Four Dallas business groups, unhappy that it’s so difficult to track the way city council members vote on key issues, aren’t waiting for the city to solve their problem. They’ re hiring a company to do it for them.
The quartet-the Real Estate Council, the Dallas Breakfast Group, the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Dallas Association of Realtors- expect to begin their vote-tracking service when the council resumes meeting in the fall. The groups will hire a third-party accounting firm to compile and track voting patterns, says Alice Murray, the president of the Real Estate Council,
“This way, we’ll be able to tell how a council member voted on business issues or on the downtown arena,” says Murray. “Right now, that information isn’t readily available.”
In fact, short of going to city hall and sifting through council minutes, there’s no way to determine how a council member voted over time on a certain set of issues. No independent organizations track council debates the way that Congressional Quarterly does for the federal government.
One reason for the void is that most city business falls on what is called the consent agenda, which includes the nuts and bolts of city government that the city staff doesn’t consider important enough for a separate vote. Consent agenda votes are recorded as one “yes” or one “no” vote, not as votes on the specific items on the agenda.
City secretary Bob Sloan, whose office records council votes, acknowledges that “the system is not as good as we would want it to be. ” Sloan hopes that adding information to the city’s home page on the Internet-a move expected by the end of the year-will make it easier for citizens and organizations to track voting.
Murray says the business groups haven’t decided yet who will get to see their data, other than members of the four organizations. One option, she says, is to sell the service via subscription.
Though it’s a step in the right direction, the new service will not track every council decision-only those that are recorded by pushbutton votes, approximately 10 percent of the total. Voice votes and results of the consent agenda will not be included.