Recently, I asserted that "There are pros and cons to any system of government. The [Richardson] charter commission in 1956 must have spent hours and hours considering all of them, before the voters approved a council-manager form of government with limited duties and responsibilities for the mayor and the current method of choosing that mayor."History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Source: Mark Twain.
I said "must have spent" instead of "for sure did spend" because, frankly, I didn't know. I did no research on how much time Richardson's founding fathers spent deliberating over Richardson's original city charter. But "hours and hours" seemed like a reasonable assumption, so that's what I said.
It didn't take long for a reader to challenge me (sort of). He asserted, "Richardson pretty much copied the Dallas charter all those years ago, with some minor changes that were Richardson specific." Whether or not it was intended, that could be taken to imply that Richardson's city fathers didn't break a sweat agonizing over options and details. Someone gaveled the first charter commission meeting to order, someone else pulled out a parchment containing the Dallas city charter, took his big black fountain pen and crossed out the word Dallas and wrote in Richardson, and then said, let's say we call it a day and all go out for a beer. Except I don't know how far they'd have to go in those days for a beer. Pretty far, I reckon. Chicago, maybe. So maybe they just went out for a sarsaparilla. That's another thing I didn't research.
After the jump, back on topic.
So, who's correct? Did Richardson just pretty much copy Dallas's charter? Darned if I know. So, I did some Googling. As is often the case, I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I found a lot of other interesting related reading. For example, the Texas State Historical Society provides the best brief summary of the forms of government Dallas has had over the last hundred years:
I didn't learn much about the back stories of those 1907 and 1930 charter changes, but there was talk of Progressive Era reforms and the desire to limit patronage, graft and partisan politics. Apparently, those were goals of the 1930 Dallas city charter that set up a council-manager form of government with at-large council districts and a mayor selected by the council. That's pretty much the system Richardson adopted in 1956, so by now I'm thinking that maybe my reader is correct -- maybe Richardson just borrowed Dallas's system.In 1907 Dallas voters adopted the commission form of city government to replace the aldermanic system. In 1930 the Citizens Charter Association won voter approval for the council-manager form of city government; an amendment in 1949 provided for direct election of the mayor. The CCA and the Dallas Citizens Council, a small group composed of business leaders, dominated local government until a 1971 lawsuit forced election by districts rather than at large. A 1992 amendment expanded the council to fourteen single-member districts, with the mayor elected at large.
Source: Texas State Historical Association.
But in 1949, Dallas chucked its system of selecting the mayor and adopted a direct election method instead. That was seven years before Richardson adopted its own charter, without direct election of the mayor. So, for sure, Richardson didn't just adopt Dallas's charter as its own. Richardson decided not to follow Dallas's lead in changing to a system of direct election of the mayor. I can't say for sure why that was, but the back story surrounding the change in Dallas in 1949 was riveting and could be instructive.
As the story goes, J. B. Adoue, Jr., was elected to the Dallas City Council in 1949 and expected to be selected as mayor by the council. Instead, the council selected Wallace H. Savage as mayor, causing a miffed Adoue to launch a petition drive to change the city charter to have direct election of the mayor. In a November, 1949, referendum, a majority of voters agreed with Adoue to change the charter. Riding his wave of insurgent popularity, Adoue was elected mayor by the voters in 1951. Here's where the story becomes instructive.
That contentious 1951 term of the Dallas City Council, with its first directly elected mayor in twenty years, supports the warning I gave a year ago, when I first examined the arguments for and against direct election of the mayor. At that time, I said:Adoue's term as mayor became known both for its successes and controversies. ... He immediately damaged his relationship with City Manager Charles Ford by calling for his resignation even prior to his first city council meeting as mayor. As with many issues and votes during his term, the council voted 8-1 against Adoue when he pressed the council to fire Ford as City Manager.
Source: Dallas Historical Society.
It looks like history may be repeating itself, this time with Richardson playing the part of Dallas and setting itself up to learn about the law of unintended consequences.Direct election of the mayor could work to subvert the wishes of the voters as expressed in their election of the six other members of the council. You could end up with gridlocked government, with the mayor and the council at odds. I suppose if you believe gridlocked government is good because it keeps the b*stards from doing anything at all, then you might like direct election of the mayor. But if your idea of effective government is different, then you might want to let a majority of the council elect their leader so as to facilitate passage of the programs supported by that majority.
Source: The Wheel.