Friday, April 26, 2013

No Knockout in Mayor's Race

After weeks of campaigning and a dozen or so rounds in the ring, the two candidates for Richardson's mayor were bloody but still standing after the last round, the big forum in the Grand Hall of the Richardson Civic Center, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Richardson.

I won't provide a blow by blow account because the city recorded this one and made it available for all to stream from the city's website for viewing at your leisure. It's only 82 minutes long. Inform yourselves.

After the jump, the highlights, from my point of view.

The stage was set. Laura Maczka was on the left. Amir Omar on the right. Seated in the Grand Hall were over 300 guests. The line of the night for me came before the event even began. It wasn't from either candidate, but from the woman who sat next to me. She suddenly sat up and asked, "Is this like a wedding? Are Laura's supporters supposed to sit on the left?" I could only laugh and say, "Boy, are you in the wrong place. This is not like a wedding. Not in any way, shape or form."

My first highlight is not really a highlight. It's a detail that probably passed by everybody's notice. I only caught it because I've long been curious about (and frustrated by) the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). My ears perked up when Laura Maczka said her first priority would be to visit with the other council members to decide on the process the city council would use to set priorities. Hmmm. I liked the answer but I wondered. Would those visits be public? After all, private meetings are forbidden by TOMA. Even her going individually to each council member and having private one-on-one conversations would constitute a "walking quorum" which is forbidden if it's an attempt to avoid TOMA. I was left wondering. Did she reveal an intention to violate TOMA? Was it knowing or did she just misspeak? Dunno. Moving on.

The big question of the night came second. The candidates were asked if they "wanted to say anything" about the recent Richardson Coalition PAC's Voters Guide. A murmur rippled through the audience. Amir Omar looked like a slugger who spots a waist-high fast ball come across the middle of the plate. He said one side is willing to say just about anything to win. He said he has never tried to avoid paying back his student loans, he has never been late on child support, and he has documents to prove it, including an affidavit from his ex-wife that he has provided to The Dallas Morning News. He said he challenged Laura Maczka to publicly state her disagreement with the tactics used by the Richardson Coalition PAC to mislead voters about his personal finances.

Maczka, in turn, said the voters guide came from the Richardson Coalition PAC, not from her. She said she wasn't involved with the Richardson Coalition PAC "because I wanted to show I was independent." She said the voters guide was not an effort coordinated with her. She did say that she asked the PAC to put the legal documents on their website and they complied with her request. What she didn't say was that she cited the PAC's attacks uncritically in one of her own campaign emails. She said the fact that she and the PAC hired the same campaign consultant "does not mean anything." She pointed out that Amir Omar used the same consultant in the past, without explaining how him dropping that consultant this time and her not dropping the consultant demonstrates her own independence. Most importantly, what she didn't say was that she disapproved of the PAC's tactics.

That exchange came early in the fight night. After, they rehashed how Amir Omar was for direct election of the mayor and Laura Maczka wasn't ... or maybe was, or was at least open to the possibility maybe later, or something. Her story about her 2012 votes doesn't get any less muddied through retelling. They both said another bond program is coming. They both praised Richardson for its diversity without either one being able to give a good example of what they themselves did to advocate on behalf of diversity. They both said water conservation will be with us always. Omar said Richardson needs a police narcotics unit (the police on the street told him so). Maczka said no we don't, or we already have one under a different name (the police chief told her so). Both said the size of Richardson government is just about right, but we can always get more efficient. Both said it's important to redevelop the West Spring Valley corridor and Main Street in downtown Richardson.

In the end, both candidates were still standing. Now, it's up to the voters. It's been easy for me to sit in the audience and toss more tomatoes than roses. But deep down, I have great admiration for both candidates, and for all who volunteer for public service. It's a thankless job, but all of us are better off because some choose to do it.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.
Source: Theodore Roosevelt.
Richardson will do well with either one of these candidates as mayor. I'm just sorry that the election campaign came to this.


Momaly said...

Regarding Laura's comment... she could have easily meant she would seek their individual input as mayor in work session or council meeting as they do already. She didn't clarify and to assume otherwise is being provocative, which is one of the points of blogging, after all. :)

Lisa Dunn

Mark Steger said...

I wasn't trying to be provocative as much as I was curious. Maczka did say "visit" with council members. That verb was what set me off. If she had said "ask" or "discuss" I might have assumed she meant during a work session, but by "visit" I inferred she meant discussions outside the regular meetings.

Regular readers are aware of my interest in understanding how government can function under the constraints of the TOMA (read that link above). TOMA requires that the only deliberations of council members have to take place in public meetings (with three days' public notice and posted agendas). I can't imagine how anything can get done efficiently under that constraint.

Sassy Texan said...

The TOMA says what it says and what is required. When you spend any time around the Council, or at home watching the show which I prefer, I have always wondered where the discussions take place on some of these decisions the Council makes. The TOMA also calls for open discussion out of Executive Session, but that never happens in Richardson that I have seen.

No matter what we think about what the law says, it has been upheld no matter how hard the TML wants to change it. Thank you Gregg Abbott. It is what it is today.

So Mark, do you think the Ethics Ordinance violates the TOMA?