In case you're late to the party, let me catch you up. Richardson citizens face a referendum in November in which they'll be asked whether to change Richardson's city charter to make the office of mayor directly elected by the voters.
OK, I know it doesn't sound like much of a party. No fun here. Still, some are cackling about it like they somehow got into the good stuff. At least those people should find something to amuse them here.
Previously, I wondered, if direct election of the mayor is such an obviously fair and democratic way to do it, why in the world did Richardson's voters not set it up like that way back in 1956 when they adopted the current system? I started searching to find out what I could about that long ago decision, to find out if there might be any faint echoes of it still reverberating today that might inform the choice about to be thrust upon us in this year's November election.
I didn't find the answer to why Richardson made the choice they did in 1956, but I did discover that the City of Dallas, in 1949, switched from a system remarkably like Richardson's today to a system of direct election for mayor. I also found a back story that suggested that contentious council government after Dallas made the change would have justified Richardson's decision not to follow Dallas, but I didn't find any hard evidence that was behind Richardson's decision. For whatever reason, Richardson rejected Dallas's decision.
After the jump, the results of a little more digging.
Thanks to helpful reader Andrew Laska (a great resource for all things Richardson: Richardson Echo, Preservation Richardson, Richardson Heights Homeowners Association), I found my way to old copies of Richardson's newspaper of the 1950s, The Richardson Echo (the original one, not Laska's current site named in honor of the original). Here's what I found.
Before 1952, tiny Richardson was governed by what is called a commission form of government, consisting of an elected mayor and two elected commissioners.
In 1952, Richardson held an election and switched to an aldermanic form of government, consisting of an elected mayor and five aldermen. The functions of commissioners and aldermen were not much different, so I'm guessing the change was prompted primarily by Richardson's population growth and a belief that more elected officials were needed to manage Richardson's municipal government. The key thing for our purposes about Richardson's government at the time is that in both the commission and aldermanic forms of government, the mayor was elected.
One thing that sounds like something is confused is that Dallas, according to the history I found earlier, switched from an aldermanic form of government to a commission form in 1907, while Richardson went the other way in 1952. WTH?
Anyway, in 1956, Richardson held another election and switched from its aldermanic form of government to a council-manager form of government. The most obvious changes were, first, the number of council members grew to seven; second, the mayor was no longer elected, but selected by the seven council members from among their ranks; and third, a professional city manager was hired by the council to run the daily operations of city government. Again, I'm guessing that the changes were prompted primarily by Richardson's growth.
At least that would explain the larger council and the addition of a professional city manager. But why did the city switch from an elected mayor to one chosen by the city council? Why, indeed, given that neighboring Dallas had gone in exactly the other direction just seven years before? Was there something about the Dallas experience that led Richardson's voters in 1956 to decide to voluntarily put aside their right to directly elect their mayor? Or was there something in Richardson's own experience with an elected mayor to prompt the change? Curious minds want to know.
Shouldn't we all be curious? Wouldn't the answer to that question have been worth knowing before we started down the road to a referendum to revoke that long-ago decision, a decision by Richardson voters much like ourselves? Doesn't anyone care anymore to think through changes instead of just forcing them through because they sound good on first thought? Especially when people living right here in our place a generation or two earlier, when faced with the same questions, made the exact opposite decision? Whatever happened to prudence?