Thursday, September 22, 2011

Richardson's Top Forty

Not musical hits. Things to do.
The most important things to do in the world are to get something to eat, something to drink and somebody to love you.
Source: Brenda Ueland
The Richardson City Council caters their meals at their work sessions, so they already have the first two of those recommendations covered. As for getting somebody to love them, politicians might as well get a dog. The electorate may vote you into office, but they'll never love you.

So, instead of following Brenda Ueland's advice quoted above, the Richardson City Council came up with their own list of the most important things to do in the world. They burdened themselves with forty.

After the jump, the top forty.

Overall, the council did an acceptable job of prioritization of the grab bag of action items they started with. The 65 items on the original list were prioritized into a top forty. The good news? That action item to "advocate for access points in the US 75 HOV lanes" that I held out as an example of how the city council's process was broken ranked 62nd, far out of the top forty.

The top four action items are all focused on Richardson's biggest challenge - redevelopment. Retail reinvestment, Main Street redevelopment, funding for redevelopment, and repurposing underutilized retail areas came out on top of the collective ranking exercise the seven council members conducted. Not a bad top four.

Programs to address neighborhood decline ranked 6th. Continue the West Spring Valley reinvestment plan was 10th. Consider public/private partnerships for redevelopment was 10th (part of the Spring Valley action item specifically) and 17th (generally).

If the city council focused all of their efforts on just these few items (delegating all of the others to city staff and deferring some altogether), Richardson would still be well served.

Even though the list is generally a good one, I'm not without quibbles. Holding work sessions to discuss community interest in having a charter review just barely made it into the top forty. Given the intensity of issues regarding the charter during the May election (direct election of the mayor, balanced budgets, audits of city accounts, sweeping money between funds, etc.), the city council can't avoid some kind of action on a charter review this term. I also question whether holding work sessions on the public's interest in the city-owned golf course is really the fifth most important action item for the city council. I also question why development of a dog park ranks so much higher than a recreational facility for the Breckinridge Park area. Any why does the city council seem so concerned with hookah lounges? Until the city gets going on redeveloping Main Street, it shouldn't be hassling the one market segment that is actually showing interest in doing something there. Leaving action items like this in place risks diverting attention from the really important issues facing Richardson. But, in the end, I am more confident that the council understands what the priorities should be. Whether they can focus on them remains to be proven.


mccalpin said...

"Given the intensity of issues regarding the charter during the May election (direct election of the mayor, balanced budgets, audits of city accounts, sweeping money between funds, etc.), the city council can't avoid some kind of action on a charter review this term."

Hmmmn, there are really two different things at play is to change the charter (which direct election of the mayor would require), but the other is how the charter is to be interpreted. In the latter three examples you mention (balanced budgets, audits of city accounts, sweeping money between funds), the City believes (correctly in my opinion) that it is following the charter, but some residents do not.

Laura Maczka brought this point up - how do we address the various accusations, er, statements made in the Visitors Section of meetings? After all, state law clearly FORBIDS the council from answering something raised by a visitor except in the most limited and unsatisfactory way.

So her thought was, what if when someone comes up and says "you're violating the charter by selling debt without voter approval)" (which happened last year at a council meeting), can't there be a later worksession in which this item is properly posted on the agenda for review and the City staff presents to the Council (and hence to the public) the City's justification for doing so (state law has allowed it for 40 years).

The good news is that this MAY quiet some of the rumors we see running around the City...the bad news is that the council won't have time to respond to every rumor that surfaces here (look at for rumors in just the last 2 years, and this is by no means all of them out there), and the moment that the council addresses some rumors and not others, the rumormongers will immediately start denouncing the City for not being responsive and for admitting that it must be guilty of the things that it doesn't respond to.

The problem, in the end, is that some people won't be satisfied no matter how much proof you give them. For example, the lawyer who made that false accusation above about violating the charter has never admitted that he was wrong (even though it was obvious even to my tabby cat) or apologized to the council for his mistake...what can you do with that kind of attitude? At some point, the council has to be about doing the public's business, which is why we elected what point will responding to so many rumors simply prevent the council from getting anything done at all?


Mark Steger said...

I don't see the necessity for holding work sessions on every topic raised by visitors during council meetings. But I do think it's important that the city respond in some way. A short written response published a day or two after an issue is raised during the visitors section of council meetings would be very informative for everyone.

Now some of the issues raised are serious charges. There is a vocal minority in Richardson who believe the city violates the city charter in certain of its regular behaviors. The city can either ignore these complaints, or it can periodically issue defenses of its behavior, or it can clarify the charter to eliminate any confusion residents have about what it requires. And who knows, maybe a charter commission will recommend changes in how the city operates. I expect these discussions to be heated. But I don't see how the city can avoid them.

mccalpin said...

I struggle with how to respond to this, Mark. After all, I agree that in some cases, a short response might be the case above, the answer could have been as simple as "Hey, dude, go read the Texas Certificates of Obligation Act of 1971(!)".

But, honestly, you and I know that in some cases, no answer - no matter how well researched or documented - will satisfy some it's a complete waste of time to even do we draw the line, so that addressing the avalanche of rumors and gossip doesn't affect the ability of the City to be about the people's business...which, after all, is the City's real job?


Mark Steger said...

I understand that some people will never be satisfied. I'm more interested in getting the facts to everyone else. There are many residents who hear the allegations of illegal conduct and don't trust them, but don't have the facts to be sure. Besides, not everyone who addresses the city council is an irreconcilable critic. It's just common courtesy, if someone goes to the trouble of addressing the council, for the city to respond to their question or complaint.