By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Then there's the mayor. Mayor Miller told me last week that she will have her own strong mayor proposal ready to present some time next month. She said she hopes there will not be competing proposals on a ballot next May, because it will be hard enough to explain even one proposal to the voters.
My conspiracy theory du jour, which I ran by both Blackwood and Miller, was that these various plans were all different feints and dodges in the same concerted effort. Given a choice between explaining a thing as a simple accident or coincidence, on the one hand, or as some outlandishly complex conspiracy, I'm always going to go with the outlandish conspiracy. Mainly because simple coincidence lacks literary merit.
But in this case I'm not so sure. Definitely there is some artful dodging going on. Some kind of deal exists between the mayor and the Laney group. That has to do with their desire to establish a semi-private government for downtown. I could explain all that, but I'm already getting a headache. How about you? I just think there's some hanky-panky there. It's not terrible hanky-panky, and who cares as long as they get City Hall fixed?
I thought maybe Blackwood and Miller had a deal. Blackwood's proposal is tougher than what Miller apparently is going to suggest. Blackwood thinks we need to ditch the office of city manager altogether. She wants a system where we can tell the mayor: "You are the captain. If this boat hits the ice, it's your fault. Whatever you do, don't point at anybody else. You got the hat. You take the rap."
Miller wants to keep the city manager but allow the mayor to hire and fire that person. I thought maybe this was a good-cop/bad-cop ploy. Blackwood comes out and says the mayor should have the right to kill the city manager. Miller might say no, no, that's too extreme. I just want the right to torture the city manager.
But after talking to Blackwood and Miller, as well as to a number of other people involved (all of whom swear they are not involved), I think there's an honest difference of opinion. Blackwood told me she thinks leaving a strong city manager in place just gives the mayor a dodge. (Mayor tells court of inquiry: "Gosh, I said to the manager, 'Iceberg, iceberg!' but she said I needed 10 votes." You and I and the old ladies are somewhere at the bottom of Davey Jones' locker.)
The mayor obviously thinks we voters won't go for a major overhaul. Last time this came up, when the mayor was first elected and pushed for a revision of the city charter, the strong mayor idea wound up on the shoals. One big issue was voting rights and the suspicion of minority council members that this was all a way to dilute their hard-fought gains.
That's a really tough issue. Blackwood thinks the way to counter it is to persuade minority voters they could elect their own strong mayor. "Minorities outnumber the majority at this point," she said. "We know we can elect an African-American mayor.
"I think they have a good pool to draw from. I believe they can put a good candidate up there who can win."
There are other issues. A friend who is a veteran of ancient political wars in Texas reminded me that the rules of the Texas House of Representatives were changed in 1983 to make the speaker of the House more powerful. The driving force behind the change was the lobby. The lobbyists had decided it would be cheaper to buy one speaker than the whole House.
There are legitimate perils with a strong mayor, as with any strong leader. But then I think you have to look at the current mayor. I criticize her all the time and accuse her of conspiracies, because I'm right. But the people of the city obviously elected her because they saw her as tough, strong, smart and honest. That's about as clear an expression of the city's will as you could ask.
Equally unmistakable is the lesson of the fake-drug scandal. We need somebody to go in there, fire people, put the fear of God in them, get 'em lined up and marching right.
It doesn't do any good to elect a strong person as mayor if the mayor is not allowed to touch the wheel. From the average citizen's point of view, you want a system where a strong mayor can steer a clear course. From my point of view, I want to be able to get the mayor fired after she hits the ice.
Well, you know, that would be after I dry out. Warm up a tad.
And please don't forget those ladies down there. I didn't sorta push them, but I didn't really kinda catch them or anything. Learned my stuff at City Hall.