Voting Wrongs

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Morgan would like to let the city's 14-1 system of government mature; after all, it's only 15 years old. But if she were to reinvent City Hall, she'd have the voters elect the city attorney and city auditor, positions that would be appointed by the mayor under Blackwood's proposal. This way, she says, at least there would be independent checks and balances at City Hall. And she would also allow for a few at-large council seats, because there would be a handful of council members who'd have to build coalitions with their colleagues rather than fight solely for their own constituents. As it stands now, Morgan says, 14-1 allows for "corruption and cronyism," rather than the compromise necessary to govern a city.

"If this passes," Morgan says, "I think that's going to be one of those events in the history of Dallas that we'll look back at a number of years from now and say, 'Oh, goodness, why? Look at the decade we lost.'"

Morgan is not alone in this opinion: Analeslie Muncy, former Dallas city attorney under Mayor Steve Bartlett, studied the charter amendment at the request of the Greater Dallas Chamber and found it in violation of several state laws, among them those governing the adoption of orders, resolutions and ordinances. And there are several sections of the proposal that, she believes, are in violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits elections that discriminate on the basis of race and color.

Muncy says that "there is a good chance that [the Department of] Justice" will object to the language and intent of the proposal, which would essentially undermine the 1990 federal court that called for the city manager to act as a buffer between the mayor and the council members elected from single districts. After all, the proposal emasculates the council members elected from predominantly black and Hispanic districts.

"The proposal was obviously not done by someone with much knowledge about municipal law," Muncy says. "It's just without enough background and understanding of the relationship between state law and charters and city government. The state law matters can be overcome. You ignore what's in the charter and follow state law, but why would you adopt something you knew going in wasn't going to be a document that's usable from beginning to end? It would be defaulted to state law, and it doesn't make sense. But that's not insurmountable. What is insurmountable is the Voting Rights problem. It will never take effect if the Justice Department intercedes and objects to it, and there's a good chance they would."

And the folks at Justice wouldn't be the only ones. --Robert Wilonsky

Good News

In Dallas, television news apparently isn't an empty shell. A study released last week by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California found that WFAA-Channel 8 and KXAS-Channel 5 led the nation in local political coverage in the month before the November 2 elections.

KXAS dedicated 17 percent of its newscasts to political issues, tops among the 11 television markets the Annenberg School studied. WFAA gave 15 percent of newscasts to politics--second best in the study--but delved much deeper in its stories, reporting on issues behind each political race rather than, simply, who's leading it. Indeed, political stories on WFAA averaged 102 seconds per airing; no other local newscast reported as many stories as thoroughly as WFAA.

"Dallas, as a market, did well," says Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School and one of the study's lead authors. Surprisingly well, in fact, considering how the rest of the nation fared.

Ninety-two percent of the 4,333 newscasts studied contained no stories about local races. Across the nation, 12 times more coverage went to sports and weather. More than five hours of ads ran for House of Representative candidates for every one hour of news stories about those candidates.

A majority of Americans get their news from local television, Kaplan says. For this reason, "[the study] was alarming this year."

Why, then, did two Dallas stations lead the pack?

"Perhaps because of redistricting," Kaplan says.

No, not really, says Susan Tully, the news director at KXAS. "We just had a lot of issues to cover." There was the Pete Sessions-Martin Frost congressional race and the vitriol it produced; the Dallas Cowboys moving to Arlington; a sheriff under investigation and the candidate who replaced him, a gay Hispanic woman. "We told our reporters, 'Find the stories. Make them interesting,'" Tully says.

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