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Voters and Officials Cite Language on Strong Mayor Proposal as Too Complicated

By Marla Crockett, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX –

Greg Anderson, Dallas resident: Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 of Chapter 11; Sections 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 of Chapter 12. This is unbelievable.

Marla Crockett, KERA 90.1 reporter: Beth Ann Blackwood's strong mayor plan would eliminate the city manager position and transfer power to the mayor. Dallas resident Greg Anderson supports the ballot proposition, but found the wording at the top too complicated.

Anderson: I think they need to take the legal language out of this and make it more understandable to most people.

Madeleine Johnson, Former Dallas City Attorney: This particular proposition is a complete overhaul of our city government and where the power in our government resides. That is not something that can be lightly described in a proposition that's a few words.

Crockett: Former Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson believes the entire proposal, with more than a thousand words and 75 semi-colons, will be clear to voters. She and a team of 5 lawyers in her office spent weeks crafting the measure - consulting with outside attorneys and examining the state constitution, case studies, election law, and the city charter. It was critical, she says, to get the legal details right.

Johnson: Legally what is binding is what is on the ballot is what's going to be in the charter, and that's an important thing for people to understand.

Crockett: But Beth Ann Blackwood, president of Citizens For a Strong Mayor, thinks Johnson's office is wrong on that and other legal points. For one thing, the Dallas attorney says the ballot language doesn't accurately reflect the charter amendments on her petition, signed by 30-thousand people.

Beth Ann Blackwood, President, Citizens For a Strong Mayor: It's incomprehensible and confusing; it leaves some things in and leaves other things out.

Crockett: Blackwood didn't specify how many incorrect phrases she spotted, but she has complained publicly that the ballot language is the opposite of what her charter amendment says about term-limited council members.

Blackwood: The charter amendment doesn't prohibit them from immediately running for mayor.

Johnson: I disagree with her. The lawyers in my office who worked on this are municipal attorneys who've worked for a quarter of a century on ballot language and election proposals.

Crockett: If her proposition passes, Beth Ann Blackwood says she won't take the city to court over this or any other detail, because according to her reading of the law, it's her charter petition, not the ballot language, which legally counts.

Blackwood: The actual charter amendment, the 54 pages of our charter with the amendments, was attached to that petition, and that's what will be that charter.

Crockett: The Secretary of State's Office says Texas law is largely silent on the issue, that it's a city matter. Meanwhile, SMU assistant professor Vanessa Beasley thinks the legal arguments, the length of the ballot - and a new council alternative to Blackwood's proposal - will make life confusing for voters May 7th. But Beasley, who teaches corporate communications and public affairs, also predicts most people won't read the proposition before casting their votes.

Vanessa Beasley, Assistant Professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs: There is a great body of research about how many times, how often voters have already made up their minds before they even read the language of a particular referendum or a particular ballot.

Crockett: What increasingly matters in politics, Beasley says, is personality. So, people's feelings about Mayor Laura Miller, the Dallas City Council, and Beth Ann Blackwood - will probably affect them more than all the proposition's government-shaking words. Early voting begins April 20th.

 

Email Marla Crockett about this story.

 

More local elections coverage from KERA