Yesterday’s vote shows two things: the taxpayers of Dallas are willing to spend money (homeless shelter) and that Laura Miller’s demons have caught up with her (the strong mayor). I’ll leave the first one to another time, but a few words are in order about Mayor Miller.
I give her credit for saving the Trinity River. Before she took control, the project was going to be nothing more than a bigger drainage ditch with higher levees and multi-lane highways running next to it. She restored it to being a river. Her improvements will cost about $120 million more but in my mind they are well worth the money because of the increase in taxable land value they have already produced. So I applaud her for that. If she accomplishes nothing else, her name should be entered into the roll of great mayors for her work on the Trinity alone.
But look at how she approaches things. She is willing to spend an extra $120 million on the Trinity, but when the Dallas Performing Arts board asked for the city to spend $5 million a year to maintain a $220 million privately donated investment, she balked. The voters didn’t approve that, she said. You’re going back on your promise, she said. She cratered only when it became clear the Center had the Council votes to get what it wanted anyway.
When the city staff thought the Mercantile deal was too rich, she exploded and immediately intervened to “save” the deal by spending more money. But when the city staff agreed to abatements to keep Hunt Oil downtown, she exploded again– too much money! Yet she had just negotiated a deal to give more money to 7-11–to stay downtown.
There is a clear “not invented here” mentality at work in Laura Miller’s brain. Which is very consistent with Laura Miller’s ego. As I noted when she first ran for City Council, it is very hard for a soloist to become a member of the choir. Now we have learned that it is even harder for a soloist to become the conductor of the choir.
Laura Miller was a great columnist, but a lousy reporter. She’d make a great entrepreneur, but a lousy employee. She is a terrific critic, but a lousy doer. Because of this, she has alienated not only her own colleagues on the Council, but an entire segment of the city, the black community, and, with the Hunt Oil episode, the entire Dallas business community. Without the support of the business community, as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley pointed out in a speech to the Dallas Citizens Council two years ago, a mayor cannot lead.
The strong mayor referendum was not her idea, but she turned it into a referendum on her. It lost. The Council proposal of the less-strong mayor was a political ploy from the start, but it was an improvement over what we have now. It became, after the Hunt Oil episode, a referendum on her. It lost.
If Laura Miller stays as mayor, I fear Dallas will enter into a period of stagnation like it suffered when Ted Benevides was city manager. We cannot afford it. As much as I admire her spirit and her criticisms and her beautiful solos, Laura Miller has to see that she is an obstacle to progress, no longer the instigator of it. And for that reason, she needs to go.