Ran into a retired city department head on a parking lot in the afternoon heat yesterday, thought I was gonna die. This guy had an entire career's worth of anger and frustration to unload, and there I was in the sun with my head uncovered. I think I lost a couple IQ points just listening. Lucky I had a surplus.
His biggest bitch was about the sheer laziness of City Council members unwilling to do the intellectual work required to challenge the city manager on issues that ought to be the council members' responsibility. Like the budget.
The case that came to mind most immediately for both of us was council member Scott Griggs and his proposal to cut $3.8 million from the manager's proposed office budget in order to beef up libraries and animal control.
Griggs produced a spreadsheet showing where the cuts could be made. City staff, acting with uncharacteristic dispatch, fired back its own spreadsheet listing the dire consequences each cut would have. Oh my God! It was like Griggs was trying to kill Dallas!
Here's an example. City Manager A.C. Gonzalez said Griggs' cuts would force him to reduce the staff of the Office of Economic development from 11 full-time positions to 10 by 2015. He said reducing that one position would cause the city to lose 500 jobs and $30 million in new development.
Talk about burying the lead! You mean every full-time staffer in the Office of Economic Development is worth 500 jobs and $30 million in new development? Why didn't anybody tell us this? Why not increase the size of the Office of Economic Development staff by 1,000 new positions? I know that's a lot, but look what we get! Half a million new jobs and $30 billion in new development.
Damn! Let's increase Economic Development by a million full-time staffers, and then Dallas will have all of the money in the entire world, and we will let foreigners have a little money only when they do what we tell them.
See what I mean? Griggs makes an honest proposal. He gets back this absolute drivel screw-you propaganda from the professional bureaucracy. And then you know what most of the rest of the council members do? I watched them doing it two weeks ago. They sit there and give these lazy-ass corn-pone speeches about how "We hired the manager to manage the city, so we got to go by what he tells us."
No they don't! He works for them! Vigorously debating the budget isn't micro-managing. If they're not responsible for the budget, what the hell do they think they are responsible for?
The guy talking to me on the parking lot was absolutely acidic in describing how the staff snickers behind its hand at the council and writes it off to sheer laziness and abdication. But it's not funny.
Councilman Philip Kingston, like Griggs, got onto this issue back when the current city manager was being interviewed for the job. Both Kingston and Griggs insisted they weren't going to put up with the longstanding tradition by which the city manager waits until the very end of the budget cycle, delivers the budget to the council like a big Tom Thumb birthday cake and allows the council to make a wish and blow out the candles.
Griggs's spreadsheet may have run straight into the wall, but it was a worthwhile exercise, nevertheless, to the extent that it dramatized and illustrated the real problem. The tail wags the dog. The dog just wants to take a nap. And I need a hat.