On City Hall Ethics, Mayor Mike Passes the Buck

So let's see if we can ride this circus train. Mike Rawlings runs for mayor pledging to clean up the "ethics" issue at Dallas City Hall. And if I may offer a small correction here at the top, I think right now it's not really so much an ethics issue at City Hall as an FBI issue. Not to quibble.

But he's the one who's going to do it. He's our steam engine. The power. One of the first things he's going to do is clean up this situation in which victorious campaign consultants come back to City Hall as lobbyists and use their status as victors to benefit commercial clients.

Oh, wait. That would involve all of Rawlings's own top campaign consultants. So the mayor decides to sort of hand this one off to city council person Jerry Allen, who announces at a council committee briefing yesterday that he's on the case. He's going to clean up the FBI/ethics issue at City Hall. So I guess now Allen is the coal car. Gonna supply the fire.

Wait. Allen starts by tasking the chairperson of the Dallas Ethics Advisory Commission to come up with a report on best ethics practices. The Ethics Advisory Commission is a worthy body constituted of residents who give generously of their time. But the thing is, they have virtually no authority. So now I think the ethics/FBI issue has moved back into the passenger cars. The passengers are going to get right on it.

But wait another minute. The chair of the commission gets up at the committee meeting yesterday, points out how little power he has, and challenges the chairman of the "Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award" to tell everybody what to do.

The Greater Dallas what?

They do have a website. The people behind the Greater Dallas Business Ethics Award seem to be mainly in the public relations, financial advising and marketing businesses. All fine people, I am sure. All a bit dependent for a living, perhaps, on some of the businesses whose ethics they are judging, but I'm sure they can put that to one side in their deliberations.

That's not my concern. My concern is this. I think we're in the caboose now. Why are we in the caboose? What's going on?

See how that train works? And watch out. If you go to challenge the gang in the caboose about what they're really going to do, do not ... I repeat, do NOT allow those rascals to talk you into stepping out on that little platform at the back, especially if the train is moving at a high rate of speed. You could wind up talking about ethics in heaven.

I have my own two-bit solution. I say this isn't about Sunday school rules and prohibitions. The problem is the train. It's the structure of governance in Dallas. We need to get rid of the city manager system, which is nothing but a smokescreen to diffuse accountability.

We need to ditch the city manager and give Mayor Mike way more power and way more responsibility. We need to be able to say, "Mayor Mike, you are the engineer. We want to keep things right up here in the locomotive. You do it. If it doesn't get done, that's OK. We'll get another engineer. That's all we have time for. That's all the attention we can afford to give it. You're the dude. Do it or don't. We'll check back with you at election time."

I'm not talking about a strong mayor system. I'm talking about a responsible mayor system. A system where the buck stops somewhere. Where there even is a somewhere. Or a buck.

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