Tuesday night the League of Women Voters of Richardson held a city council candidate forum. Normally, regular viewers expect this to be the big finale of Richardson Idol, the night when the last loser is voted off the island (or stage or whatever metaphor Richardson Idol uses -- I forget). But this season, we have yet to vote off our first candidate, not because the ballot is so strong, but because it is...let's face it, a tad on the weak side. That changes this episode.
Anyway, on to the questions. Let's go out of order so we can get first to the questions on most voters' minds.
Q. Should Mayor Laura Maczka resign?
Both Rick Wilder and Bob Townsend said yes. Townsend said that he has told the mayor that she should resign.
Q. Do you support the city's plan to fill a vacancy in the Mayor's position with the Mayor Pro Tem serving the unexpired term?
Both Wilder and Townsend said yes. Wilder said the city is following the letter of the law and doesn't have a choice. Townsend said the method was put into the city charter at the same time as direct election of the mayor. He said the charter review commission will recommend an amendment to fill a vacancy with a special election should more than a year remain in the unexpired term.
Q. What qualities should the mayor possess?
Wilder said he or she should have the time available for the role. He should be able to represent the city well in public. He should have moral and ethical stature beyond question. Townsend said he or she should be able to work with a team and have the ability to conduct meetings in a fair way.
Q. If there is a vacancy on the council (not the mayor's seat), the charter calls for the council to appoint a replacement. How should the council go about this task?
Wilder said the council will select someone who has the ability to work with them. Townsend said a lot of consideration will be given to a lot of people.
Q. How do you respond to complaints that the charter review process is being managed by the city attorney?
Wilder said it's up to the citizens to get involved and put pressure on the charter review commission to address citizens' careabouts. Townsend said the commission is doing a great job and that the direction by the city attorney is to ensure compliance with state law.
Q. Do you support zoning changes that would increase population?
Townsend said he supports apartments along the Bush tollway and major thoroughfares but not in Richardson's neighborhoods. He says Richardson is growing and people need some place to live. Wilder said zoning changes need to bring more to Richardson than just apartments. They need to include retail and other revenue generators.
Q. Why does Richardson lack facilities for abused women?
Both Wilder and Townsend agreed the city does not provide such facilities, which must be provided by non-profit organizations. Neither really answered the question why that is.
Q. What programs do you propose to strengthen and revitalize our neighborhoods?
Townsend said he supports the Home Improvement Incentive Program, which offers an economic incentive to upgrade your home, and supports the Community Revitalization Awards to recognize upgrades. He did not offer any new proposals. Wilder suggested Richardson consider a PACE financing program, where local governments assist owners of commercial properties to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements.
Q. Is Richardson's emergency preparedness adequate?
Both Wilder and Townsend said yes.
Q. Is the city's employee pension program leading to bankruptcy?
Townsend said every city in Texas has a pension program similar to Richardson's. Richardson's is adequately funded. We shouldn't try to do away with it or reduce it. Wilder said nobody likes to lose anything. He said the city could go bankrupt over time. There are other ways to entice workers.
Q. Should Richardson have a plastic bag fee?
Townsend said no. Too many people are opposed to it. Wilder said he supports an ordinance banning plastic bags altogether. That would save money for stores and save money for the city cleanup operations.
Q. Are group homes licensed by the state? Do they abide by city codes?
Townsend said group and community homes are regulated by the state and federal government. Townsend and Wilder both said all homes must abide by city safety codes.
Q. What issues being considered by the state legislature are a concern to the city?
Wilder said he couldn't name one. He said we have to wait to see what bills come out of committee and get to the floor. Townsend said he's concerned with bills that erode local control, specifically bills to impose revenue caps, appraisal caps, and repeal of local red light camera laws.
Q. How can Richardson promote a more unified community with respect to Richardson's panhandle?
Townsend said Richardson needs a recreation center there. He hopes CityLine will draw panhandle residents more into the city, like Breckinridge Park draws all of Richardson to the panhandle. Wilder said Richardson needs to do more things like making blue recycling bags available at the fire station in the panhandle.
After the question and answer portion of the program, the four uncontested candidates who were present were allowed to make closing statements, along with Mabel Simpson, candidate for Place 4. (Simpson was not allowed to participate in the Q&A portion because her opponent, Claudia Tatum, declined to participate.) Laura Maczka was not present.
Steve Mitchell (Place 6) said his priorities would be infrastructure (streets, alleys, sidewalks), amenities and jobs.
Paul Voelker (Place 5) said his priorities would be infrastructure and public safety.
Scott Dunn (Place 3) didn't give his priorities but closed by saying, "God bless you and God bless Richardson."
Mark Solomon (Place 2) said his priority would be infrastructure.
Mabel Simpson said she's pro-business. She said we don't need an ordinance for everything. We need to take more personal responsibility.
And that brings us to the point of our own program where we have to vote someone off of our Richardson Idol stage. This first vote is easy. Claudia Tatum, candidate for Place 4, failed to even appear at the first and third forums we included in our short season. At the second she said, "I go where they tell me to go. I have a consultant." Why isn't she her own candidate? Why did her consultant not tell her to face the voters in public forums? Based on her performance in the one forum I saw her in, I can guess maybe why. She has a compelling personal story (she told the audience about her military service, divorce and bankruptcy), but she offered little in the way of a vision for Richardson, maybe because she lacks enough experience and knowledge of the issues facing Richardson. For all of that, Claudia Tatum, I'm sorry but you are out. But thank you for your willingness to serve.
If you think that eliminating Claudia Tatum means that Mabel Simpson (the other candidate for Place 4) is in, think again. We might just be looking at the first time we vote all candidates for the same place off of our little island. I've seen Mabel Simpson perform only twice and already I'm getting tired of her go-to answer, "We don't need an ordinance for everything." That's a straw man argument. No one is calling for an ordinance for everything. But some people did ask about government action on some very specific issues. For example, extending legal protections to LGBT persons. Or increased safety for cyclists. We don't need an ordinance for everything in order to address specific issues like that. Voters want to hear specific reasons why Simpson opposes government action in these cases. Just saying "We don't need an ordinance for everything" any time you oppose something is not responsive, counselor Simpson. Quit saying it.
OK, we still have almost two weeks before early voting begins. We still have three candidates for two places. Somehow, we here at Richardson Idol have to wrestle with those numbers.