IT’S COMMONPLACE these days to fret about the weakness of the mayor. In fact, it’s the weakness of the mayor’s office that’s our problem. Before going any further, I should say that Jack Evans is a close business associate of my family and a good friend of mine. I tend to admire his accomplishments as mayor and not always recognize his faults, because that’s the way it is with friends. All the same, I can’t help feeling that things are somehow spinning out of control.

Not that Jack Evans hasn’t done a lot in his first year as mayor. Indeed he has. Evans persuaded Borden’s to donate land for the new concert hall in the Arts District and named Dr. Philip Montgomery to coordinate development of the district – these moves set the stage for the bond election to help finance the concert hall August 3. He led the City Council in approving elevated rapid transit lanes for Central Expressway by a vote of 9-2. He presided over the drawing of a council redistricting plan that has won approval from the U.S. Justice Department. Redistricting is the most vexing political job of all, and there may still be a lawsuit from minority council members. But the plan is fair and has an excellent chance of being upheld in court.

These were objectives that Evans set for the city and achieved. It could be argued that this is the first-year performance of a very strong mayor. Actually it’s the record of a gifted leader in an office so limited that it’s making the business of government grindingly, maddeningly slow.


Bob Thornton and Erik Jonsson, powerhouse mayors of the Fifties and Sixties, respectively, dealt with an altogether different world. All the council ran at-large, which meant that the mayor and his close backers could virtually name the slate. Campaign contributions followed automatically, and in most cases, so did editorial support from both Dallas newspapers.

Members of the mayor’s team lost at the polls occasionally, but not very often. The important thing is that there was a mayor’s team that could govern effectively on most days. Oh yes, Willie Cothrum fell out with Erik Jonsson more than once, and there was other discord. But the system worked. It worked because the mayor, though only one vote on the council, controlled who would run for city office and win.

Now all that’s over. It’s a new day, and we need a new system. Single-member districts haven’t made the council-manager form of government obsolete, but they have made the weak-mayor philosophy untenable. Nowhere is this more apparent than in transit planning, where a strong mayor with the necessary clout to impose a solution is urgently needed. Not that neighborhood constituencies would or should be powerless – indeed their interest is a sign of health in the city -but that they, like all of us, must yield eventually to a course of action.


How do we achieve a strong-mayor system without jeopardizing our council-manager heritage? Certainly, we want to vest authority for day-to-day operations in the city manager’s office, where it is today. But the council must transmit a clearer policy signal, and that seems impossible under the present regime, where the mayor, and ten council members have one vote each and widely different opinions on almost every issue. While consensus may be gone forever, compromise Cannot be. And the mayor must be in a position to hammer out a compromise.

Here are three things that might be done:

Extend the mayor’s term from two to four years with a two-term limit. This would give the mayor the leverage of tenure over the rest of the council and also allow reasonable time to develop and implement a program.

Grant the mayor more powers of appointment to city boards and commissions. Currently, he has the sole right to name the city’s five commissioners on the Dallas Housing Authority. Other appointments to boards and commissions are made by the full council, with each member having an equal number of nominations. At the very least, the mayor should name the chair of each city board or commission with ratification by the council. This would be the beginning of a mayor’s team, with the hope of some responsiveness to the mayor’s agenda throughout city hall.

Endow the mayor with veto power over all ordinances and resolutions passed by the council. This virtually means splitting city government into executive and legislative branches. It would be necessary to increase the council to 11 members (eight from single-member districts, three at-large) to prevent tie votes.

Of course, the council should have the power to override a mayor’s veto, possibly with eight votes required.

The question remains: Who would hire the city manager? The mayor, with ratification by the council? Or the council, subject to veto by the mayor? A new executive-legislative approach implies the first alternative, but we would still have a modified council-manager form of government; so perhaps the council should choose the city manager with the mayor reserving the right of veto.

This is the guts of a strong-mayor system. While it wouldn’t bring total order to city hall (nobody wants that, anyway), it might produce plans, policies and governmental products that have a chance of keeping pace with the growth of Dallas. To avoid entanglements with personalities, these changes in the city charter might best go into effect after the current mayor’s tenure in office ends.

Henry Kucera, strong-minded city attorney of the Forties and Fifties, is famousfor saying, “Nobody’s life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session.” Let’s not let that be true of theDallas City Council. Remember, it’s in session all the time.


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