Monday, July 9, 2012

Mayoral Referendum: Now What?

Revolution is not coming to Richardson, it is finally here.
Source: Anonymous online commenter.
According to a press release by the political action committee that bankrolled it, the effort to secure enough petition signatures to force a referendum on the direct election of Richardson's mayor has met its goal. Assuming the signatures hold up, the big question now is, what's next?

After the jump, the road ahead.

Getting enough signatures on the petition is only the first step in getting the system changed. The next steps are for the city to certify the signatures and then for the city council to place the referendum on the ballot at the next election, which would be the November presidential election.

Will the voters of Richardson then approve the charter amendment? If there is no organized opposition, it is hard to see such a ballot measure failing. Letting the citizens vote for their mayor just sounds logical, doesn't it? If there is an organized opposition to the proposed amendment, will it pass anyway? Probably still yes, because elections just sound so dog-gone American.

The questioning voter might ask, if direct election of the mayor really is so obviously logical, why would Richardson's founding fathers not have set it up that way to begin with? Why would Richardson's voters of 1956 have approved a city charter that has the city council select its own presiding officer? Maybe because the founding fathers were all crooked and the voters were all hoodwinked. Or just maybe because there were arguably valid reasons for doing it that way then, reasons that might still apply today, reasons that don't involve corruption and back room power politics (e.g., see here and then, paradoxically, see here).

There are pros and cons to any system of government. The 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. A voter this November will likely spend mere seconds in the voting booth considering just one detail of that system. Moreover, judging by how many voters turn out in November versus in May, the November voter is likely to be there to vote for president and to be disengaged from city government. Supporters of the petition drive themselves remarked that many people who were approached were surprised when told that Richardson voters didn't directly elect the mayor already. That's the kind of low information voter the organizers depended on during the petition drive and will depend on to pass the referendum in November. Given how little most voters will have considered the matter before they encounter it on the ballot, it's difficult to see those voters choosing to retain a non-intuitive feature from a 1956 city charter.

Will there be any effort at all to defend Richardson's charter and defeat the referendum? That remains to be seen, but it's quite possible everyone will save their effort for the mayoral election to follow in May, 2013.

Tomorrow, I will speculate on how the May, 2013, election will go down. Spoiler alert: that revolution announced by the anonymous commenter above? Not so much.


dc-tm said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Morgan said...


I like your characterization of this noble PAC as "bankrolling" the petition to "force" a vote on the issue. Somehow it speaks to the hypocrisy of those who bankrolled countless initiatives over the years. Shall I name a few?

Not only were their special interests bankrolled with the private money of the original PAC (a.k.a., "Richardson Coalition", a.k.a., "Richardson Citizens for Responsive Government", formerly known as "Friends of Richardson"), but they also managed to find ways to get public money to bankroll some of their initiatives.

Politics is lubricated with money. Always has been. To lament about it is silly.

Nobody is "forcing" anything here. A large group of concerned citizens are exercising their right to vote. And, in this case, merely the right to have the question put before the people of the community.

And are you saying that citizens having the opportunity to decide whether or not to vote for the deal is a bad idea? Is there a name for that kind of government?

Back in 1913, when the State of Texas Home Rule Charter legislation was first enacted, a key provision was purposefully placed in the text, one that has withstood the test of time. It is virtually the same language as you will find in the current legislation. What is it?

Home Rule Charter provisions may not be contrary to either the Texas Constitution or Statutes.

I'm not quite sure when the Constitution first included the provision for every qualified voter to be able to cast a ballot for the popular election of the municipality's Mayor, but it is in there now. And, in my not-so humble opinion, the City of Richardson has failed to comply in (at least) this manner, as in other circumstances, for far too long.

Nathan Morgan said...

The only force at play here is force majeure, an uncontrollable force of nature.

In 1913, when the Texas Legislature enabled the Home Rule Charter statutes, they purposefully placed a critical and overriding control in the language. That is, provisions in any Charter may not be contrary to those found in the Texas Constitution or Statutes. The specific language of this is virtually verbatim in the current legislation.

It seems the painful process of amending the Texas Constitution is easier to accomplish than that of updating the Richardson City Charter. Apparently the Constitution was amended but the City of Richardson has, thus far, refused to comply with the original 1913 constraints.

Political subdivisions were provided with the ability to establish their own charter and ordinances through legislative action at the State level. This did not grant the privilege of thumbing their nose at the State when the law prohibited them from doing otherwise.

Mark Steger said...

Nathan, no one that I've heard has ever argued that Richardson's City Charter trumps the Texas Constitution. That's a straw man fallacy. I have heard competing theories on what the constitution requires in the way of elections. That question was dealt with in "Of Mayors and Constitutions." Even though the different opinions persist, repeating the arguments here serves no purpose.

Nathan Morgan said...

Everybody has an opinion, but straw men fallaciously interpreting the spirit of the law does not make the written word disappear. The words in the Constitution are pretty clear to the average citizen. It is also clear to the average citizen that the Richardson City Charter stands contrary. Except for those who for some twisted reason think the matter is arguable, the people decided this provision in the Texas Constitution a long time ago. It's time for the City of Richardson to get with the program.

Nathan Morgan said...

Choose not to post my reply, did you?