Friday, July 13, 2012

Chasing Squirrels Again in Richardson

The City of Richardson held an open house this week to begin public discussion of the future of Main Street and the Central Expressway Corridor. This is likely to be the most consequential subject that this city council takes up in its two year term. So, what is everyone blogging about (and by "everyone," I of course mean "me")? Why, it's the upcoming referendum to vote on whether our ceremonial mayor is directly elected or not. Really.

After the jump, chasing squirrels again in Richardson.

Look, I was in favor of a city charter review. I believe there are probably a couple of dozen places where the current charter is out of date. And maybe a few fundamental questions that ought to be revisited and either confirmed or changed (including mayor selection). I was disappointed when the city council voted against a review, contrary to what I thought was a consensus campaign promise.

I agreed with the council that a charter review was not one of the highest priority issues facing Richardson today. I just happened to draw the line low enough on that list of priorities to include a charter review in the things this city council tackled this term. But whether our ceremonial mayor is selected by the city council or elected by the voters? Never in a hundred years would I have picked that as the most pressing of the charter issues needing review. And further dividing Richardson through the petition/referendum process to put that one issue front and center this term? That's reckless disregard of good governance, in my opinion.

There are pros and cons to direct election, but few of those received any consideration before this effort was launched and few will receive any consideration at all by the average voter before voting.

The mayor's job in Richardson, as distinct from the other council members, is largely ceremonial. Changing the way the mayor is selected is not going to have any substantive impact on how Richardson is governed.

The angst that the referendum election is likely to generate could leave such a distaste in the mouths of Richardson residents that a needed review of the whole charter might be put off indefinitely.

For all these reasons, the residents of Richardson were poorly served by a group of petulant critics who collected enough signatures on a petition for a referendum on the direct election of the mayor.

Who loses from all this? Everyone.

The outsiders may get a directly elected mayor, but it's still not likely to be someone they support. Meanwhile, the political divide grows wider, making the outsiders' other goals for reform of Richardson governance even less likely to happen anytime soon. Win the battle, lose the war.

The insiders lose control of the process of change in Richardson. Change is inevitable. Change is good. By ceding the banner of change to the outsiders, the city council makes the process of change even more contentious than it had to be anyway. Now, any incremental change will be viewed as surrender to the critics, as weakness, and thus naturally resisted by the establishment. It didn't have to be this way.

Worst, the residents of Richardson lose. Most of them don't care who the mayor is, to say nothing of the details of how he is selected. They care about streets and sidewalks, parks and schools, trash and water, taxes and services. They care about the future of Richardson. The long-neglected Main Street and Central Expressway Corridor are key to this future. Every day we talk about a ceremonial mayor instead of the future of Main Street is a day wasted.

I blame the City Council for thinking they could put off a charter review. I blame the so-called "Richardson Citizens for a More Democratic Government" PAC for further dividing the city over a ceremonial mayor's position, of all things. Finally, I blame bloggers (and by "bloggers" I of course mean "me") for allowing ourselves to be distracted by these sideshows. We all suffer because of it.

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