No Bird, No Bush

Strong-mayor opponents offer a pretty chintzy deal

The council seems to be leaning toward a strong-mayor system that retains a city manager but allows the mayor to hire the manager at will while requiring council approval to fire the manager. The Citizens Council (handshake, animal horns) seems to favor a system in which the mayor must seek council approval to hire the city manager but can fire the manager at will. Got that?

Um, I don't know if I remembered to mention that all of the black members of the city council are opposed to any change in the existing system and would basically like to bring back former Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton. If you're doing a little matrix there on your desk, you need to draw in a picture of Chief Bolton sneaking back in from the lower right-hand corner.

All right, let's get serious. It doesn't matter which particular little formulation the city council comes up with or the Citizens Council or the Coalition for Open Government or my brother-in-law or whoever. All of these distinctions are so arcane, so minute, so incredibly political science wonkish that the whole thing is like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Lots of people do fine work in their small areas of responsibility at City Hall, but when they take the wheel as a committee, the ship sails in tight circles.
Steve Satterwhite
Lots of people do fine work in their small areas of responsibility at City Hall, but when they take the wheel as a committee, the ship sails in tight circles.

Do we think people are going to be lined up around the block waiting to vote and everybody in line is arguing: "Nay, nay, I say the mayor must be able to hire the manager, but the manager can only be fired with a super-majority of the council and not before his years of service plus his age divided by his IQ equal the combined body weight of the council!"?

Give me a break. The lines will be short. The argument will be: "I hate the council more than the mayor." "I hate the mayor more than the council."

And here is the part I find genuinely saddening. I'm not kidding. I have such admiration for the people who serve on the council. But one of the ideas being floated by the council is the creation of regional satellite city council offices to make it easier for citizens to get to know their council members.

Oh, my goodness, how to say it? The thing enlivening political discourse in the city now is not a public hunger for more opportunities to meet council persons. It's kind of, well...the opposite, really.

The council does good work. They do excellent work sometimes. But as one observer said to me last week, they do good small work. But that's also why, when they are the ones captaining the ship of state, the only course they can steer is tight circles off the pier.

And talk about reinforcing your own worst stereotypes. One of the big strokes the council pulled off last week was publishing all of their own e-mail addresses on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning News with a request that citizens write in and tell them what to do.

Is this supposed to be reassuring? How about this instead? How about we erect a huge guillotine on the plaza in front of City Hall with a sign on it: "CITY COUNCIL: FIGURE IT OUT OR THIS IS YOU." It's like trying to breathe a sense of urgency into the Crystal Charity Ball.

I've said this before. I guess I'm going to say it again. A certain set of people in Dallas love City Hall exactly the way it is, because it works for them. Every political pirate and pickpocket in town looks at that scene down there, and it's like some kind of ongoing champagne-fueled pillow fight at the bank--a grifter's dream come true.

I don't believe in giving the mayor credit where credit is due, just because I figure she has enough credit. But she did compare all of these promises of alternative proposals at later dates to the old "your check is in the mail" line. And she did raise the question why anyone would trust them.

Good question, I'm afraid. So far, it's a bird in the bush versus no bird, no bush, but we're looking.

I don't know how I'm going to vote, but I'm going to do all my voting on May 7. Vote it up, vote it down: That's the day I make up my mind.

I really do love the council. But every time I see another of these news conferences to announce that they can't decide what to announce, I wonder if we need to get them to sign a political living will.

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