Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1949: Charter Change for Dallas

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Source: Mark Twain.
Recently, I asserted that "There are pros and cons to any system of government. The [Richardson] charter commission in 1956 must have spent hours and hours considering all of them, before the voters approved a council-manager form of government with limited duties and responsibilities for the mayor and the current method of choosing that mayor."

I said "must have spent" instead of "for sure did spend" because, frankly, I didn't know. I did no research on how much time Richardson's founding fathers spent deliberating over Richardson's original city charter. But "hours and hours" seemed like a reasonable assumption, so that's what I said.

It didn't take long for a reader to challenge me (sort of). He asserted, "Richardson pretty much copied the Dallas charter all those years ago, with some minor changes that were Richardson specific." Whether or not it was intended, that could be taken to imply that Richardson's city fathers didn't break a sweat agonizing over options and details. Someone gaveled the first charter commission meeting to order, someone else pulled out a parchment containing the Dallas city charter, took his big black fountain pen and crossed out the word Dallas and wrote in Richardson, and then said, let's say we call it a day and all go out for a beer. Except I don't know how far they'd have to go in those days for a beer. Pretty far, I reckon. Chicago, maybe. So maybe they just went out for a sarsaparilla. That's another thing I didn't research.

After the jump, back on topic.



So, who's correct? Did Richardson just pretty much copy Dallas's charter? Darned if I know. So, I did some Googling. As is often the case, I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I found a lot of other interesting related reading. For example, the Texas State Historical Society provides the best brief summary of the forms of government Dallas has had over the last hundred years:
In 1907 Dallas voters adopted the commission form of city government to replace the aldermanic system. In 1930 the Citizens Charter Association won voter approval for the council-manager form of city government; an amendment in 1949 provided for direct election of the mayor. The CCA and the Dallas Citizens Council, a small group composed of business leaders, dominated local government until a 1971 lawsuit forced election by districts rather than at large. A 1992 amendment expanded the council to fourteen single-member districts, with the mayor elected at large.
I didn't learn much about the back stories of those 1907 and 1930 charter changes, but there was talk of Progressive Era reforms and the desire to limit patronage, graft and partisan politics. Apparently, those were goals of the 1930 Dallas city charter that set up a council-manager form of government with at-large council districts and a mayor selected by the council. That's pretty much the system Richardson adopted in 1956, so by now I'm thinking that maybe my reader is correct -- maybe Richardson just borrowed Dallas's system.

But in 1949, Dallas chucked its system of selecting the mayor and adopted a direct election method instead. That was seven years before Richardson adopted its own charter, without direct election of the mayor. So, for sure, Richardson didn't just adopt Dallas's charter as its own. Richardson decided not to follow Dallas's lead in changing to a system of direct election of the mayor. I can't say for sure why that was, but the back story surrounding the change in Dallas in 1949 was riveting and could be instructive.

As the story goes, J. B. Adoue, Jr., was elected to the Dallas City Council in 1949 and expected to be selected as mayor by the council. Instead, the council selected Wallace H. Savage as mayor, causing a miffed Adoue to launch a petition drive to change the city charter to have direct election of the mayor. In a November, 1949, referendum, a majority of voters agreed with Adoue to change the charter. Riding his wave of insurgent popularity, Adoue was elected mayor by the voters in 1951. Here's where the story becomes instructive.
Adoue's term as mayor became known both for its successes and controversies. ... He immediately damaged his relationship with City Manager Charles Ford by calling for his resignation even prior to his first city council meeting as mayor. As with many issues and votes during his term, the council voted 8-1 against Adoue when he pressed the council to fire Ford as City Manager.
That contentious 1951 term of the Dallas City Council, with its first directly elected mayor in twenty years, supports the warning I gave a year ago, when I first examined the arguments for and against direct election of the mayor. At that time, I said:
Direct election of the mayor could work to subvert the wishes of the voters as expressed in their election of the six other members of the council. You could end up with gridlocked government, with the mayor and the council at odds. I suppose if you believe gridlocked government is good because it keeps the b*stards from doing anything at all, then you might like direct election of the mayor. But if your idea of effective government is different, then you might want to let a majority of the council elect their leader so as to facilitate passage of the programs supported by that majority.
Source: The Wheel.
It looks like history may be repeating itself, this time with Richardson playing the part of Dallas and setting itself up to learn about the law of unintended consequences.

13 comments:

Andrew said...

I do not believe the 1956 charter is the first city charter. Richardson had two elections in the 1950s that changed governance. That's right: two. I do not recall if the early 50s one was technically a charter election but I will try to look it up.

Richardson did have an alderman type system at one point. I do not recall if that was between the earlier 1950s election and the 1956 charter one or before the early 50s election. It was one of the two.

The point I think worth making is that there was a fairly deliberate move to change the system in 1956 to what it generally is today.

Mark Steger said...

It might be time for a trip to the Richardson Public Library archives and dig through back issues of the Richardson Register, or Richardson Echo, or Richardson Times. Not that understanding the past to learn from experience is likely to change minds today.

By the way, "Andrew," commenting rules here require people to identify themselves. First names are not enough. I couldn't identify you from your comment or your profile.

Nathan Morgan said...

Mark,
When you go to the Richardson Public Library, in the archive you will find two tattered copies of the City Charter, dated 1956. On the cover of those two relics you will also find the note "To be submitted to a vote of the people on June 23, 1956". These are the oldest copies of what was the original Richardson City Charter.

If you dig a little deeper, you'll find a copy of a February 5, 1988 Richardson Daily News article wherein the reporter writes about Canyon Creek controlling elections and the call for single member districts. There is a note in the article stating that "the present Charter has never been revised", referring to the 32-year-old, 1956 document.

There is also a February 10, 1988 article that mentions the citizens concern for direct election of the Mayor and disgust over behind the scenes decision making by the Council. The article notes that the League of Women voters called for single member districts and staggered terms, saying "it's far better to have a council that represents the people." One can only wonder who has been stonewalling on these issues for so many years.

A quote also in the 2/10/1988 article reads, "Nobody should consider this town their personal fiefdom...the best way to ensure against that is not to allow unlimited terms. With the mayor elected by the council, there tends to be behind-the-scenes negotiating between council members." How prophetic is that?

It would seem those orchestrating the 1988 "City Charter Review Commission" improperly named it "commission", as it was actually a City Council appointed committee. Members of a proper Commission are elected by the people, thereby isolating bias resulting from political appointment. To illustrate that point, a September 1987 article mentions, then Mayor Bob Hughey" said that the council will meet with the charter commission in the coming weeks "to direct them to look at specific areas of possible changes..."

Some things never change.

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, thanks for the historical research. It's not surprising to learn that there were pros and cons in earlier eras, too. There must have been some arguments in favor of Richardson's charter in 1956 and in the 1980s review. Did your research reveal anything of that? It would be odd to think voters approved something they hated.

By the way, it's my understanding that a committee is a sub-group of a whole (e.g., the Audit Committee made up of a subset of City Council members) while a commission is a group whose members are not members of a larger group (e.g., the City Plan Commission or the Parks and Recreation Commission). Whether the members of a commission are appointed or elected is not relevant to the definition. Offhand, I can't think of a local, state or federal commission whose members are elected.

Also by the way, I meant Richardson News in my comment, not Richardson Times.

dc-tm said...

"Chronic complainers". You are very funny sometimes Mark. This is one of those times. Enjoy your day.

Nathan Morgan said...

Yep, Mark, the same group of people are in charge and getting the same complaints from the public. They have refused to act on the same list of demands for decades.

Check the dictionary for the definition of "committee". Your understanding of its meaning should change from that enlightenment.

But, don't detract from the point over semantics. The bias asserted by city hall can be reduced significantly if the members of the commission are elected by the people rather than appointed by the insiders therein who assert special privileges and interests.

Nathan Morgan said...

Oh, and don't trivialize the historical record regarding the public perception of which special interest group in town has been manipulating the electorate. That does not appear to have changed much over the years either.

As for what the people "hated", well, often people hold their nose when they vote in a blind attempt to move forward.

Nathan Morgan said...

Richardson has a long history of poor public record keeping. It is not surprising to discover there are few records of the public business activities done in the name of the city to be found in the archives. There are few reasons such records are not meticulously preserved.

Given the concerns of which the "nay-sayers" in town have a long, consistent history of complaint, one would expect there would be scant few public records of any but the promotional, public relation sort to be found. With few exceptions, that's the only record of Richardson history.

A community with a history of above board dealings and citizen involvement usually goes out of its way to preserve the good news. The Bible has survived and been preserved for thousands of years, complete with records of strife. Richardson threw its history in the trash. Have a theory on why? I do.

Mark Steger said...

The Dallas City Charter contains a section describing the history of the forms of government for Dallas.

1856: Mayor and six aldermen, all elected for one year
1858: Mayor and nine aldermen, all elected for one year
1871: Mayor and eight aldermen, some elected for one year, some two
1875: Same, but one and two years terms are flipped
1876: Mayor and eight aldermen, all elected for two years
1889: Mayor and twenty four aldermen, all elected for two years
1897: Mayor and twenty four aldermen, all elected for one year
1899: Mayor, ten ward aldermen and five aldermanic district aldermen
1907: Commission form, mayor and four commissioners, all elected for two years
1931: Council-manager form of government

Mark Steger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Morgan said...

Is it too much to ask to stay on topic?

Distract with cute tidbits of trivia, if you must. But, it does not lend credibility to the fact that the Texas Constitution explicitly stipulates that the Mayor of any municipality in Texas is to be directly elected by qualified voters. The city leadership and their pundits don't have the luxury of ignoring the law.

Sassy Texan said...

were you even a twinkle in someone's eye in the 1950's?

mccalpin said...

Andrew was right that there was an election earlier than 1956. On June 18, 1952, the aldermanic form of government was voted in, according to an article in the Richardson Echo from August 8, 1957. Prior to that point, the City had a commission form of government.

Under the aldermanic form of government, which is a "general law" form where the State dictates the form of the municipal government, the municipality is required to elect the mayor from the people. However, under home-rule status, the City is free to choose the type of government and also the organization of the government. In the charter creation process, the commission chose that we would have a council-manager form of government, with seven council members, and the mayor would be elected from the Council.

Bill