A.C. Gonzalez Was Not the Best Choice for City Manager

Picking the insider guarantees us more of the same.

I like Mike Rawlings. I think our mayor is a good guy. He strikes me as basically honest, with the best of intentions. But his failure to head off the selection of an insider as the next city manager will be the single most important thing to remember about Rawlings' tenure as our mayor.

He had a shot at linking his name with the Dallas of tomorrow. Instead his name will be tied by this vote to a crucial victory for the old regime. Just now, at the very moment when Dallas has a chance to become a new and much better city, Rawlings' failure to head off this vote is an enormous disappointment and missed opportunity.

Multiple sources spoke to me about this vote on condition of anonymity because they have to continue to work with each other. They said the final straw vote on the City Council was 10-5 in favor of giving the job to the inside candidate but actually was much closer than that may appear.

Daniel Fishel

A couple of the council members who straw-voted to give the job to interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, the inside guy, let others know their votes were soft. They wanted to vote for the winner but would have switched and voted against Gonzalez if they had seen momentum building in the other direction. That would have left Gonzalez with an 8-7 vote to hire. Those eight were solid. But all that meant was that Rawlings had to turn one solid vote for Gonzalez into a nay vote in order to pick up the other two. Gonzalez would have been out of a job.

Everyone I talked to agrees — and it was my personal impression as well based on conversations with well-placed sources — that Rawlings was committed to getting rid of Gonzalez and giving the job to an outsider as recently as two weeks ago. The vote Tuesday to keep Gonzalez was evidence that Rawlings did not swing the votes or vote he needed to accomplish his goal.

The question is why. Rawlings was able to jawbone and even ride roughshod over the council during the 2011 council redistricting debate. It's not like he can't crack heads when he wants to. So what happened here? I reached out to Rawlings for this story but did not hear back in time for a tight deadline.

The other thing that needs to be said, before I go into full boo-hoo mode, is that none of this is about Gonzalez personally. No one has ever suggested that Gonzalez, a career city employee and longtime assistant city manager, is lacking in intelligence or loyalty. It's more a matter of what he's smart about and to whom he is loyal.

The vote to give this job to Gonzalez rather than choose an outsider is a vote to preserve the old regime at City Hall, and in order to really appreciate what that means, you have to appreciate everything that the old regime is not. Mainly, City Hall is not what it purports to be. On the surface the image the city projects is of a professional business-like management style, protected from and unsullied by mere politics. That's supposed to be why we have a strong city manager instead of a strong mayor.

Mayors have to run for election. They might tilt in favor of the political winds. But a professional city manager, according to the official story at least, will make his or her decisions on the basis of logic, fairness and practical reality, like a CEO in the private sector.

It's a story line that has a number of fatal logic errors imbedded in it. To the extent the city manager system at Dallas City Hall succeeds in shielding the municipal bureaucracy from politics, it protects it from the voters, who are the public sector equivalent of shareholders in the private sector. Try to imagine marching into General Motors and telling the staff, "You don't have to listen to those stupid shareholders any more. All they are is owners, and what do owners know, anyway?"

By insulating City Hall from its ownership, the city manager system creates a kind of power vacuum. If the owners can't tell the staff what to do, who can? Oh, believe me, somebody will. If we go back to my G.M. metaphor, word of a new regime like that would fly across the grapevine faster than the speed of light to every rubber gasket supplier, labor union and ad agency that ever earned a penny off G.M. They would all think the same thing simultaneously: "If they don't have to listen to the shareholders any more, then I better get downtown and make sure they listen to me, because I don't want to lose my deal."

That's exactly what happens with the city manager system. Every gas driller, cab company and laptop salesman who ever made a penny off City Hall rushes into the leadership vacuum, each of them intent on carving off his own leg of lamb before the feast is over. City Hall in fact is a huge banquet laid for special seekers. Nobody sits at the head of the table. The city manager stands at the door in a tux with a towel over his arm to greet people. Some get turned away. Some get special seating.

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

What's new, the city make poor choices all the time. Why should it stop with city manager? I vote, and believe me. My vote won't or wouldn't go to any city council that voted him in.


Great article, and I realize you couldn't cover everything.  But.... one thing you failed to mention is how a crafty city manager can, by intentionally sowing internal dissent among individual council members, effectively prevent the forming of any sort of coalition that could ever bring about his or her ouster.


Jim sees the Mayor in a different light than me. I see the Mayor as the man who lied to the public when he claimed that he favored granting the SUPs to Trinity East because "that deal has already been made" on the basis of his argument that not granting the SUPs would result in Dallas being sued when he knew, full well, that there is no legal basis for a lawsuit against Dallas for executing its legally established police powers, which cannot be contracted away.

I see the Mayor as the guy who led the fight against citizens right up until the last minute when he finally realized that he was on the wrong side of the issue. I see the Mayor as the head cheerleader for Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins even after it was known that they had lied to previous City Councils and attempted to illegally grant something to a gas drilling company that was and is specifically prohibited by existing ordinances.

Contrary to Schutze's glowing praise for Mike Rawlings as a "good guy" who is "basically honest, with the best of intentions", I see a man who will say and do whatever it takes to support a corporation over the interests of the citizens who elected him. While I appreciate Mayor Rawlings' last minute conversion on the gas drilling ordinance I will always remember every vote he cast along the way when those SUPs were being opposed by citizens. And, I will always remember the Mike Rawlings who supported Suhm and Perkins even when it was obvious they had committed crimes and acted against the best interest of the city and its citizens.


Agreed! Unfortunately, the same old, same old, is what's wrong with all of our non-profit boards from the Trinity River committee to the Arts.  Anyone new? Anyone not entitled? Nope!


"The districts are too small to allow any person or group to raise money and create an independent movement with staying power." 

IMHO, exactly the opposite is true. Small districts are the friend of insurgents precisely because shoe leather can sometimes trump money in such places, and, relatively-speaking, it doesn't take a lot of cash - either legit or not - to win. If you're the head of a neighborhood association or belong to the right church, you already have a solid base that can swing the district. Add a reasonable amount of funding to that circumstance and it's possible to rage against the machine effectively. Your argument here, if followed to its logical conclusion, would bring us back round to at-large Council seats.

There's no reason why an organized group of reformers couldn't do what the Citizens Council is doing, and do it even better. But first you have to have that group. There is no better-government equivalent to the Citizens Council, save the Jim Schutze Fan Club, which sadly remains completely unorganized.


Yup. But according to the grapevine, the best candidate was ranked 3rd, so even a no on Amarillo Cab Gonzalez would not have been the game changer it coulda been.

C u next Wednesday.