Monday, April 1, 2013

More than Wielding a Gavel or Cutting Ribbons

Recently, I reviewed the qualifications of the candidates for Richardson's mayor, Laura Maczka and Amir Omar, against the role of mayor. I focused on serving as presiding officer at city council meetings and representing the city on ceremonial occasions because those are the only two powers given to the mayor and only the mayor.

After the jump, the other powers of the mayor.

Richardson's mayor is, first and foremost, one of seven council members. The mayor might preside at council meetings, but he or she is given one vote and only one vote just like the other six council members. He doesn't have veto power. He doesn't have administrative power over city staff. Any evaluation of the candidates for mayor should start with an evaluation of how he or she will perform as a member of the city council. That task is made easier in this election because both candidates for mayor are incumbent council members. We can look at history as guide to the future. The outlook, I'm disappointed to say, is mixed.

To their credit, both candidates have performed well as opposed to what we could have expected had their opponents in 2011 been elected. The council as a whole certainly has. They've kept Richardson's finances under control with a good balance between taxes, services, debt and investment. The city continues to make incremental improvements in government transparency. It recognizes the need for revitalization of aging neighborhoods as well as development of transit-oriented development along the DART line.

The council members have dropped some balls along the way and are in the act of dropping others, although not all of these mistakes are "done deals." They approved a gas station at the entrance to the Brick Row transit-oriented development. They are on track to approve the development of a strip of chain restaurants on Central Expressway at West Spring Valley Rd, contrary to the vision for this corridor worked out at length with residents, business owners and other stakeholders. They agreed to bury the only natural feature in Richardson's historic downtown, Floyd Branch of Cottonwood Creek. They approved the construction of a self-service warehouse in a shopping center down the street from city hall. They denied a request to develop an automobile repair shop at the corner of Coit Rd and Belt Line Rd, hardly the highest and best use of that prime retail location. (OK, they got that one right.) They are on track to approve a single-use apartment complex within walking distance of the Arapaho DART station, a prime location for transit-oriented, multi-use development instead. They approved plans for a traditional suburban corporate campus next to the PGBT DART station, another prime location for transit-oriented, multi-use development.

Who should bear the blame for these errors, Maczka or Omar, both or neither? Each candidate was on the right side of some of these matters and the wrong side of others. Neither Maczka nor Omar has sufficiently distinguished himself on such matters to give me confidence to vote for one or the other as council member.

Richardson may have the right vision for how to reinvent the city for future prosperity, but landowners and real estate developers are often more interested in short term profit. Council members are too quick to go along. Council members have too rarely demonstrated either the insight or the fortitude to be the champion of the long term vision. That's what will sway my vote more than any discussion of wielding the gavel at council meetings or cutting ribbons at grand openings.

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