Thursday, October 4, 2012

After Direct Election of Mayor, What Next?

The November ballot in Richardson will let voters decide whether to change Richardson's city charter to institute direct election of the mayor. Barring an unforeseen big bucks "Vote No" campaign, I expect the amendment to pass.

After the jump, what to expect next.

Richardson's method of choosing its mayor was only one feature of the city charter that critics have complained is undemocratic. Another is Richardson's method of choosing all council members at large. The malcontents charge that a small number of establishment power brokers in Canyon Creek dictate who runs for city council and who wins. The theory goes that switching to single member districts would break Canyon Creek's stranglehold on city government. That's the theory anyway. Analysis of the premises of this argument casts doubt on the theory. But it has the ring of truthiness to it, so expect there to be a push for single member districts.

Farmers Branch similarly used to elect all of its council members at large. Recently, a federal judge ruled that the system unfairly kept Hispanics from being represented and ordered the city to adopt a single member district electoral system. The situation with Farmers Branch situation is different from Richardson's situation. Unlike Farmers Branch, Richardson requires four of its seven council members to live in the district they represent. And the four districts are all fairly equally diverse racially and ethnically. So, the legal case for forcing Richardson to adopt single member districts would be harder to make. Still, over time, unless diversity in the makeup of Richardson's city council increases naturally, expect eventually to see a lawsuit filed to try to force single member districts on Richardson, too.

Richardson's malcontents, most of whom are white, have another avenue to achieve the same end. They can start another petition and referendum for a charter change for single member districts. That avenue is likely to be shorter and easier to travel than a legal remedy through the courts.

The Richardson City Council would be well advised to get ahead of the curve on this issue. Kicking the can down the road no longer works. The council can show leadership and have some say in the matter, or it can wait for the inevitable lawsuit or referendum that will take the issue out of the council's hands.

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