Wednesday, July 6, 2022 Jul 6, 2022
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INTERVIEW From The Fire To The Frying Pan

Formel City Manager Charles Anderson reflects on his years at City Hall and looks ahead to walking the tightrope at DART.
By ALAN PEPPARD |

Charles Anderson, a native of Topeka, Kansas, and a fanner city manager in Lakewood, Colorado, and Liberty, Missouri, came to Dallas as an assistant city manager in 1980, during what some have termed the near-monarchal reign of George Schrader. When Schrader retired in 1981, Anderson was appointed city manager by a 6-5 vote of the city council.

With that narrow margin of victory, Anderson ushered in a new era of city management. With the council largely elected b\> single-member districts, minority interests that had never had a voice on the council were being heard. The focus of Dallas city government moved toward localized interests, with homeowners and developers sparring over growth patterns. Consensus-building became a required skill of city officials and politicians. Charles Anderson s administration hail to cope with this transition.

Five years later, Anderson, forty-six, emerged triumphant from the Dallas budget battles of 1986 only to rock City Hall by-resigning as city manager and taking the reins of Dallas Area Rapid Transit at a time when public confidence in the troubled transit system had hit a new low In this interview, Anderson reflects on the critical post of city manager, now held by the newly appointed Richard Knight Jr., and expresses optimism over the future of Dallas transit.

D: What is the most important quality that a Dallas city manager must have?

Anderson: The job requires a manager with an increasingly higher tolerance for ambiguity, a person with high energy and skill in working with diverse bodies and bringing accord from discord, someone who can seek consensus from very different agendas. I feel that 1 was relatively effective at doing that. And that’s one of the strengths that I think 1 bring to the DART organization. The way I did that at City Hall was by surrounding myself with extraordinarily competent men and women. Camille Barnett, who was my deputy city manager, is. in my view, the best in the business. She was able to keep the internal organization running on a day-to-day basis while I was working with the council and community-based issues.

D: With more single-agenda issues arising, and, as you say, ambiguity within the system, how did you walk the city manager tightrope?

Anderson: It’s a difficult tightrope, but I dealt with it in the following manner: first, I have a deeply held belief that the council/manager form of government is based on strong democratic principles. The purpose of the form of government is to marry strong elected leadership with strong professional management. Second. I respect each of the council members as individuals with very diverse constituencies. One of the primary goals of the city manager is to help council members be effective, both individually and collectively. Third, I depersonalized, to the extent humanly possible, my preferences, my politics, and my emotional reactions to whatever the city council members would do. Every conversation I had with a council member about another council memher was in strict confidence, and they knew that. Because of that, I was able to be the bridge between and among them on some issues that clearly divided them. Whenever there were any strict politics in terms of trying to put votes together, I would pass the baton to the mayor. I would never try to line up votes for myself or for a given council member. You know, democracy is not efficient. It’s sometimes not very comfortable. And it’s frequently not very much fun. But it’s necessary. You’ve got to approach your job with a belief in the democratic process.

D: Speaking of democracy, some of your critics charge that the city manager runs the city, yet is not accountable to the public. Other, larger cities have opted for a “strong mayor” government. Why doesn’t Dallas?

Anderson: The council/manager system is successful here because of the commitment of the business community to stay involved in ensuring that the city is run like a business, and honestly and ethically. Also, the citizenry here is witling to give its time and talents on behalf of the city, One of the tenets of the council/manager form is that you don’t have full-time politicians in positions of elected responsibility. I don’t see an abolition of that system in the foreseeable future. But it could happen if our citizens don’t pay attention to their duty as civic stewards.

D: One of the more controversial issues during your tenure was the passage of the Planning Policies Issue Paper, which gave the city the go-ahead to develop a growth plan for Dallas. Some feel the paper discourages development. How do you think it will affect the city?

Anderson: I think in the short run and the long run, it’s going to be beneficial. There was some mythology about its potential adverse effects, partly as a result of mistakes we made as a city staff. We didn’t do a very good job of proposing changes initially, nor of communicating what it was we were proposing. But that is all turned around now.

D: Do you think that concern over the planning policy is hampering an already depressed real estate market?

Anderson: No, I really don’t. The present condition of our real estate market has causes that reach far beyond planning policies. In fact, this may be the very best time to develop new policies because there is a pause in the economy and in the city’s growth patterns. But this is just a pause. I think in two or three years, we’re going to he surging ahead in a most aggressive way.

D: How do you feel, personally, about Starke Taylor’s decision not to seek a third term as mayor?

Anderson: I think it will mean a loss to the city of Dallas. He’s a very caring, committed individual, and 1 consider him a very good friend. He was very effective, and I think he will he rememhered as a mayor who took some important initiatives to bring private talent to hear on public projects. He understood the rhythm and beat of the city.

D: What were the differences between working with Starke Taylor and Jack Evans?

Anderson: Jack was much more comfortable, and indeed thoroughly enjoyed the political dimension of the job. He Just loved being mayor. Starke enjoyed much of it, but there was much of the job that he didn’t like, It was more of a civic duty, while Jack completely enjoyed it, and that gave him a lot of energy.

D: Did that make Jack Evans more fun to work with?

Anderson: I enjoyed working for both of them. They’re different people, but they both had a deep-seated belief in Dallas and were committed to do a good job. Jack came out of a corporate environment, where Starke did not. Starke was a very successful private businessman. So I think Jack was very comfortable in the large municipal corporation.

D: Was it difficult for Evans and Taylor to balance being mayor with running their businesses?

Anderson: There was a time when it was a problem for Jack, and that’s one of the reasons that he chose not to run again. The company needed him back on a full-time basis. And he made a decision between his public duty and his private responsibility. I know it was a tough decision for him because he truly wanted to run again. Starke was at a place in his business life where he could devote more time to the mayor’s job. He was retired. He was in a development business where he could govern his time and had more flexibility than Jack Evans did. That’s the difference. Jack Evans is not retired and he had to give a full measure of time to his corporate responsibilities.

D: You’ve been well compensated in the public arena (base pay: $106,197 per year as city manager, $150,000 as DART’s executive director], but surely you could do better in the private sector. What’s the lure?

Anderson: I have the view that serving the public interest is among the highest of honorable professions. It’s truly rewarding to me. The payoff isn’t so much in compensation as it is in the ability to make a difference.

D: Why did you decide to take over a hotbed of controversy like DART?

Anderson: Two principal factors influenced my decision. First, I was entering my sixth year of service. I’ve noticed that that’s when you tend to wear out your welcome. Also, pan of the joy of giving a little of your time to a lot of subjects-ranging from police shootings to noise at Love Field-was losing its attractiveness. I wanted to focus on a more integrated project. That’s DART. Everything I’m doing here is focused on moving people.

D: How crucial is the DART system to the future of Dallas?

Anderson: If Dallas is going to be an effective urban area, DART has to work. I don’t see the issue as, “Should we have DART?” We have to have DART. It’s an absurd debate. The issue is, how do we do it most effectively in terms of cost and service? All of the population and transportation projections for the future demand that we use alternatives to the automobile. Thirty percent of the people in Dallas weren’t here five years ago. People coming in from other parts of the world expect transit, and they will use it if it’s available.

D: How will you balance the many factions on the DART board?

Anderson: I start with the premise that we are all trying to achieve the same goals: mobility, high quality of life, economic vitality. Within that umbrella, the diversity can be reconciled. Eve always worked with governing bodies that had diverse agendas. The era of governing bodies with homogenous agendas went out in the late Sixties. The partnership requires a lot of skill and energy and effort. But the alternative, to create a system that ensures unanimity, is by definition not achievable.

D: What kind of timetable are you looking at to get DART on track?

Anderson: It’s important that we get the rail open as soon as possible, and 1 think that may be achievable as early as 1992. It’s also important that we get up North Central to Mockingbird as soon as possible, so we can start developing transit behavioral patterns during that difficult period of reconstruction on North Central. If we can capture some riders during that period we will retain them once construction has been completed.

D: In the past, the DART board has blamed the staff for every mistake that has been made. How will you deal with that?

Anderson: My sense of the board is that they’re willing to trust the staff and rely on its recommendations, as long as we produce an array of alternatives and supporting data that will allow them to make decisions that are informed and correct. My job is to bring them information that is well reasoned and gives them alternatives, plus a recommendation that they can trust. If we do that, the acrimony will diminish.

D: Are you optimistic that you can get Dallas out of its cars and into mass transit?

Anderson: I’m absolutely confident that I can assist the agency in producing a rapid transit system that will be used, increasingly, by Dallas area citizens. I have no doubt about that.

D: What are some of your long-term profession goals?

Anderson: It is my hope to be here to open the first rail line, in the Nineties. I believe so deeply in the need for rapid transit and specifically, the integrated bus and rail system, that I would very much like to he here when the rail portion opens.

D: Is Dallas your permanent home?

Anderson: Yes. I have no plans to leave Dallas. I’ve grown to love this city, My family and I have chosen to stay here forever. And. I think my two sons will plan to do that as well.

D: What do you do to relax-or do you ever have time for relaxing?

Anderson: I don’t do a very good job at planning or achieving leisure time. When I do, I listen to music, principally classical. I go to symphonies. I run about three miles a day, usually at about 5:30 in the morning. I enjoy going to movies. I’m not really an avid football fan, unless it’s a Super Bowl or a Cotton Bowl. Now I’m interested in TCU because my son goes there. But I just don’t do a very good job of relaxing. Maybe once I get internal organization together at DART, and some of the regional issues addressed, I’ll find more leisure time.