Saturday, May 16, 2015

Picking a Mayor Behind Closed Doors

Two years ago, after the last city council election in Richardson, I had this to say about the new council's first agenda item for the new term:
It's that time again. Now that Richardson's city council election is over, now that the sturm und drang of an election campaign has abated, now that the voters themselves have elected their next mayor, it's time to seat the new council and have them choose from among themselves, with no say from the voters, who should be their mayor -- mayor pro tem, anyway. What?!? If that sounds like maybe we haven't made as much change as we thought we were making, it's because it's true.
Source: The Wheel.

Well, this year it's the same story. Only this time, the new council's pick for Mayor Pro Tem will immediately become Mayor and serve in that position for the next two years. (For those who have been out of town for the last two months or so, that's because Mayor Laura Maczka has said she will decline to serve another term, thus creating a vacancy to be filled by the new Mayor Pro Tem.) In effect, we're back to having the council pick not only the Mayor Pro Tem, but the Mayor, too. The amount of change our amended city charter brought us two years ago is even less of a change than I thought then.

It's interesting to re-read everything that I wrote then, given everything that's happened since. I stand by some of it. Some I would change. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide which is which.

It's worth noting that there will be one change from two years ago. A change to eliminate an innovation introduced two years ago. A change that really does take us back to the way things were done before.

According to the agenda for Monday's city council meeting, the council may deliberate their choice for Mayor Pro Tem behind doors, in executive session.

Personally, I have no problem with this. It seems crazy to me to expect council members to review each other's strengths and weaknesses in public and expect the council to work as a team afterwards. Take it to executive session, thrash it out, come out and vote in public, then put it behind you and start the new term united.

But a lot of other people don't think like me. (Shocking, I know ;-) As I wrote in 2013, there was enough objection to the practice of using executive session to pick the Mayor that at the April 2, 2013, candidates' forum, Laura Maczka "promised to support the selection of the next mayor pro tem in open session, versus the prior practice of doing this in closed, executive session."

And that's how it was done, in open session, for one time only anyway. Sort of. Even though there was no executive session, there wasn't any deliberation in open session, either. There was only one nomination, no discussion and a unanimous vote. That suggests there was some private deliberation done beforehand. If so, it would be ironic if the council replaced a legal executive session with an illegal walking quorum. Maybe that's another reason to go back to the old way of doing things: besides not being crazy, executive sessions are also legal.

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