Sunday, April 26, 2015

Misinformation Rampant on Facebook

I know the headline will inspire a reaction of "D'oh". Saying that misinformation is rampant on Facebook is like saying Catholics are rampant in Vatican City. But in this case, it's the source of the misinformation that is striking. It's not the usual anonymous Internet commenters, the ones who spout things like, "It is treason by any definition." Instead, it's people who are willing to sign their names. It's people who claim to be informed. It's people who ought to be informed, given how long they have paid attention to city government. That these people can be so wrong about basic facts of how government works is distressing.

A sampling of the misinformation...

Cheri Duncan-Hubert: "The council can call for a special election if they want to. It is within their authority to do so."

This is false. According to Section 3.03 of the Richardson City Charter, "Upon a vacancy in the Mayor's position, the Mayor Pro Tem shall fill the unexpired term." Plain English. Straightforward. There's another section that specifies how council member vacancies are filled, but Section 3.03 governs a vacancy in the mayor's position. There's nothing in the charter that authorizes the council to ignore Section 3.03.

Nathan Morgan: "The reason the people will not be electing the next Mayor is because the City Council passed an ordinance to change the Charter (inappropriately) saying that, if the Mayor seat is vacant, their hand-picked Mayor Pro-Tem takes the seat."

Morgan knows about Section 3.03. His beef appears to be how that change ended up in the charter. On this point, he's wrong. The rule was not set by ordinance passed by the City Council. It was set by a charter amendment defined in a petition and approved by the voters. The wording of the charter today is exactly, word for word, what was in the petition that called for a charter amendment election.

Nathan Morgan: "the language on the ballot is what determines the changes. The petition was not on the ballot. The voters did not vote to approve the petition. What the city placed on the ballot was CLEARLY stated, 'amend the charter to provide for direct election of the Mayor'. No more, no less. Not my fault the rascals at city hall decided to snooker the voters. But, they did."

David Chenoweth: "The exact language must be on the ballot, not a summary."

These statements are false. It is legal and customary for the ballot language to summarize the changes of constitutional or charter amendments, especially when the text of the changes is long. In this case, the charter changes in the petition took up six pages. This was summarized on the ballot by listing all the sections being amended and saying the amendments provided for direct election of the mayor. That accurately reflects what the changes did to Richardson's charter. Here, for example, is how the conservative group Americans for Prosperity headlined the successful petition drive: "RICHARDSON CITIZENS CALL FOR DIRECT ELECTION OF THEIR MAYORAL SEAT." The petition was sold as a way to achieve direct election of the mayor. The charter changes did, in fact, achieve direct election of the mayor. The ballot language said the changes were "to provide for direct election of the mayor." It takes a breathtaking rewriting of history to now claim that the "rascals at city hall decided to snooker the voters."

By the way, according to Ballotpedia, "Texas courts have heard challenges to proposed ballot wording but have generally ruled that 'ballot language is sufficient if it describes the proposed amendment with such definiteness and certainty that voters will not be misled.' " So to be completely accurate myself, I can't categorically dismiss arguments that the ballot language was misleading, because only the courts can do that. But good luck getting a judge to rule that the charter amendment did *not* provide for direct election of the mayor, as the ballot language stated.

People ought to know by now that looking to Facebook for true and accurate political information is a fool's errand. Everyone ought to know that true and accurate information can be found only on blogs. One in particular. ;-)


dc-tm said...

Might as well get the quote complete and in context of the discussion.
"The person who wrote the language was the person Allen hired to do so. Nathan is also correct about the election for the charter change being improper. The exact language must be on the ballot, not a summary. If someone were to sue over that issue, a judge would probably not overturn the election. The council went with the spirit of what the petition wanted. Since it has now been brought up, the changes the council want for the next charter election will have to have word for word what the charter changes will be."
Might want to clear up the "rascals at city hall" too.

As for misinformation, I remember clinton's news conference, "I did not have sex with that woman"
The news report Friday night reminds me of that with a reaching for words and the body language.
Thank mark. .

Sassy Texan said...

You are incorrect Mr Steger.
The council can call a special election on any topic the council feel needs to be in the hands of the public. The charter represents the agreement between the voting citizenry and and the council to act in the best interest of the citizens. If they feel a topic is too controversial, it can be taken to the voters. No law to prohibit that.
Second to point is the direct election of Mayor topic and the changes to the charter 2 years ago. The whole issue came up months before the initiative when several people were reading the Texas Constitution, Article 11, Section 5. It says, among other things, no charter can be inconsistent with statutes or inconsistent with the Texas Constitution. Since the charter is inconsistent at this point, deferring to the Constitution is appropriate. This is the topic that makes the charter review currently in process a misguided event in so many ways. But that is another topic.
Texas Constitution, Article 6, section 5 says we SHALL have the right to vote for mayor and all other elected officers.
SHALL means expressing a strong assertion or intention.
So you, Mr Steger, can choose to look to the charter as a sole document, but it is not. It may hold significant authority, not just sole authority. Home rule cities look to statutes to limit their authority, as in the case of election rules. And home rule cities look to the constitution for irrefutable authority.
The council can hold a special (interesting word, isn't it?) election on any topic when they want to defer to their employers, the voting public. They are limited to only two times during a year, November and May. And have limits on how an election is conducted. But beyond that, nothing is holding them back from holding a special election for Mayor.
I spoke with Mr North yesterday and he is rather disappointed with the special situation we are in. Two years ago, he looked to guidance from others and this situation with the charter was just overlooked when working to get constitutional conformity. That happens. Law is complicated. And to think of every situation is sometimes impossible. He would have never thought the manipulative situation we are in could have happened.
I heard Bob Townsend blaming him at the LWV forum. Interestingly enough, 2 years ago Bob was very vocal in the fact it was too expensive to change the charter. So I would doubt he would call for a special election anyway. He holds the position of mayor pro tem at this point. But he did say at the Republican Women's forum he had no interest in being mayor again. That is good news!

Cheri Duncan-Hubert