Nyuk-nyuk

To understand the new charter proposal, think Larry, Moe, Curly

The whole reason for all of this charter election business--an otherwise irritating intrusion on everybody's time and attention--is to put somebody in charge. If the mayor is truly in charge for a change, then at least we will have one person to hold accountable.

The strong mayor proposal on the ballot in May was voted down. The whole city council except for Mayor Laura Miller opposed it, because the council didn't want to lose power.

We're having a second charter election, the "alternative," because the council and certain business leaders promised to come up with a better idea if voters would turn down the May proposal.

We're aiming for the whack-whack-whack form of city government.
We're aiming for the whack-whack-whack form of city government.

But guess what. The system on the ballot in November provides for a weensy-beensy bit more power for the mayor and way, way more power for the city council.

The mayor can hire the city manager, but the council can fire the manager the next day with a simple majority. The mayor and the manager prepare the budget, but the proposal would create a whole new department to supervise the spending of the budget. The new "budget officer" would not work for the mayor.

Whaaat?

On all sorts of key decisions, like hiring and firing the budget officer and the city auditor, the mayor is expressly prohibited from voting under the proposed system.

There is even a special provision in the proposal allowing the city council to exempt itself or its appointees from conflict of interest rules having to do with city contracts and real estate deals.

Hey. I don't make this stuff up. The draft ordinance calls for "allowing the city council to adopt exceptions and conditions to current charter provisions prohibiting city officers and employees from having direct or indirect financial interests in any city contract or in any sale to the city of land, materials, supplies or services."

To be fair, at its briefing last week the council expressed some interest in tweaking this language to make it more palatable to voters. But I'm sitting out there in the peanut gallery thinking, "How about instead you gouge your eyes out in shame?" I wanted to yell from the back of the room, "I have three words for you folks. F. And B. And I."

The most outlandish moment in the briefing was when the mayor learned there had been a last-minute addition to the proposal--a brand-new provision that would severely limit the ability of the mayor to raise campaign contributions but not touch fund-raising abilities of council members. The last-minute provision had been lobbied into the deal over the weekend by the chamber of commerce.

Jan Hart Black, president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, explained to the council--with a straight face--that the chamber asked for the 11th-hour change because of a fear that future mayors might become corrupt. The council members are all sitting there nodding their very solemn, sober assent.

Look. This is actually simple. The existing corrupt city council system where you can buy a council member for a five-grand campaign contribution--with nobody really in charge--is cheap and easy to get to. It's what the old-guard business establishment is accustomed to, a nice fit with traditional plantation politics.

The foreign concept here is rational structure and strict accountability. That's what the chambers of commerce and the Dallas Citizens Council do not want. They want to keep slipping and sliding around on the low-down with their checkbooks and their BMWs and their nice kindly food baskets at Christmastime.

And let's be honest, you and me. How excited are you about this? Yeah, well, that's what I mean. Nobody cares about it. Even the people proposing it don't really believe in it. Some of the business people who led the anti-strong mayor fight last May told me last week they won't support the November thing because of the provision allowing the council to fire the city manager.

Except for Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, the entire black caucus on the council is dead set against it. Nobody's going to put any money into the campaigns on either side.

Hardly anybody will vote. The outcome will be decided by something like the humidity. It could pass. We could wind up with the nyuk-nyuk system.

That is not a joke.

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