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Dallas' Coalition for Open Government Forms to Defeat 'Strong Mayor' Proposition

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas' Coalition for Open Government Forms to Defeat 'Strong Mayor' Proposition

Dallas, TX –

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller: We have a motion on the floor by Mr. Oakley. Vote on the board. All those in favor vote yes. All those opposed vote no.

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 Reporter: With Election Day less than a month away, and Dallas voters evenly divided as to whether or not the city charter should be overhauled, the city council approved a compromise yesterday. Their plan - give the mayor more power without scrapping the current council-manager form of government.

First, voters must defeat the strong mayor proposition written by Dallas attorney Beth Ann Blackwood. Then citizens could vote on the council's alternative in November. The council plan would allow the mayor to hire and fire the city manager, double the mayor's salary, and take effect after Laura Miller completes her current term in 2007. Details were hashed out under the leadership of Councilman Ed Oakley.

Ed Oakley, District 3 Councilman: The only choice that we're putting forth as a council is to give our voters a way to vote on something that they've had input into.

Cuellar: Oakley has been a liaison between the council and the Coalition for Open Government, a broad-based group including some strange bedfellows with a common goal: to defeat Blackwood. Among them are five former Dallas mayors, the League of Women Voters, the African American Pastors' Coalition, the Dallas Citizens Council, and all 10 chambers of commerce. When the chambers' unanimous opposition to Blackwood was announced, former Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss spoke on behalf of the Dallas Northeast Chamber.

Mary Poss, Former Mayor Pro Tem/Dallas Northeast Chamber of Commerce: The primary concern was the dangerous concentration of power in one office, and concern over the loss of checks and balances.

Cuellar: Blackwood proponents say there is a check to the mayor's power in the plan. A two-thirds majority council vote can remove the mayor. But SMU political science professor Cal Jillson says that's too extreme to be exercised, and therefore not worth much.

Cal Jillson, SMU Political Science Professor: It's very, very difficult to get two-thirds to impeach a mayor of Dallas who's controlling the budget and the appointments process at the same time. So it is essentially a meaningless power.

Cuellar: Blackwood proponents say that with a strong-mayor form of government like Houston, Dallas could fast track economic development projects. But Houston elects its comptroller and city attorney - both power checks the Blackwood proposal lacks. Coalition co-founder and co-director, former councilman Alan Walne, says the council-manager form of government must be preserved or else the mayor could use governmental power to reward political allies.

Alan Walne, Co-Chair, Coalition For Open Government: All of our surrounding cities are council-manager forms of government. We do not need to create, do not want to create a pay-to-play type atmosphere in the city of Dallas like you have in the Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlantas of the world.

Cuellar: Walne says that some coalition members support the council alternative, while others oppose any increase in the mayor's power. But all agree that Blackwood goes too far.

Walne: This isn't a minor change, this is a rewrite of our constitution. Some of the chambers and the citizens council do feel like change needs to happen, but yet they are against this particular option before us on May 7th because it is fatally flawed. There are way too many changes. They are changing things that are not broken, and we need a tune-up. We don't need an engine overhaul.

Cuellar: The coalition has received pledges of $200,000 from the Dallas Citizens Council and $25,000 from the Greater Dallas Chamber. They're still raising money for grassroots campaign mailings, lawn signs, and phone banks. Early voting starts next Wednesday.


Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.


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