Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bob Macy Takes Responsibility

It's easy to lampoon Richardson City Council member Bob Macy. If superlatives are ever awarded for the 2009-2011 council, Bob Macy is a lock on the member most likely to say something unintentionally humorous or downright cringe worthy. So, it's only fair, when he stumbles onto a gem of wisdom, to give him credit.

After the jump, an example of both from Monday night's city council meeting.

As discussed here earlier, the Richardson City Council deliberated on a code of conduct. Or ethics policy, the council seems to have a hard time settling on just what they want to call it or what it should cover. One member of the public said she was disappointed that the draft proposal seems to focus on conduct, not ethics. I thought to myself that if they want a code of ethics, too, they should make their job easy and adopt "A Council Member is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent." There, done. But expect enforcement to be messy and drawn-out, as later councils try to interpret what the ethical principles mean in practice. In the long run, it will be better to focus the policy on conduct, as that is most easy to define in a way that's enforceable.

At one point, Bob Macy suggested one very specific behavior he'd like to regulate, saying he'd like to see a ban on use of "pagers" and cell phones by council members during council meetings. Macy failed to reveal his position on telegrams. Later, Amir Omar pointed to his cell phone and said he's encouraged by members of the community contacting their council members, sometimes by email during council meetings. Omar missed the opportunity to brandish it over his head and declare, "You can have my cell phone when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." That would have easily won Omar the superlative for most awesome quote during a council meeting.

There seem to be three serious issues of contention in the proposed code of conduct: the statute of limitations, the confidentiality clause, and the use of the city attorney as a so-called "gatekeeper" to make initial review of complaints and subsequent investigation. The public sentiment seems to be in favor of using an independent person or body for this gatekeeper function. Some of the council members seemed to be moving towards the public sentiment.

Then Bob Macy spoke up. He said the city council is ultimately responsible both for the code of conduct and for enforcing it. He's right. The city charter gives only the council the power to dismiss a council member for official misconduct (it also gives voters the power to recall a council member for whatever reason voters want). Adding a review body to make recommendations to the council is possible, but, as the body would be directly or indirectly appointed by the city council, it's independence would always be suspect, especially if it recommended that the council take no action on a complaint. Adding additional layers of review to the process is just as likely to shield the council from taking responsibility for policing itself as it is to make it harder for them avoid doing so. The council itself owns this responsibility and should do nothing to water down that responsibility. Bob Macy is right.

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