Friday, April 10, 2015

Apportioning Blame for City's Mess

Yesterday, when I wrote about the difficulties of using the Richardson City Charter's recall provision to force a special election for mayor, I came down hard on the unknown author of the charter amendments specifying direct election of the mayor. After I wrote that, I was privately chided for not apportioning any blame to the city council itself.

Guilty as charged, although let me say two things in my defense.

First, I wasn't attempting to apportion blame for the city's current mess. I was pointing out that the wording of our city charter is the straight jacket that is keeping us from electing our next mayor. And that wording is the work of some unknown author. In his favor, he did a pretty good job...for a first draft. The reason this first draft became law is because there was no charter review commission to consider it, refine it, hold public hearings on it, and work the kinks out before it went to the voters. Why was that?

That brings me to my second defense. In the past, I have apportioned blame to the city council for getting us into this mess. I did it in 2012, rather forcefully. For example, see "Campaign Promise? That Was Then":
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.
It was this cavalier dismissal of a campaign promise that provoked the unknown person to draft his own charter amendment for direct election of the mayor. That led to the successful petition drive and the subsequent overwhelming approval by the voters (74%) for the charter changes we live with now.

If the city council had lived up to its 2011 campaign promises, the charter review commission would have met two or three years ago and now, perhaps, we'd have a better, more consistent, less ambiguous charter today. So, yes, the original sin that's led to our current mess is the responsibility of the 5-2 majority of the 2011-2013 city council that rejected reviewing the charter in 2012 (Bob Townsend, Laura Maczka, Mark Solomon, Scott Dunn, and Kendal Hartley). The two council members who voted to have a charter review (Amir Omar and Steve Mitchell) are the only ones to escape apportionment of blame on this count.

But, even if the original sin is the responsibility of those five city council members in 2012, their actions would be moot today if the hand grenade inadvertently inserted into the charter by the petition process had never gone off. That it did go off, precipitating the mess we have today, is the responsibility of one person and one person alone: Mayor Laura Maczka. On February 27 she filed to run for re-election. On March 19 she filed a conflict disclosure with the city. On April 2 she announced she would not serve another term, triggering the explosion still reverberating around the city today.

So, apportion blame all around: original sin by the five members on the city council, imperfect drafting of an amendment by one lone citizen, and sudden resignation by the mayor. You can include us, the voters, in this too if you want, for not insisting on better government all along.

Apportioning blame is a fruitless exercise. A more productive use of our energy is taking corrective action. At Wednesday's meeting of the Charter Review Commission, the commission approved a recommendation to change the charter so that, if more than a year remains in the mayor's term when a vacancy occurs, a special election will be held to elect a replacement. If less than a year remains, the office remains vacant until the next election, with the Mayor Pro Tem assuming the duties, but not the office, of mayor. Good for them. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

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