Amir Omar makes his answer the centerpiece of his campaign. He says not only did he support direct election of the mayor, but he took a principled stand in favor of it despite being warned that he would have difficulty winning re-election if he did so. Further, he accuses Laura Maczka of "leading the charge" against putting the matter before the voters in a charter amendment election.
Maczka denies Omar's charge, saying "it simply isn't true." She says she recognized that the city council votes weren't there to call a referendum on the question. There was no point to continue discussion and so she moved to end it. She says she has confirmed her account of what happened by going back and listening to the January 30, 2012, council meeting at which the issue was deliberated. She encourages voters to do the same.
I remember watching this drama play out in its first release. I reviewed it in "Campaign Promise? That Was Then". Here was my appraisal then:
Still, in case my memory was faulty, in case the benefit of time might have me see things differently now, I took Maczka up on her call for voters to go back and watch it themselves. After the jump, what I learned from a second viewing.Frankly, I was shocked with how cavalierly the council dismissed what I had considered to be a campaign promise. Not a promise as firm as, say, "Read my lips, no new taxes" but still, a consensus expressed during the campaign forums that it was time, after 25 years, to look into cleaning up our city charter and bringing it up to date. In one meeting, with no call for public input, with little or no homework evident on their own part, with no wrestling with conscience, the council quickly and decisively disposed of any further discussion of a charter review for this council term.
Source: The Wheel.
First, we have to set the stage. For that, we have to go all the way back to the summer of 2011, when the newly-elected city council adopted a set of 57 "Near-Term Action Items" that would guide the council calendar for the 2011-2013 term. This is the one that set the events of that fateful day in January, 2012, in motion:
The work session of January 30, 2012, is when this near-term action item made it onto a work session agenda:Utilize work sessions to discuss items of broad community interest specific to the following:
o Election v. Selection of Mayor - Review in time for May 2012 ballot consideration
o City Charter review
This is where our little drama begins.Worksession Item D
Review and Discuss Action Items Related to City Charter Review
Act I: Curtain rises. Assistant City Manager Michelle Thames opens our play with a review of the history of the charter as background for the council's further discussion. After presenting the history, Thames lays out the time line the council faces to accomplish the first near-term action item:
Note that this near-term action item, adopted in the summer of 2011, was the only one of the 57 action items that specified a completion date: May, 2012. Note that the deadline to call an election was even earlier than that, March 5, 2012. Note that this near-term action item didn't come before the council until January 30, 2012. The assistant city manager says "that's a pretty tight time line." Our play doesn't have a Sherlock Holmes, but with hindsight, knowing now how our drama plays out, do we need one? A more cynical audience might even have suspected foul play, a setup, right from the beginning, just from the timing of it all. But all the action surrounding the creation of the council calendar takes place offstage, before the curtain goes up on our little drama. The timing may portend a murder to come, but it proves nothing. Disregard those suspicions.Thames: In looking at May, 2012, looking at an election time line, our last day to be able to call an election would be Monday, March 5, so if you all were interested in pursuing that and wanted to get after it here in May, that's a pretty tight time line with March 5 coming up on us.
With hindsight, we know that we will end up with a dead body on our hands. Our goal is to determine if we have a case of murder and, if so, whodunnit. Amir points an accusing finger at Laura: "J'accuse." Laura indignantly responds, "Moi? Non!" Or something like that, maybe with a y'all or something in there. But let's not get ahead of the action on stage. Rewind the tape. Here's the accused discussing the first of the two near-term action items -- direct election of the mayor:
After all get a chance to speak, Laura makes a motion to cease discussion on the short-term action item. The motion passes 6-1. Laura is in the majority. Amir is in the minority.Maczka: Well, since we're looking at these separately, I have to say from my perspective, I can't really look at them separately. I know the short-term action item is to get this on the May ballot. And I've got to tell you, I don't think that it's as simple as just saying we're going to directly elect the mayor. I think if we're going down that path we're going to have to look at everything. We're going to have to look at the districting. We're going to have to look at the way we do business. And so, I think if we're going to do that, we need to give it the due diligence that it's deserved. To me that's looking at the charter. Like I said, I just think it's more complicated than saying, let's choose the mayor. That's my perspective.
Maczka: Since we jumped right into the charter discussion, can I make a suggestion? Basically, the short-term action item clearly says decide in time for the May election, I think we should vote. Do we the seven want to have the direct election of the mayor resolved tonight in order to have it on the May ballot? We can actually vote. [Indecipherable comments by others.] We've gotten a legal ... during a work session we can actually do a vote. So what I would like to see is let's put that one to rest. It may resurface in the conversation about the charter. But let's go ahead and get that action time taken care of because I'll be honest, I'm going to say it again. I don't think it's as simple ... because what place is it? Which one of us is going to give up our seat? [Omar interjects: Place 7.] OK, well you can vote how you want to. So that will weigh in your decision to vote. I just think that, kind of to Mr Mitchell's point, the way I view us is a board of trustees. One of the hardest things that I as a council person have had to kind of come to, I guess, get my feet under me is what is the role of the board of trustees? That is vision, goals, things like that. It is not the day-to-day operations. In that level, as a board of trustees, most corporations, most boards elect their chairman from within. I'm not saying we won't look at some of these other things. I just don't think we can pull it out and have it on the May vote. So I would move that we vote on the short-term action item of having this on the May ballot.
So, did Laura oppose direct election of the mayor? It's hard to interpret her words any other way. She argued that she saw the city council as a board of trustees and most boards of trustees elect their chairman from within.
Did she vote to kill direct election of the mayor? It's hard to deny that, either. She said she couldn't separate the issue of how the mayor is chosen from everything else in the charter, then moved and voted to cease discussion. If that's not killing it, what would have been?
Let's move on to Act II, wherein the council discusses whether to do a full charter review. Here's Laura discussing that.
After all have a chance to speak, Mark Solomon makes a motion to cease discussion on the short-term action item and take no action at this time. The vote was in favor 5-2. Laura is in the majority. Amir (with Steve Mitchell) is in the minority.Maczka: Like Mr. Solomon I knew this was coming. Before I was elected and then after I was elected, I read the charter and I read it again. Michelle, I appreciate the details and you confirmed what my gut was and what talking to those who were involved, is that it's a very expensive process.
I kind of have two categories about this topic that I call the legalities and the realities. In terms of the legalities, I think absolutely, my biggest, my number one concern about this charter are the items that are in conflict with or superseded by state or federal laws. I think the city attorneys weighed in on this so I'd like to make that sure the legalities of the charter are addressed.
Moving on to the realities, when I think about what this undertaking is going to be for this city, if we're going to do it, we need to take the time and dedicate the resources to do it the right way. In my mind, what that involves, which was why I was saying we can't do this in the next 30 days. I don't think this is a 30 day process. I think it's going to take an extensive effort to determine who is actually going to sit on that commission because I think the danger, quite frankly, if we're all honest, is the personal agendas. We're going to have to do a very thorough job of making sure that we allow broad input from a whole variety of citizens. To me, that in itself is going to involve a lot of work on the city manager's office and the staff and the city secretary and the council because I think we're going to have to actually interview candidates to determine how we're going to choose this commission. Again, if that's what the will of the council is, I'm willing to do it. I just want us all to be very realistic about what we're going to undertake. As Michelle mentioned, more than a year, 36 meetings, and that was at a time when ... I know that life has gotten faster. I know it's hard to get ... shoot, it's hard to get a PTA meeting with a quorum. While it may have taken a year last time, I think we all need to be ready for something that's a little longer than that. I don't think that you can schedule 33 meetings in twelve months. That's a lot of meetings in a month.
I know where Amir falls on this, but I'll ask of everybody as we review the charter, I think each of us needs to say what needs to be changed because you undergo a charter review if you think things need to be changed. Kind of my bottom line, as I was really thinking about how I felt about this, you know we all were asked these questions during the campaign. Is it a charter review, and is it a commission? What I've learned through educating myself and input from those who have been there is that there's quite a few variations of what that means.
So, what I did was I went back to look at what we voted on for our agenda for the next two years. My concern is that we set a very aggressive agenda. I looked at where we'd ranked and I went through the top twenty five. For land use and development, we had six of our short-term action items under that category; for community vitality and neighborhood integrity, we had four; fiscal responsibility, four action items; economic development, three; communications, two; public services, one; environmental, two; marketing, one; governance, we had golf and council meeting efficiency, one each.
So I guess the question we have to ask ourselves, is this the most pressing issue facing this council? If we think it is, I will be in favor of jumping full force into it, but I think we all need to be very realistic in knowing that if we take this on, that's what this term is going to be about, it's going to be about the charter review. It's going to require our attention, it's going to require our input, and I'm willing to listen to my peers to determine whether each of us feels that this is the most important issue facing our community during this two year term. There's my soap box.
And ... curtain.
Unfortunately, our little whodunnit doesn't have any smoking gun, no last minute confession. It's up to the audience to judge what they just witnessed. Let's review.
While deliberating either action item, did Laura Maczka say anything in support of direct election of the mayor? No. Nothing. Not a word.
Did she kill direct election of the mayor? Yes. She opposed direct election of the mayor. She opposed considering the issue separate from the larger issue of a full city charter review. Then she opposed that because of how long it would take and because she thought the city had more important things to do. She voted to cease discussion of both near-term action items. She had four accomplices in all this, but she was undeniably in on the killing.
Did Maczka "lead the charge" against direct election, as Omar alleges? She had the intent to kill it ("what I would like to see is let's put that one to rest"). She came prepared with a legal opinion that the council could kill it in a work session ("We've gotten a legal ..."). She spoke passionately against a charter review in this term ("There's my soap box"). But is that enough evidence to convict her of "leading the charge?" That's where Omar overplays his hand. She was only one of five council members who voted against both action items. Maczka may have spoken longer and more eloquently than the others, but there's no evidence she was leading anyone to vote differently than how they were going to anyway. No one had a change of heart during the deliberation. No one was even undecided going in. The votes were set before the curtain opened. Direct election was doomed from the start, even before Michelle Thames introduced it with a "pretty tight time line."
Omar's accusation of Maczka "leading the charge" is a tactical error on his part. By overplaying his hand, he lets Maczka avoid defending her opposition to direct election and instead gives her the opportunity to deny that she "led the charge" against it. Omar's tactical error might even be a blunder. His campaign is centered on principled leadership, yet here he is accusing Maczka of leadership, of all things. What's Omar's narrative? That Maczka is leading the charge or that she is just falling in line with the Richardson Coalition PAC's position? It's hard to make both impressions stick. Omar gives Maczka the opportunity to stand in front of the voters and forcefully deny an accusation, to present an image of herself as a strong leader, and avoid having to admit that she did, indeed, oppose direct election of the mayor. The foundation of Omar's campaign crumbles a little bit each time this scene plays out.
Popular dramas today almost always spawn sequels. This one is no exception. As it turned out, that body that was whisked off the stage last January didn't stay dead. A few months later, direct election of the mayor came back from the dead. A citizen petition did what the majority of the council said couldn't be done. The charter was amended in only one area -- how the mayor is chosen. In November, a referendum backed by 75% of Richardson's voters approved the charter amendment. Now, in May, 2013, in a final bit of dramatic irony, Laura Maczka is poised to reap the reward and become Richardson's first directly elected mayor in a half century. You can't make this stuff up.