Maybe you heard about it – the May 7 election in Fort Worth. Or maybe you didn’t. More than likely, you didn’t.
There hasn’t been a lot of media coverage or even water-cooler conversation about this election, which involves yes or no votes on 11 proposed amendments to the city charter. Although early voting began April 25 and continues through May 3, there has been no campaign to speak of, pro or con, and the verbal fireworks that light up some municipal elections have not materialized in this one.
The city charter is an important but rarely discussed document that lays out the structure, powers and functions of city government. The Fort Worth charter has been around since 1924 and it’s been amended from time to time, but not often – and not since 2006.
Most of the amendments on the ballot this year have to do with procedural matters of little interest to anyone beyond the municipal bureaucracy. But three of the measures – Propositions 1, 2 and 3 – directly affect taxpayers, voters and the way City Hall conducts the public’s business.
Proposition 1 would increase the terms of City Council members, including the mayor, from two years to three. Proposition 2 would increase the size of the City Council from nine members to 11 – 10 elected to represent geographic districts plus the mayor, who is elected citywide. Proposition 3 would increase the annual pay of council members – from $25,000 to $45,000 for district representatives and from $29,000 to $60,000 for the mayor.
It’s not entirely clear why city leaders decided Fort Worth needed to overhaul its charter at this particular moment in time; not one of these charter amendments addresses an urgent problem that’s crying out for a solution. The engines of city government seem to be humming along just fine with nine council members serving two-year terms – and all nine are already making more money than they ought to be, in our opinion. It wasn’t so long ago that the mayor and council members were considered citizen-servants who received a token fee for attending council meetings and voting on broad issues of policy to be implemented by the city manager and other professional administrators – not full-time legislators micromanaging municipal business and spending outrageous sums of money on election campaigns.
One of the reasons city leaders want to lengthen their terms of office, some say, is because it costs so much to run for re-election every two years. Here’s a better solution: Don’t spend so much on those campaigns – or, better yet, don’t run for re-election. Serve a term or two and get on with your life.
Truth be told, the Fort Worth Business editorial board had a hard time reaching a consensus about this election. At least one of our members believes the longer terms and higher salaries are necessary because the original idea of citizen-service vanished years ago in favor of a new reality: elected representatives who spend many hours each week studying and debating issues facing the council as well as providing a myriad of constituent services that once were left to city staff.
Another member of our board insists that pay raises of 80 percent for council members and more than 100 percent for the mayor are uncalled for, not to mention outrageous.
Yet another member feels very strongly both ways.
One thing we could agree on, however, was that there was no public outcry for a charter overhaul in general and definitely no public outcry for the specific changes that ended up on the ballot. The city council has confronted voters with 11 ballot propositions that never should have advanced beyond the discussion stage in council deliberations.
For that reason if no other, we recommend that voters reject all 11 charter amendments – with particular emphasis on Propositions 1, 2 and 3. Fort Worth residents are being asked to vote in an election that should never have been held. We urge you to vote – and to vote “No,” resoundingly and emphatically.