The questions and answers at Richardson's mayoral forums have been heavy on the personal attributes of the two candidates, Laura Maczka and Amir Omar. What are their qualifications, experience, leadership skills, etc. For the April 2, 2013, forum held at RISD's MST Magnet School, sponsored by the Highland Terrace NA, I decided to take a different perspective.
I decided to keep my ears open for promises made by the candidates, promises of what they would attempt to accomplish in the next council term. The word "promise" is used loosely, as both candidates are aware of and emphasized that the mayor can't unilaterally implement anything, that without the support of the council, the city staff, and the community, any mayor's program can't advance. With that caveat, what I heard the candidates' promise is after the jump.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive. It's only what I heard in one forum. The candidates were responding to questions from the audience. If a topic wasn't asked about, the candidates probably didn't discuss it. There may be other promises the candidates are making in this election campaign that weren't mentioned Tuesday evening.
Also note that if I say, for example, "Omar promised..." without mentioning Maczka's position, I am not implying that Maczka opposes Omar's proposal. It may be simply that Maczka didn't address that proposal, either pro or con.
Finally, note again that if I say, for example, "Maczka promised..." that I don't mean that literally. Neither candidate promised to do more than what is in the power of the mayor to accomplish.
With those caveats, here's what's the next mayor will be doing for me (and everyone else in Richardson):
City Charter Review: Both candidates promised to support a full city charter review in the next term.
Selection of Mayor pro tem: Both candidates promised to support the selection of the next mayor pro tem in open session, versus the prior practice of doing this in closed, executive session.
Changes to council agendas: Maczka promised to add a regular agenda item at the end of each council meeting for the council to discuss and propose future agenda items.
Televise audit committee meetings: Omar promised to televise city council audit committee meetings.
Benchmark Richardson's use of debt: Omar promised to benchmark Richardson against other cities in the use of bonds and debt to finance city spending.
Zero-based budgeting: Both candidates expressed support for the idea of zero-based budgeting and a top-to-bottom departmental financial review. Both candidates fudged their answers enough to give themselves wriggle room later as to exactly what that means.
Less trash collection: Maczka gave trash collection as an example of an expense in the city budget that she would look at to save money. She says Richardson residents enjoy four separate collections on a weekly basis: two for trash, one for recyclables, one for bulky items. She promised to look at this, perhaps reducing the number of collections or adding a fee for some collections.
Less tree planting: Maczka gave the cost of watering the trees planted as part of the "Tree the Town" program as an example of an expense in the city budget that might not be the best use of Richardson tax money.
Reform use of fund sweeps: Omar promised to look into reducing the fees collected for the city services funds that are in surplus year after year, rather than sweeping the surplus funds into the general fund.
Change pensions to 401k: Both candidates expressed a willingness to look at the possibility of converting the defined benefit pension system for city employees to a defined contribution 401k-type system. Neither candidate promised to make the change, only to look at it. Maczka promised that any changes would apply only to future employees, not current employees.
Incentivize buyers of run-down houses: Omar promised to champion his proposal of a $100,000 pilot program that would incentivize buyers of houses in declining neighborhoods, buyers who commit to living in the houses, instead of letting them be sold to absentee landlords who are unlikely to do more than minimum maintenance. In a rare explicit disagreement on a proposal, Maczka said that if $100,000 is available, it would be better spent on suggestions coming from surveys of homeowner associations.
Natatoria: Omar promised to partner with school districts on, for example, natatoria, so that city residents can gain access to year-round swimming and the cash-strapped RISD school district can gain access to needed funds to operate these facilities.
Narcotics squad: Omar promised to fund and staff a narcotics squad within the Richardson Police Department. In a rare explicit disagreement on a proposal, Maczka said a narcotics squad isn't needed because the function is already handled by the regular policing function.
Transparency of campaign donations: Both candidates promised to list on their campaign websites all of their campaign donors. It wasn't clear whether they promised to publish these lists *before* the start of early voting, which was part of the question.
Crackdown on speeding: Both candidates promised to crack down on speeding on Grove Rd. Omar said, "Yes, I will." Maczka said, "Absolutely." Lucky you if you live on Grove Rd., or not so lucky, depending on your driving habits.
If you are like me, you may be surprised at how long this list is. It's easy to focus on the horse race aspect of an election campaign -- who's up, who's down, who's attacking whom. But for the residents of Richardson, this is more than a horse race. The outcome is obviously important for the lives and careers of the two candidates involved, but it's even more important for the future direction of Richardson.