In 2012, Bill McCalpin published a lot of editorials arguing that the proposed Richardson city charter amendments, calling for direct election of the mayor, are "inconsistent, incomplete, and full of unintended errors." He was dismissed by some at the time for attempting to scare the public into voting "no." Now, in just the second election since the charter changes were adopted, the city is in an uproar caused by some of those inconsistencies and ambiguities in the new charter.
Some have come to realize that because of what Bill McCalpin called "slapdash" language, the next mayor will be chosen by the City Council, not by direct election as everyone thought.
The current mayor has announced that if re-elected (and she is running unopposed), she will decline to serve another term. The new charter (Section 3.03) says "Upon a vacancy in the Mayor's position, the Mayor Pro Tem shall fill the unexpired term. The Mayor Pro Tem's council position then becomes vacant." This is not something left over from the old charter. It was inserted into the new charter by whoever drafted the language of the charter amendments. The voters approved this by a 74% majority. Those who reject the notion that the charter amendment was "full of unintended errors" must conclude that the voters wanted a vacancy filled this way.
Regardless of what the voters may have wanted, some have latched onto the possibility of a recall to remove from office whoever becomes mayor according to the new charter's method. And two other council members as well. Section 3.07 says that, "Where more than two (2) vacancies shall develop at any one time, then a special election shall be called to elect their successors to fill their unexpired terms." So, let's just recall the new mayor and two other council members. Then we'll have a special election to elect the next mayor. Or at least, that's the thinking. But it's not so simple.
A problem arises in that the charter (Article 5) specifies how to recall the mayor and any council member, but doesn't specify how to fill the resulting vacancies. Presumably, for that, we fall back to Sections 3.03 and 3.07.
Those who favor a special election point out that Section 3.07 says that, "Where more than two (2) vacancies shall develop at any one time, then a special election shall be called to elect their successors to fill their unexpired terms."
But what about Section 3.03 which says, "Upon a vacancy in the Mayor's position, the Mayor Pro Tem shall fill the unexpired term. The Mayor Pro Tem's council position then becomes vacant."
Which one trumps the other in the case of a recall? Section 3.03 or 3.07? The amended charter doesn't say (an unintended error?).
Apply Section 3.03 first and you fill the mayor's position, leaving the regular council member positions to be filled by special election, as called for in Section 3.07. This interpretation is that the charter never calls for a special election for mayor, as long as there is at least one council member remaining to name himself Mayor Pro Tem and, thus, Mayor. If the entire council is recalled, then there'd be no one left to be named Mayor Pro Tem and be promoted to Mayor. Maybe then a special election would be used to fill all seven positions, including mayor. Maybe.
Is this the right interpretation? As Bill McCalpin concluded in 2012: "All we know is that we, the citizens of Richardson, have no idea what the slapdash author intended, with the result that the public has no real idea of what it's voting for." Such a mess we were left with by whoever drafted the charter changes. Whoever it was. We don't even know who to ask, WTF? What were you thinking? Talk about a lack of transparency.
By happy coincidence, we have a Charter Review Commission seated as we write. I hope they are cleaning this all up, too late to get us out of our current mess, but soon enough to prevent it from happening again.