Friday, October 19, 2012

Mayoral Referendum: VIPs Speak Out

With my recent blog article collecting all my previous thoughts on the Richardson city charter amendment election calling for direct election of the mayor, I thought I was done with blogging on the subject until after the election.

After the jump, two events that draw me back to the keyboard.

GHNA debate

First was a debate sponsored by the Greenwood Hills Neighborhood Association featuring Darrell Day (vote YES) and Bill McCalpin (vote NO).

Day's argument was limited: voting is the American way and by having citizens vote for the mayor you hold him accountable.

McCalpin easily parried these arguments. First, the American way is not uniform. America uses many ways to elect city governments. Richardson's method, while unusual in Texas, is not so unusual throughout the United States. Second, Richardson's mayor, along with every council member, already has to face the voters every two years. The new system provides no additional accountability.

McCalpin's own argument against change was equivalent to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." He argued that things are good in Richardson and the change just might break Richardson, and pointed to Dallas, Irving and other cities using direct election of the mayor that resulted in divided government, examples that he does not want to see repeated in Richardson.

McCalpin then offered a new (to me) and compelling argument. Whoever drafted the proposed charter change did a slapdash job. He (or she) went through the existing charter and changed every reference to "council members" to "council members and mayor." But he missed a dozen or so places. One miss seemed to be deliberate (as amended, the council can remove council members, but it cannot remove the mayor -- ironically, this actually reduces the means of holding the mayor accountable, a detail Day missed or ignored). In the other places the drafter missed, it's unclear whether it was an oversight or he was being deliberate. But the omissions are serious: for example, calling into question whether the mayor's presence counts towards a quorum, even whether the mayor can vote on the budget. McCalpin warns that if this charter amendment passes, Richardson opens itself up to litigation any time a close vote on a zoning case or ordinance goes against a litigious person or business. McCalpin argues that, even if you support direct election of the mayor, it ought to be done properly, by a charter review commission, meeting in the open, holding public hearings, taking input from all citizens, so errors can be caught and corrected before they get cemented into the charter.

Richardson Coalition PAC email

The second event was an anticipated opinion from the Richardson Coalition PAC, an influential political action committee whose recommendations in the last city council election carried the day up and down the ballot.

The PAC's email took the form of an analysis of the pros and cons of direct election of the mayor. Although the structure of the email appears balanced, the content contains very little "pro" and quite a bit of "con."

The PAC starts out making the simple point that either system will work for Richardson. The PAC goes on to explain the advantages of the current system and the drawbacks of direct election. Finally, the PAC tries to follow the money that financed the petition drive for the election and only partly succeeds: "We are wondering how the difference is funded." The PAC concludes that change is unlikely to improve city government: "we see no reason to change."

I don't list the PAC's arguments in detail because the email offers nothing that hasn't been detailed already in editorials at Bill McCalpin's, which the PAC's email recommends.

This email was not surprising. What remains to be seen is whether the Richardson Coalition PAC will put money behind their opposition and mail a flier to the houses of Richardson's voters. Without that, few voters will be informed of the pros and cons. In that case, the charter amendment will likely pass.


Mark Steger said...

Video of the debate on direct election of Richardson's mayor between Darrell Day and Bill McCalpin can be found here.

Mark Steger said...

Richardson Coalition discovers city charter amendment was sloppily written and will cause problems and says, Vote NO.