous." Comments that violate those rules are subject to deletion.

mccalpin said...

Once again, we see what is really going on in Nathan's mind...the City government is wrong, the City Attorney is wrong, local attorneys like Jim Shepherd are wrong, state-wide government experts like Terrell Blodgett are wrong, the courts are wrong, the Attorney General is wrong, the Legislature is wrong...everyone in the entire State is wrong except for Nathan Morgan.

Fortunately, while Nathan ignores the evidence that I laid out above, most readers won't, and they'll quickly realize that Nathan has no idea of what he is talking about...

And, no, Nathan, I will not "shut up", so long as you keep attempting to deceive the decent people of Richardson with your constant misstatements and persistent ignorance of the facts.

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

Willy,

Stop trying to muzzle the people and stand up for what is right for a change. Why do you insist on such immorality?

You can yakity-yak all you want about loopholes to justify depriving the public of directly electing Richardson's Mayor in the manner clearly stated in the Texas Constitution, but you will never be on the right side of the people as long as you do. Evidence schmevidence.

Most of the State is doing it right. Why doesn't Richardson? Is it because the town is run by people like you? Eventually, that will change. All it will take is a few funerals. But, then it might be too late to salvage anything from the waste laid by those who have exploited the citizenry and taken advantage of the public resources.

mccalpin said...

Nathan, sadly, I don't have the power to muzzle you. Presenting logical, well laid-out arguments complete with supporting evidence cannot be considered an attempt to "muzzle" you...nor can it in any way be considered by any rational person to be "immoral".

All I can do is present the facts...if you think the evidence I have presented is in error, all you have to do is show how. But you never do, because in your embarrassment at being proven wrong yet again, you lash out with personal insults and nonsensical statements.

"Laid waste", "exploited the citizenry", "taken advantage of public resources"? You know, when you accuse people of unethical or even criminal activity, it's considered courteous, to say the least, to provide at least one shred of evidence of the truth of your statements.

But you never do.

So what can I do, when you falsely accuse me of a variety of misdeeds? I can't challenge you to a duel, although that would muzzle one of us for sure. ;-) I can't sue you for libel, given the clear preference of the courts for not restricting speech that is even remotely political. I can't even tell you to just get out of town - because you already did.

No, all I and any decent person can do is to continue to present the facts along with links to the evidence that backs them up, and let the public decide who is right.

Fortunately, my well-documented arguments and your nonsensical and insulting responses will live on for years on this blog, so that the people of Richardson can discern for themselves the truth of these and other matters...

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

Willy,

Although I am constantly amused by your self-importance, and, although I routinely respond flippantly, this does not take away from your liberal political posture. It's your affliction that prevents you from seeing the real world through academic lenses.

Bigger government and more governmental control only serves to reduce and deprive the people of the ability to control the government that is suppose to serve the republic.

You consistently argue on the side of more government control over the people as if that is what the people chose. It's not. The politicians, public servants and their pundits are the beneficiaries from that. Somehow, I'm not surprised you take that position.

No sir, you are defending the results of errant, self-interested public servants who choose to abuse the ignorance and inattention of the public while padding their own nest with more rules and regulations that diminish the rights of common citizens. Blocking the people from freely electing their leaders is about as low as you can go. That's immoral in America.

You have shown yourself to be comfortable with citing contrived interpretations of the law in morbid attempts to justify your intellectual dishonesty. This has come to be known as your truth. The law God wrote on the heart of every man is not that twisted.

As for your obsession with my whereabouts, you can go to jail for stalking. That's just sick.

mccalpin said...

Nathan, I began my part of this thread when I pointed out that your statement "The people of Texas rightly included direct election of their Mayors in the State Constitution" was not true.

I presented the history of the language in the Constitution. I presented expert testimony. I presented the lack of any judicial or AG or legislative concern as evidence that I was right.

You presented nothing.

But somehow in your mind, despite the undeniable fact - as everyone above can see - that you have presented NO evidence to justify your statements, you have morphed your argument into a stream of false statements about me:
"your self-importance"
"your liberal political posture"
"It's your affliction "
"You consistently argue on the side of more government control over the people"
"you are defending the results of errant, self-interested public servants"
"You have shown yourself to be comfortable with citing contrived interpretations of the law in morbid attempts to justify your intellectual dishonesty."

Every one of these statements is completely unjustified. You have no idea what my politics are. You have failed to point out anywhere where I argued for more government control. You have failed to prove any dishonesty on the part of public servants.

Just because you say something, Nathan, is no proof of its truth. Indeed, Nathan, the odds are quite high that when you say something, the opposite is the truth - something that the decent people in Richardson can count on.

And as for your last whining complaint:
"As for your obsession with my whereabouts, you can go to jail for stalking. That's just sick."

You're the one running a website called Richardson City News - yet in your obsession for "transparency", you failed to mention that you moved 300 miles away over a year ago, and as a result, have made significant errors in your "reporting" because you are unaware of what is really happening here. Your false statement that 5 of the 7 current Council members live on the west side of Richardson (http://www.rumorcheck.org/5of7.html) is just one example of how you living in San Antonio helps cause the poor quality of the content on your website.

What about transparency, Nathan? Why can't you admit to the public that you abandoned Richardson yet still write about events here even though you no longer have any personal knowledge of what happens here?

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

Oh Willy,

Why are you trouble so? You attack me, then squawk about the resulting retorts you suffer. What a pitiful sight.

Everybody knows Omar was elected when he lived on the west side. Now that he has bought a home and moved to the east side, you can delight in saying I am wrong. Go ahead, silly.

I like the way you portray how you say what you say as "truth". I've often used the word "contrived" to describe your rantings. That means you are obsessed to seek out the slimmest of arguments to justify your flimsy positions. Often, you cite irrelevant extractions, providing distraction from the central point.

Live in the past, if you must. But, don't try to drag everybody else backward with you.

Here is the actual text from the Texas Constitution of today:

Texas Constitution, Text of Section 3:

Municipal Elections; Qualification of Voters

All qualified voters of the State, as herein described, who reside within the limits of any city or corporate town, shall have the right to vote for Mayor and all other elective officers.

No, Willy, you are not fooling anybody but yourself here. You have become sickened by your obsession to contradict here. Get well, soon.