Monday, April 22, 2013

Mayoral Forums: Stay To The Bitter End

There was another Richardson mayoral forum on Thursday, April 18, 2013. This one was at Mohawk Elementary. The forum was sponsored by the JJ Pearce & Reservation HOA and the Greenwood Hills NA.
They were both impressive. Either one will be good for the city.
Those were the first words spoken by a stranger sitting in front of me after the forum. I used to think so, too, but my confidence in both candidates is beginning to flag. The forum started on an upbeat note. The candidates were asked to "say something nice about your opponent." The forum ended with closing statements that reflected none of the good cheer displayed at the start. It's hard to say exactly how the candidates ended up where they did, as they agreed more often than they disagreed in between. Much is going on under the surface. Stress levels are rising. Chinks are beginning to appear in the armor of both candidates.

After the jump, the play by play.

Both candidates say Richardson has a great city staff and both candidates listed times they have worked well with city staff in the past.

Omar said he voted against the rental inspection program because its flat rate failed to provide enough incentive for property owners to reduce code violations. Maczka says the inspection program has resulted in an overall improvement of the quality of rental properties. Both candidates say the program should be reviewed to see if modifications are needed to address undesired, unintended consequences of the program.

Both candidates say they have made personal efforts to increase the diversity on city boards and commissions.

The candidates were asked how they would hold the Chamber of Commerce accountable for flagging retail in Richardson. Both candidates appeared to disagree with the premise. Maczka credited the Chamber with recruiting Alamo Drafthouse to Richardson. Omar said what problems exist are not with the Chamber. Both said the Chamber itself is doing a good job, without explaining how the city council makes that judgment. Is there a contract, with measurable deliverables, that's evaluated upon completion to decide if Richardson is getting value for the taxpayer money given to the Chamber?

Both candidates said the emphasis on west side redevelopment needs to be in the south. Omar said we need to leverage the Studio Movie Grill and the recently demolished Continental Inn site. Omar said he'd like to use savings from increased operational efficiencies to go to neighborhood revitalization projects like rebuilding screening walls. Maczka said that Richardson (and, in this case, Dallas) cannot keep Walmart from moving in at Coit and Arapaho, but we can "shape" what it looks like.

Omar reiterated his proposal to create a joint commission with members from the Richardson City Council and the boards of trustees of the Richardson and Plano school districts, tasked with the goal of finding opportunities for partnership. For example, could there be savings through joint operation of natatoriums? Maczka wants to keep the different levels of government separate, at least as it relates to the ownership and operation of facilities. For example, she suggests a new natatorium might be a perfect opportunity for a public/private partnership instead.

The candidates were asked how the city would ensure that the huge development at the PGBT DART station will end up as a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development. Omar laughed at the question, saying he could guess who asked it. See "The Last, Best Hope of Richardson" for my take on this development. I'm disappointed that it may be a sign there's so little public demand for mixed-use development that a candidate for mayor thinks he knows who would ask the question. In the end, his answer did nothing to dispel the pessimism I expressed in that blog post: "I'm afraid that we're seeing the promise of mixed-use development morph into 'corporate campus' along PGBT and apartments along Renner Rd." Maczka said we just have to hold the developer to it. She talked about getting the east-west Cotton Belt rail line to intersect the DART Red Line there.

The candidates were asked about the advantages and challenges of having direct election of the mayor. They used the question as an opportunity to state their oft-repeated positions on this. Omar prided himself on being the only council member who stood up for giving the public the right to directly elect their mayor. Maczka repeated her argument that her vote was not a vote against direct election; she was against changing the charter in isolation and without adequate time to do it right. (See "Who Killed D.E.? A Richardson Whodunnit" for what I think of her explanation.)

The candidates were asked about the possibility of a future bond election. Both suggested it was likely, maybe inevitable. Both suggested the city ought to first explore cost savings in the existing budget. Omar said the next bond package should focus on infrastructure needs. Maczka said whatever bond package is developed, it should be done without needing to raise taxes.

Asked why they wanted to be mayor, Omar said he wanted to use the "bully pulpit" of the mayor to advance Richardson's interests. He also said he wanted to run meetings in a way that increases the amount of discussion. Maczka said she wanted to be chief marketing officer of the city. She said her opponent can't touch her own ability as a leader. I think maybe that's when the forum went off the rails.

In closing, Omar said Maczka has accomplished nothing in her term on city council except for getting a couple of regional transportation meetings held in Richardson. He accused her of putting her service on city council "on cruise control" for two years waiting to become mayor. He asked how she could vote against direct election of the mayor, then have the audacity to ask for your vote for mayor.

In closing, Maczka said Omar has had his eye on the mayor's seat for at least two years. She said he is "beholden to unions and special interests." She said he thinks the role of mayor is that of "community organizer." She said his approach to governing is "ready, fire, aim" and pushes ideas that have not been vetted. She pointed to "Tree the Town" as a program that the city was promised would be free but has turned out to cost $150,000.

Ouch. And I had thought it was going so well up to then. This election is turning nasty fast.


glbeach said...

Mark, I would be really, really, interested to know who you are supporting in that I have a very high degree of respect for your opinions. They are well-informed, reasonable, and not tainted by the bias and ideology I see on both sides.

For example, I wonder how Candidate Maczka will work with RISD, in that she chose to home school her kids while living in a community with wonderful (not as good as they used to be, but still wonderful) public schools. Likewise, Candidate Omar has apparently shown himself to have a bit of an independent streak - thus the rejection by his once backers at Richardson. . . what is it, Richardson Coalition?

It really seems like, while either may not be bad for Richardson, the whole move to a direct election of mayor may not be good for Richardson either . . . unless you are in the sign-printing business, then you may make a few bucks on political printing.

Mark Steger said...

Gary, I'm still struggling with my vote. This week's events are going to play a key role in my decision.

Mark Steger said...

Gary, I've been told that Laura Maczka does not home-school her children. She has children in JJ Pearce HS and North Middle School.

Sassy Texan said...

No one is mentioning Walmart going in at Campbell and 75. West side. It is my understanding it is zoned for the use and the variances needed are for parking.

Mark Steger said...

Confidential to commenter using alias: The possibility of a Walmart at Campbell Rd and US75 was not asked about, but was mentioned in passing. Neither candidate is in favor.

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