This magazine has been a staunch supporter of the council-manager form of government since we launched more than 30 years ago. We hung on through the years, despite the evidence, until we no longer could.
In May 2001, we shook off the nostalgia and faced the facts. The system had sputtered to a stop. City Hall was not functioning. The city had stalled.
Four years later, it is still stalled.
I proposed a strong-mayor solution. Ron Kirk proposed a strong-mayor solution. Laura Miller proposed a strong-mayor solution.
The fatal flaw in each of these was that the change required City Council approval. Unless someone held guns to their heads, the City Council wouldn’t even discuss it.
Then a lawyer by the name of Beth Ann Blackwood came up with a bright idea. Bypass the City Council. Take the idea directly to the people. She did more than have the idea; she acted on it. She got petitions signed by 30,000 voters calling for an election. It may turn out to be the greatest single service rendered by a private citizen in the history of Dallas.
Blackwood’s proposal isn’t the same as mine or Ron Kirk’s or Laura Miller’s. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that it radically changes Dallas city government for the better. I endorse it strongly.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.
Dallas for the seventh year in a row ranks No. 1 in crime among major American cities. Meanwhile, residents are paying a higher and higher share of taxes as businesses flee to the suburbs. Downtown development proceeds at a snail’s pace while other cities’ downtowns are booming.
The Blackwood proposal is no miracle cure-all. But strong leadership is. Here, in simple form, is why I support Blackwood:
• It makes a single elected official responsible.
• It enables that individual to act.
• In doing those two things, it makes City Hall accountable to the citizens.
• It separates the executive function from the legislative function, restoring the City Council to its proper duty as a policy-setting body.
• It allows the mayor to appoint commissions and boards, effectively raising them to cabinet-level status and making them instruments for implementing, as well as recommending, policy.
• It makes city employees accountable to a single boss, not to 15 bosses. By doing that, it unleashes the ingenuity and problem-solving talents of 12,000 people.
• It retains an auditor independent of the mayor’s office, selected by the Council.
By contrast, the City Council’s nonbinding “alternative”—council members couldn’t come up with anything binding even with guns to their heads—only continues the confusion of roles and diffusion of responsibility we already have. For example, it gives the mayor the right to hire the city manager but gives the Council the right to fire him. That puts the Council back into the business of running the city, which is exactly where it shouldn’t be. Fifteen people can’t run anything—except a city into a ditch.
Dallas has been muddle-minded for too long. Our hydra-headed governmental system is the chief reason. On May 7, voters can establish clarity, authority, and accountability by passing the Blackwood proposal.