After the jump, reviewing the viewpoints, and adding a new one.
There's the question of efficiency: the mayor being the chairman of the board, the speaker of the house, the foreman of the jury, it makes sense that he (or she) would be chosen by the body that he will lead, just like all these other examples. The council itself is entirely elected by the voters, including the council member ultimately chosen to lead the council, so it's not like the mayor is some kind of outsider the voters don't want.
There's the question of public harmony: because some citizens think that direct popular elections are the only legitimate form of democracy, and they are unlikely to ever be satisfied with anything else, it makes sense that we ought to, at least, put the question of whether we want to directly elect the mayor to a popular vote. The charter was originally adopted by popular vote, but those voters are almost all dead today. Maybe city charters should come with an expiration date, needing re-ratification every so often.
I've discussed both of these angles before. What I have never discussed is the legal question. Is Richardson's system of having the elected council members themselves choose which among them will serve as mayor legal?
Some argue that the wording of the Texas constitution is as plain as the nose on your face -- Richardson's system is clearly unconstitutional.
The only person [in Richardson] that I've heard [publicly] argue to the contrary is Bill McCalpin (see "Direct Election of Mayor" at Rumorcheck.org). His argument boils down to a historic one. The wording was adopted after the Civil War in order to ensure that freed slaves would have the right to vote. In other words, the intent was to ensure that the vote would be open to all. The intent was not to dictate to cities which offices they had to have their citizens vote on. Given that there's no discrimination regarding who can vote for council members, and it's an elected council member who ultimately serves as mayor, the argument goes, the system complies with the constitution.ARTICLE 6. SUFFRAGE
Sec. 3. MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS; QUALIFICATIONS OF VOTERS. All qualified voters of the State, as herein described, who reside within the limits of any city or corporate town, shall have the right to vote for Mayor and all other elective officers.
Source: Texas Constitution.
Given that the Texas Constitution was in place when Richardson and other cities adopted their charters, it's likely that city fathers and voters in past eras didn't see a constitutional barrier to having the mayor chosen by the elected council and not by popular vote of the electorate. Given that there have been no legal challenges to such a system in the decades since adoption, it's likely that no lawyers among us have seen a constitutional problem, either. Even the current advocates of direct election of the mayor are pursuing a referendum rather than a lawsuit.
So, was everybody wrong all those years ago when Richardson's system was adopted? This is less a matter of empirical fact than a matter of interpretation. And interpretation changes over time. Anyone can mine the law to find some clause or phrase that seemingly backs up one's preconceived notion of what should be. I do know that the only way to settle this (as much as anything can be settled in law) is to challenge Richardson in court and let the Texas Supreme Court decide.
On the other hand, there is another way the question can be settled, at least for Richardson. And that's by letting the voters decide. It might not be technically, legally, constitutionally required to vote on the matter, but there's nothing forbidding a referendum either. And it might help keep the peace in Richardson. That's not chopped liver.