Get Rid of the Dallas City Manager's Office and Give Democracy Another Chance

Categories: Schutze

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Dallas Morning News City hall reporter Rudy Bush had a good piece in last Sunday's opinion section about the qualities we need to look for in a new city manager. The only pause I found in reading it was a question I run into whenever I try to talk to normal people, as opposed to full-time City Hall insiders, about the office of city manager.

boatlife.blogspot.com
Time for the office of Dallas city manager to go the way of the Queen's Swanmaster? Wait, they still have that.
They always look at me like I'm taking about a controversy concerning the Queen's Swanmaster. That tiny furrowing of the brow means, "The queen's what? What queen?"

Yeah, there's back-story here. Bush supplied some of it. Part of the push for creating an office of city manager in Dallas in the first place came from the desire of the city's business class in the late 1920s to wrest control of City Hall from the Ku Klux Klan, which had a firm lock on every elective office in Dallas at the time. Probably few people in the city of today would argue against the goal of trying to toss out the KKK, even though I suspect the real goal at the time was to make the Klan's control less garishly obvious.

Whatever. It wasn't all or only about the KKK. Our own office of city manager in Dallas didn't come about until 1930, but it was derived from and fashioned on the ideas of the Progressive Movement of the 19-teens -- a solid upper middle class to blue-blood do-gooder cause that split later onto separate tracks feeding the development of both American liberalism and German National Socialism, which, as a liberal, I still insist are opposites.

Where were we? The Dallas city manager and the Queen's Swanmaster. What in common? No normal person really knows what the hell either one of them is. What do they do? What are they for?

I don't have time to Wickipeed myself on the swanmaster this morning, so I'm just going to bet it's either a person whose job is to master the queen's swans (likely) or maybe it's a magic swan that's the master of the queen (less likely but more interesting). The Dallas city manager I can do.

The city manager's purpose and function has not changed since the boys downtown got together to push the Klan out of City Hall. It's all about making sure that when push comes to shove and the rubber meets the road, the boys downtown will call the shots, not the uncouth voters. Its central purpose, in other words, is to defeat democracy. And even though I'm a big lifelong fan of democracy, I do have to admit there is a legitimate question sometimes: When the people in their proud exercise of the franchise and in keeping with their constitutional rights use their ballots to turn over every single elective office in town to the Ku Klux Klan, what're you gonna do?

The contemporary instance to keep in mind, however, is about gas drilling in city parks, not the KKK. You remember this one, maybe. The City Council told City Manager Mary Suhm no gas drilling in parks. She acknowledged the instruction: No gas drilling in parks, no way. Then she signed a secret deal with a gas drilling company: Gas drilling in parks, OK.

Here is the same paradigm, if we set the situation in the past. City Council tells city manager, "Big Klan Day at State Fair." She says, "Klan Day, OK." Then she tells police chief and director of State Fair, "No Klan Day, no way."

See. It's a good thing when the people are bad. But it's a bad thing when the people are good.

Here is our real dilemma today. It is not all this personality crap about whether the new city manager should be "inclusive" (uh, gonna guess yes on that one), "collaborative" (sure, why not?) or "collegial" (does that cost extra?). It's about whether the city manager should exist.

At a time when the city seems to be virtually filling up with really smart young people, when American cities generally are trending back to sophisticated urbanism and away from decline, do we really want a set-up at City Hall whose primary function and purpose is to frustrate and diminish the influence of a voting citizenry and keep power instead in the hands of an aging, golf-ball-whacking, country-club chorus of comb-over prostrati?

What do we get from the comb-over ball-whackers? Gas drilling in parks and huge tax giveaways to combers. What do we get from the new young voters? Great neighborhoods, sidewalk cafes and technology start-ups.

How do we switch from one mode to the other? Get rid of the whole city manager system. Give democracy a chance. Wait and see, watch TV. If the entire City Council shows up wearing pointy-headed bed sheets, then fine, call the ball-whackers. But just because there are no guarantees, that doesn't mean we should never take a chance on a better way.


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66 comments
Catbird
Catbird

JS:  I was interested in your mention of German National Socialism and wanted to recommend a Jim Marrs title: "The Rise of the Fourth Reich" which documents the ties between the Bush family and the WWII German Nazis.

I was just really amazed by the read and the light it cast on the strange reasoning and schizophrenic policies of both bush presidencies.

Adding everything up and with some perspective, I really think 43 did 911...but being a Christian, he felt bad about it the next day.

As to Dallas City Manager...cities like Dallas are too complex for temporary elected officials to even understand much less operate effectively. "Strong Mayor" cities always end up like Detroit or Chicago.

Do you really want that for Dallas?    

BettyC1
BettyC1

I supported Strong Mayor form of government back when we took vote.I knew then like I know now the reason Dallas looks so different North to South East to West is because of City Manager form of government. Manager moves for their 8 votes and they are all North or North East.Manager does the will of business community Council comes next.

rusknative
rusknative

dallas county needs a government shutdown for awhile.  I am enjoying the US govt shutdown....now let's try our County govt too....I want to see if old JWP has lost his bullhorn swagga abilities....

rusknative
rusknative

we need to bring back Bob Thornton, Dallas Country Club restrictions, Salesmanship Club, Citzens Council, and segregated schools.  things were better then. dallas had businesses and a downtown that thrived, and owned the banks.

rusknative
rusknative

democracy has given us Dwane Caraway, John Wiley Price, and Judge Jenkins.  Epic fail.

fracquestions
fracquestions

Jim, I just have to keep going back to set the record straight in defense of Mary Suhm (which I really hate doing), but she NEVER promised TE that they would be able to drill in parks. That was merely the understanding of people who do not understand, and who apparently never read her letter to TE.

As was clearly revealed last March during the Mary Suhm/Tom Perkins inquisition, Mary NEVER told TE that they would be granted the right to drill in our parks and floodplains. She specifically told them that she and her office would use "all reasonable effort" to get the City Council to amend ordinances prohibiting drilling in parks and floodplains. The exact letter was published in the DMN and the DO at the time of the hearing, as well as on the websites and blogs of FracDallas, Dallas Area Residents for Responsible Drilling, BlueDaze, Downwinders at Risk and numerous other on-line publications.

Personally, I am glad to see Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins gone. I would be happy to see the Office of City Manager abolished. I detest Mary Suhm and everything she stood for. But, in the final analysis, she did NOT do what others claim she did regarding the TE leases - she NEVER promised them they would be allowed to drill in parks or floodplains.

Can we please just stick to the facts so that we don't waste time rehashing things that have to be debunked to keep the conversation on track? Is that too much to ask?

Rabeeta
Rabeeta

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Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

We need Chicago style. Strong mayor, 50 Aldermen. Divide the city up into little boxes.

Then we'll see something happen.

FEDUP
FEDUP

And, put people in office that have successfully run a business.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com


Think of the ways that Dallas has changed in the 50 years between now and the Fall of 1963....... see the difference? Yeah, me neither. Sad.
 

D.H.
D.H.

We definitely need a trusted liaison between the City and Public & Private partnerships. In this day and age, the communication with the public, could be better.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

From now on I think the council should be known as "the thin veneer of democracy" over Dallas politics.

Gabe48
Gabe48

So you are saying we should trust the voters?  Because apparently there is some sort of influx of young  sophisticated urbanites.  I'm sorry Jim but the last thing I trust in this city, state, or country is the voters.  Lets be clear these are the same  sophisticated urbanites that continue to give us JWP, our wonderfully efficient School Board, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Al "give me my taxi money" Libscome, and our completely partisan judges.  When you let the voters have total control you get the f@#ed mess  we have in Washington right now.  Somebody has to put on the big boy pants and make an actual decision every now then.  I'll grant you, the city manager system is far from perfect but it keeps the grid lock from getting out of control and that's worth a lot more than I think you are giving it credit for.

Also,  did I miss something about the whole gas drilling debate, didn't the peoples voice win on that one?  Shum was given an impossible task, there was huge budget short fall but the city council didn't want to cut anything. Ok fine, then raise the property tax, oh well, the city council didn't have the nads to do that either.  So she went out and found a solution, was it the right solution? in hindsight I think we can all say it wasn't, but damn it, was A solution which is more than any of the jackasses that we elected to the city council came up with.  Once the people figured out what was going on they made their voices heard and no drilling occurred. Democracy won....yeah!

Lastly, you guys should all really try the meaty ribs at Mac's.  Great sauce, fresh cut fries, and their jalapeno sausage is "off the charts". Be warned though, they are only open for lunch.      

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

It seems to me  there are way too many young people chasing too few technology start-ups...A Millennial conundrum. Back when I was in high school, there wasn't an app for that.

But, I digress.

Dallas is such a large city at least outwardly seeking to become progressive yet our Mayor has no clothes and neither does our school superintendent.

Is our city starting to wake up or are we still committed to building more Calatrava bridges and toll roads?

This is what consistently keeps Dallas under foot. I just know the answer lies somewhere in the brain of a "bro-beard wearing, iPad toting, latte sipping, F/D Deluxe reading, young-hip-urban Dallasite eagerly working on the next technology startup."

I weep for the future. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

"a solid upper middle class to blue-blood do-gooder cause that split later onto separate tracks feeding the development of both American liberalism and German National Socialism..."

Progressivism didn't split, Jim. It fragmented. And you are nowhere near as liberal as you claim, or as some on this blog imagine you to be. You are, however, an inveterate Manichaeist, which makes you vulnerable to just these kinds of errors. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The original logic was to have a professional not subject to the whims and caprice of flaky electable unknowns; but it of course morphed into a person subject to only his whims and caprice - or unelected masters - with little or no accountability to the democratic process. And no mandate or requirement to be public in his dealings.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Well I'll be damned, a column that doesn't mention Mike Miles. Didn't think you had it in you Jim.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

"As to Dallas City Manager...cities like Dallas are too complex for temporary elected officials to even understand much less operate effectively. "Strong Mayor" cities always end up like Detroit or Chicago.  Do you really want that for Dallas?"

Then by your reasoning Catbird, we as citizens are unfit to decide for ourselves (vote) who we send to public office and what they as "elected" officals can do; by proxy, the decisions they make for us. But a City Manager, who is not elected, does not need to make decisions based on what the citizens of the city desire or want, and is not held accountable by any person or committee save for a court of law can?  In other words you are saying the Democratic process won't work in Dallas?  Did I understand you correctly on that point?   

fracquestions
fracquestions

@BettyC1 Betty, if you truly mean what you wrote above, then why in hell did you ALWAYS side with the gas drilling industry and the white North Dallas power brokers when it came to your votes on the CPC?

You are absolutely correct about the City Manager going for the 8 votes, and about them usually being in white North and Northeast Dallas. What I don't understand is why YOU were voting the way Jerry Allen, Sheffie Kadane, Mike Rawlings, Linda Koop, Ann Margolin, and others of their ilk told you to vote when you COULD have voted to protect the health and safety of people in minority districts where drilling would have been done.

Thanks to people like myself who worked hard to educate citizens AND civic leaders your efforts went down to abysmal failure and were defeated at the CPC and the City Council. You were constantly combative and defensive of the oil and gas industry because you were courting the money of the very same Dallas Citizens Council that you claim to abhor.

According to your own words above, you KNEW that your own minority citizens were going to get screwed by the City Manager form of government, and yet you went along with it anyway. Thank you for making that abundantly clear. It is just too bad you lacked the integrity to be honest when you were on the CPC, where you were an embarrassment to all of Dallas.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

But the city council had already informed Suhn, NO, NO, NO  drilling in public or park lands.  So why did Suhn even dangle a carrot out to TE in the first place?

rusknative
rusknative

@Rabeeta YOU ARE SO RIGHT...I TRIED IT, AND THEN APPLIED FOR A NON-PROFIT TAX EXEMPTION FROM THE IRS, BUT GOT AUDITED WHEN THEY FOUND MY NAME WAS TEASIPS FOR TEXAS.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

Would that be a fair representation of our population?

rusknative
rusknative

@D.H. what with only plastic bags, it is tough to get any brown paper bags for the grift money exchanges to the pols.

fracquestions
fracquestions

@Gabe48 Gabe, thank you for clarifying that you think a Fascist form of government where the voters have no say in their government is far preferable to a Democratic Republican form of government where elected officials are answerable to the citizens over whom they exert control.

ebailey75057
ebailey75057

So lets just appoint a dictator, surely he or she will lead us to the promised land and make all those tough decisions for us.  How much taxpayer dollars were wasted by Suhn's actions by not adhering to what the City Council told her regarding drilling on public lands.  She went ahead and dangled the carrot out to companies anyway.    

fracquestions
fracquestions

@Gabe48 Gabe, let me just be perfectly clear so that you understand - the gas drilling issues have NOT gone away! We merely defeated the lease agreements of XTO (ExxonMobil) and Trinity East at the SUP process.

And, I do NOT credit Mary Suhm for getting that $33.8 million of gas company money at a time of a severe budget crunch. Look at what it has cost us since that time! If Mary had a brain, which she obviously does not, then she could have learned what many of us have known for a very long time - there is no viable quantity of oil or natural gas under Dallas because of the Washita fault along the Trinity River, which petroleum geologists say precludes gas migration into the City of Dallas.

The fact that we have no drilling in Dallas today does not mean that we will never have gas drilling in Dallas. Right now, the City Council is in the process of assessing CPC recommendations for a new gas drilling ordinance, and the suggested language sent to the Council by the CPC made allowances for drilling in parks and floodplains. We STILL have a major fight on our hands if we want to keep gas drilling out of Dallas.

One would think that statements like the one from T. Boone Pickens that said, "Nobody will ever make any money drilling for oil and gas in Dallas" and similar statements from the Society of Petroleum Engineers on or about August 26, 2013, would be enough to preclude anybody from wanting to drill here, yet we know that Luminant is about to request zoning changes through the SUP process for Northlake where they plan to drill several gas wells, build a refinery and build a compressor complex - right next to Irving city parks and residences and Coppell residences and a planned, new elementary school.

Apparently, I have more faith in our system of government than you have, and I trust the voters some of the time. Our real problem is voter education, but the alternative to voter-made decisions is unthinkable except to Fascists, and they love that idea.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Gabe48 

So, that whole revolution thing and now the oldest constitutional democracy in the world,  not to mention WW II,  just shit can all of it because of Al Lipscomb and Yellow Cab?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel 

Wickipedia says it "manichee."

fracquestions
fracquestions

@ebailey75057 Actually, the City Council did NOT tell Mary Suhm "No drilling in public or park lands." I am not sure where you got that information.

We already had ordinances in place that prohibit drilling in parks and floodplains - they STILL exist - for NOW! The current recommendations before the City Council would remove such restrictions, and that will happen unless citizens show up demanding that parks and floodplains be specifically listed as "off limits" to drilling.

What Mary Suhm actually did was tell the City Council that her office would NOT allow drilling on the surface of parks while simultaneously telling Trinity East that her office would use "all reasonable effort" to get the City Council to remove the prohibitions against drilling in parks and floodplains so that Trinity East would be allowed to drill the leases for which they paid the City of Dallas $19 Million (for LAND LEASES and MINERAL RIGHTS, NOT for the right to drill, which was always a separate issue that is a police power than cannot be contracted away.)

The reason why Mary dangled that carrot was because she needed to fill a major budget shortfall of over $100 Million, and she got about one third of that by leasing land for gas drilling to XTO and TE. She was seeking the easy way out instead of doing her job.

In the end, we got rid of Mary (and Tom Perkins, too) and the CPC and City Council said "NO!" to both XTO and TE because of a massive public and official education campaign waged by many of us who are concerned citizens. We packed the chamber for every hearing on the subject and made compelling arguments against urban gas drilling that carried the day (so far.)

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@JimSX @Gabe48 I think you're being a little disingenuous Jim.  There are probably good arguments for both sides of the coin existing together.  The oldest constitutional democracy in the world has always had decision-makers who were beyond the control of the voters: Regulatory agencies in Washington being a good example (sometimes these agencies seem to serve a liberal agenda, sometimes a conservative one, sometimes they seem to serve evil overlords from Mordor).  These agencies are neither voted on by nor accountable to the people.  Yet they are given the power to issue decrees that carry the force of law.

Like the City Manager, regulatory agencies could, theoretically, be gotten rid of by the voters.  Voters could demand, vote on, and either defund the offices, or 'unelect' their representatives who continue to fund the offices.  The voters don't do so.  The voters have spoken.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@JimSX @bmarvel I don't usually turn to Wikipedia for this kind of thing. Thanks for the correction.

duanewmurphy
duanewmurphy

@JimSX Bwhahahahah

Blows soup all over keyboard, Damn it !@#$%^& the knows better than to eat anything while reading DO comments.

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