Monday, April 6, 2015

Mayor Won't Serve. Is That the End of It?

Last week when I wrote about the "Local Government Officer Conflicts Disclosure Statement" filed by Mayor Laura Maczka, I said that her business relationship with the developer of Palisades demanded further explanation, sooner rather than later as she was running for re-election. Then, suddenly, she announced she won't serve another term as Mayor.

So, is that the end of it? I was inclined to think so. Forcing an officeholder out of office is often the end of most political scandals, and in this case, there wasn't even evidence that anything illegal occurred, so even the use of the word scandal is presumptuous. Richardson residents might be disgruntled, but with Laura Maczka gone, she's no longer available to punish.

But what about others? The above reasoning is premised on the assumption that the timing of Mayor Maczka's announcement was coincidental and based solely on issues in her personal life. It's possible but how likely you believe that to be probably depends on how likely you buy into conspiracy theories. So, with apologies in advance, let's indulge.

There's at least a plausible case that the timing wasn't coincidental. It's plausible that Mayor Maczka has known for some time that she wouldn't be serving another term as mayor. According to this scenario, the power brokers who opposed the charter change specifying direct election of the mayor wanted to control who her successor would be without the need for another expensive and messy election campaign like the 2013 Maczka vs Omar election. So, allegedly the scheme was hatched to have Mayor Maczka run (and win) re-election, then decline to serve another term, setting up the City Council to appoint her successor, just like the old days. That's what the City Charter calls for in case of a vacancy in the mayor's office. There's no provision for a special election in a situation like this. Somehow (and this is the part of the theory that's weakest) they secured Mayor Maczka's participation in the scheme. Even though Laura Maczka may be gone, the power brokers remain, those who engineered her win in the last election and who are set to engineer who her successor will be. So, the timing of all this still demands further explanation.

Ironically, the charter amendments for direct election of the mayor were hand-crafted by the faction screaming loudest now. The outsiders themselves created the loophole that enabled the insiders to avoid direct election of the mayor for the coming term. The insiders just exploited the loophole handed to them by the outsiders. If this indeed is what went down, the outsiders got snookered by the insiders. We might have just seen a textbook example of how ruthless and clever politics can be.

So, back to the headline question: Is that the end of it?

As for the Palisades "scandal," probably so. It's not illegal to vote in a way that benefits friends, or future friends. If it were, everyone in Washington would be in jail. It's not illegal to accept a job from someone who once had business with government. If it were, almost everyone in Washington would be in jail. The revolving door is an old tradition. Unless someone turns up evidence of a quid pro quo (and I haven't seen it yet), don't expect this to go anywhere.

As for the alleged manipulation of the selection of the next mayor, nothing is likely to come of that, either. Not only is it legal to fill the vacant mayor's seat with a newly selected mayor pro tem, it's exactly what the City Charter calls for, the new charter hand-crafted by the faction wanting a directly elected mayor. There's talk of a recall, but that's problematical. Who are you going to recall? The new mayor? That's a tougher sell than the original charter amendment petition was. "Please sign our petition to recall the new mayor because we don't like the old mayor." Why should we do that? "Because they are playing by the rules we ourselves wrote." Even if you can convince some people to sign that petition, it takes twice as many signatures for a recall petition (about 10,000) as it took to get the charter amendment for direct election of the mayor on the ballot. All in 30 days. Don't expect this to go anywhere, either.

There's one place where something could (and should) come from this. That's the charter review commission that's currently meeting. They could easily recommend a charter change that calls for a special election anytime the mayor's seat becomes vacant. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. It won't change things this time around, but it can ensure this never happens again.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

The City Attorney has appointed outside legal counsel to conduct an ethics violation investigation surrounding both the Palisades rezoning and the decision of the mayor to decline to serve another term. I support this step, but it does not change my prediction that no violation of the law or Richardson's code of ethics will be found.