Thursday, January 18, 2018

City reverses course: ALL candidate election materials, including petitions, now are available online to be examined privately

City Secretary Rene Dowl has added local election petitions to the online Garland "elections packet". Thank you, Rene!
Garland citizens now can privately download to their personal computers and review ALL of the city's "elections packet" materials, including the necessary petitions to have signed, without concern that their exploratory efforts are becoming fodder for the rumor mill.

Garland's City Secretary and City Attorney's offices this week opted to jettison a manufactured "requirement" forcing all citizens to sign an easily-obtainable document in order to see and retrieve the total election package—which they need to decide whether to run for public office or are just curious about what all is involved in being a candidate.

City Secretary Rene Dowl said Tuesday the petitions that candidates are required to circulate to acquire sufficient signatures of support—25 for city council spots and 100 for the mayor's seat—to be placed on the ballot have been added to the online packet, which potential candidates or just citizens merely exploring the process can download.

Earlier Dowl's office put all but the petitions online for citizens to download privately at will. Dowl's office continued to follow previous policies for the petitions until research showed no justification for it.

Dowl promises that no one will be monitoring who actually downloads the documents from the computer.

She also said further research shows that the city's procedure of requiring citizens contemplating a possible run for public office to sign a form in order to release the "elections packet" to them was never the law nor an ordinance in the City of Garland. It was written into the City Secretary's list of duties, but no one knows why or how that entry occurred, she said.

The Dallas County Elections Department in Dallas and the Texas Ethics Commission in Austin last week affirmed to me that no county or state laws require ordinary citizens to have to sign to receive the election packets, including the citizen petitions.

Those officials suggested to me that the city needed to look into where and how the practice originated. I am very appreciative of our City Secretary and City Attorney for doing just that and acting swiftly to correct the matter. Kudos to all involved!

Only when the elections materials have been completed, the petitions signed, and the materials filed with the City Secretary should signatures and identifying information be collected and released to interested parties via the Texas Public Information Act.
 
In the Garland election process, many deadlines exist for candidates for public office.

The election materials help potential candidates, especially novices that may feel inspired to become more involved in the community and pursue political office but wonder about the cost, the requirements, the deadlines, etc., determine what is involved in appearing on a ballot for office.

Previously, political insiders could misuse the list of inquirers to subtly or overtly lobby potential candidates not to run—a clear violation of the freedoms we Americans enjoy to choose our elected officials without interference or inappropriate pressure.

Dowl and I agreed that that so-called "requirement" was actually like the story many have heard about "Grandma's ham recipe",  requiring the end of the ham to be cut off—family members just "knew" that was how one was supposed to cook a ham. As that story goes, no one knew the origin of the requirement to cut off the end of the ham until one older family member remembered that Grandma didn't have a pan large enough in which to cook the ham, so she removed that part of the ham to make it fit her pan.

How this procedure of requiring ordinary citizens to have to sign for the public documents, giving not only their names but addresses and phone numbers, got started, Dowl says she does not know.

Both the City Secretary and City Attorney's offices were very much aware of the fallout that occurred two years ago (2016) when I innocently picked up an election packet—at which time I was required to sign a list in the City Secretary's office that I had obtained the documents. As I reported in my last blog on January 11, immediately thereafter I encountered puzzling behavior and sudden overt actions by some Garland political insiders who seized on the information, started a false rumor that I was preparing to challenge Councilwoman Anita Goebel, and argued forcefully that an incumbent should not be opposed in an election.

Just the mere act of picking up an election packet seemed to indicate that I was "coloring outside the lines" and violating the unwritten rule that a councilmember is elected, in effect, for six years, not just for the official two-year term for which the person initially runs.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a worthy incumbent who has performed well being returned to office. But citizens in America have every right to file for office to oppose that incumbent when his or her current two-year term is up, and let the voters decide who fills the job for the next two years.

What happened to me in 2016 is history. Goebel ran unopposed in 2016 and completes her third and final term in May. I did not challenge her in 2016 and never had any intention of doing so, as I repeatedly stated at the time. The practice of requiring citizens to sign to receive the election packet is no more. Rules are in place to make sure insiders cannot arbitrarily obtain information that is not theirs.
These are important dates as Garland moves toward the May 5 election.
With five key council races (mayor and council districts 1, 2, 4, and 5) on the ballot for May 5, the citizens of Garland should look at the requirements online and freely decide if they or one of their friends, neighbors, or co-workers in the city might be qualified—and have the desire—to run for one of these positions of public office. We need additional skilled and qualified people to run in all of these races.

The election this May promises to be quite controversial, pitting soon-to-be former Mayor Douglas Athas and his allies against what some have termed the "Gang of Six" (two of which face re-election in May and two of which complete their final terms in office in May) and their allies in a continuing saga and battle over the demolition of the old armory—that has already occurred—and proposals for a dog and skate park at Central Park.

While the Central Park issues are highly important, the City of Garland has many other matters that also need to be addressed thoughtfully, carefully, and accurately in the approaching political season. Those include what the city is going to do about the loss of our only hospital, why our city's collective dream of having our own full-service community college has faltered badly, and what direction the city is going to take to truly involve all citizens, white and nonwhite, in the political life of our community.

Dowl said no one will try to track the computers onto which the election packets are downloaded. She said, however, that when people go in person to her office at city hall, a log is kept for statistical purposes of those who request printouts of the petitions or other election materials. That list now is available only to people who request the information in writing following the procedures outlined in the Texas Public Information Act, Dowl said. The law provides that the city must honor open-records requests within 10 days of receiving them in writing. Previously, phone-call requests from interested parties were sufficient to obtain the information. As of Wednesday, Dowl said no written open-records requests have been received for the list of those who come to her office for the petitions.

Still, the safest and most confidential way to secure your election packet to ponder what you want to do is by going to the link below and printing out your own copy on your own printer. One word of warning: the packet is huge. You may just want to read much of it online and selectively choose what to print.

Please follow this link and go to "2018 city election candidate packet" and prayerfully consider your future:

https://www.garlandtx.gov/gov/cd/secretary/default.asp

All Garland citizens need to be abreast of current political activities in our city and be prepared to make the best voting decisions possible for the future of our community.

No legal reason ever existed in Garland for election materials such as the candidate petitions to be held so tightly by the city. Citizens are now able to freely examine and download ALL candidate packet materials.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

So you think you want to run for public office in Garland? Never forget—it's a very, very, very small town.


Would-be Garland candidates take note: your goldfish-bowl lives are about to begin. Even though forms are now available online, the petitions are not and require a personal visit and signature at the City Secretary's office. 
"Don't want you to think I didn't speak to you on purpose," barked a top supporter of District 2 City Councilmember Anita Goebel, a wannabe Garland politico and one of the many Anita supporters that does not live and does not vote in District 2.

The setting was the funeral of a former Garland officeholder who passed away in early 2016. The individual making the statement earlier had edged past me in the forward pew, seeming to ignore my wave while the individual broadly and overtly greeted everyone else within eyesight.

After the service the individual circled back around with that curious statement—as though underscoring to me the intended slight. Strange, I thought but kept mum.

At a funeral came the first not-so-subtle message I had done something terribly off-track. At a second one few days later, that packet I picked up randomly had definitely lit up the grapevine. Would-be candidates can be prepared for lots of inquisitions.
Just days later another high-profile, local funeral occurred. Certain key civic leaders, usually always cordial in public, averted their eyes or quickly found others to corner or visit with when Kay and I approached them during the after-service reception.

Why were these people acting so weird? What had suddenly gone wrong?

Plenty, I was to learn over the next few days.

I had violated the unwritten rules of The Club, the small, exclusive group of Garland kingmakers that gets to say who runs for spots in local election—Garland's political elite, some of whom don't actually live or vote in the city or a district in which they like to meddle.

This curious and tight Garland fraternity is composed of some current and former city councilmembers, current and former mayors, businessowners, real-estate investors, and other political operatives in this "small" town, which I might mention also is the 87th-largest city in the U.S. and the 12th-largest in Texas.

A few days beforehand, I had innocently, without gaining The Club's advance permission, stopped by the City Secretary's office to pick up the packet for filing for the upcoming 2016 city council election. I had heard much about these mysterious packets, so with an election coming up soon, I knew they would be available. On a lark, I decided to stop by the City Secretary's office and request a packet to see what was in it. I was immediately struck by how thick it was.

How dare I do something so outside the proscribed way of doing things?

I had already expressed my support for our incumbent city councilmember, Anita Goebel, so I never dreamed that the action would be picked up and twisted by The Club's rumor mill and would paint a target on me.

I was merely curious, with no intention of running unless Goebel for some reason decided she'd had it with politics and wanted to bail, as some current talk had suggested. What forms did one have to file? I wondered. What did filing cost? What personal financial data was one required to release? Could anyone obtain it? Dozens of questions filled my mind—questions that could be answered only with a packet in hand.

I thought it was a bit unusual that I was required to sign a form stating that I had obtained one of those election packets. I attributed that to regulation city procedures but still pondered, Who needed to know who picked up one of these?

The next day I dropped by Mayor Douglas Athas' office to visit with him about a totally unrelated matter. "Now what's this about running for office?" he immediately hopped off-subject from my conversation. He had jumped to the false conclusion, as did a number of other members of The Club, that I was planning to run for the District 2 council seat against incumbent Anita Goebel, who at that time was a political ally of his.

Athas quickly advised me—un-soliticed by me—that I would lose if I ran against Goebel. Very difficult to unseat her, an incumbent, he counseled.

Who said anything about running against Anita? I wondered. I told him I had no intention of running against Anita, that I was only curious about the "election packet" that was always spoken of in such hushed and reverential tones by all the political insiders in town.

I had a difficult time getting Doug back on track to talk about the matter for which I had gone to see him. He seemed almost preoccupied with my having obtained the packet.

I emphasized to him the word "NOT" when I answered him. "I am NOT planning to run unless the office is vacated, which I don't expect it to be."

However, I wasn't certain he heard my emphatic "NOT".

That night I began to receive the first of five phone calls, in rapid-fire order, from members of The Club inquiring about my intention of using the election packet.

Only one District 2 voter contacted me. The others who made calls lived in other districts or not in Garland at all.

Former District 2 City Councilwoman Perky Cox called to encourage me in my presumed race against Goebel. (As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Perky had wanted me to succeed her in 2012, but I declined at the end of Perky's final term to make the commitment. Goebel won after Perky and Perky's candidate, Eric Redish, had a parting of ways on the night of the general election in which Redish narrowly lost; without Perky's support Redish fell to Goebel in the runoff election.)

"What race against Goebel?" I inquired, still puzzled. "I have said I am not going to run against her."

But the election packet? Perky queried.

Just curious, I stated again. Picked it up on the spur of the moment. How had she known?

City-hall grapevine, she reported.

Exactly opposite of Athas (as one would expect from two earlier enemies), Perky argued that I should, indeed, square off against Goebel in 2016.

Not gonna do it, I asserted. End of conversation.

Later the person who didn't not "speak to me on purpose" at the funeral wrote on a Facebook page resounding praises for Anita and a barb aimed at every citizen of District 2—no one in District 2 was capable of succeeding Anita in office, the person vowed.

No one? That was a really odd thing to say, I thought. Such a bold statement coming from someone who didn't even live in our district seemed weird at best. 

The next morning the phone rang and I heard the voice of an influential local operative, who again lives outside of District 2. "So what IS the deal with the packet?" I was asked. "She hasn't been a bad council member."

"Wasn't planning to run against her," I said. (What is that supposed to mean? I pondered. Had someone stated in 2016 she was a bad councilmember? Certainly not I.)

I repeated to him my by-now broken-record answer I gave to Perky and the mayor as well as many others who called or stopped me wherever I went. Should I just make a placard and wear it upon my body any time I went out in public? 

And so it went for several days until filing for open council seats in 2016 ended. The cold shoulders, the averted eyes, the blank stares—all from people I had once presumed were friends. The strategically placed phone calls. Now I know better. As Mayor Athas had told me the first time we met shortly after he was elected, we are associates—never friends.

That experience was truly my first tipoff about Garland's rigged election system.

In 2016 (just as she had in 2014) Goebel ran unopposed and was re-elected to her third and final term by herself and other sitting councilmembers. Kay and I congratulated her on her win.

With this system in place, is it any wonder so many other elections here are canceled because there are no opponents running against the incumbents? The gig was clear: people not in The Club or blessed by The Club have little chance of winning city elections. The Club will make sure of that!

Is it any wonder councilmembers such as Goebel get elected with about 2 percent of the vote of eligible voters in their districts. No wonder the majority of current city councilmembers were never actually elected by the public—only by the city council itself, after only one candidate filed and others were discouraged—I would even use the term bullied—from filing to run. No wonder everything in this town seems so rigged by that tiny group of well-to-do Anglos with a sprinkling of non-whites thrown in for cover.

No wonder members of The Club frown at the thought of our rising percentage of Hispanic potential voters actually registering and voting. My political tutor once told me to forget my pledge that if I ever ran for public office, I would do everything within my power to bring in the disenfranchised voters such as the Latinos.
Candidate forms, minus the necessary petition forms, are available confidentially at the city's website. Click on City government, then on City Secretary button. Those forms are number 4 on the list. The petitions still must be picked up at City Hall. At that point the would-be candidate's intentions are public record.

As I have emphasized in this blog, councilmembers are PRESUMED to be elected for three full two-year terms. It is presumed that they will be re-elected automatically unless they have performed badly in office. If you ever doubt the power of the incumbent, listen to Monday night's city council work session (January 8) at which proposed changes in the city charter were discussed. How many times were the words uttered (or the concept espoused) of "three two-year"s? The incumbent WILL be there for six years, the underlying theme is heard over and over.

In case you missed it (it wasn't exactly widely trumpeted), January 17, 2018 is the first day a potential candidate for the upcoming May municipal elections can pick up and turn in a packet, including the marked petitions for their supporters to sign and which must be certified by the City Secretary. The last day for filing is February 16. These dates were first posted on the city's website on January 3, 2018.

Thanks to District 5 Councilman Rich Aubin, who in his early days in office at my suggestion requested that the packet be made available to the public on the city's website. City Secretary Rene Dowl says she does not know—and does not try to find out—who downloads the online forms.

These petitions to be signed by candidates' supporters are not available online and can only be picked up in person in the City Secretary's office. Naturally, one has to sign for them, giving all pertinent personal information—everything The Club needs to launch its campaign.

That list of those picking up petitions or filing for office is available to anyone by request made to the City Secretary's office, according to the Texas Open Records Law, states City Secretary Dowl. Dowl says by law she must make the information available to anyone requesting the list.

Based on my experience two years ago, my hunch is The Club will know within seconds after you pick up your packet and will be sharing that information with one another—cherrypicking along the way who to support, who to harass, and who to bully.

Such is political life in this very, very, very small Texas city—second largest in Dallas County—and yet a veritable tiny burg where political life is concerned.


Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Why did this ever have to become such a mess?" is the only pertinent question when one well-executed dog/skate park duo is observed

Talamae and Drew of suburban Phoenix enjoy bringing their two large dogs to the nearby dog park, whose simple design is appealing to them. Garland has proposed an elaborate $1.1 million dog park.

(Because photos are truly worth a thousand words, this particular blog contains more pictures than usual. Please see all photos including extras at the end.)
 
Many times in this blog I have mentioned intimate, first-hand knowledge of a successful dog park and skate park situated alongside each other and working splendidly.

As I have said, this park lies just more than a mile from some investment properties we own in Arizona.

While we visited Phoenix during the recent New Year's holiday to prepare for new tenants, Kay and I decided to do a more strategic, thorough job of checking these parks out than we had in our previous, casual visits with grandkids present.

So, with notebook and camera in hand, we made several targeted tours of the town of El Mirage's Gateway Park, interviewing users as well as those who keep these parks safe.

As discussed, this dog park and skate plaza combo is part of a major development that was planned as a complete unit from the ground up. Gateway Park also features walking trails, basketball courts, soccer fields, a children's play area, a water feature, a small restaurant, and the city government complex including a police station.

About a week after the December 21 so-called public-input meeting about design of a dog park and skate park in Garland's Central Park Kay and I set out to query ordinary citizens to see what their unvarnished take was on the suburban Phoenix park that they were using.

One young husband and wife, Drew and Talamae, who regularly bring their two large dogs to the AZ park, loved the way their park was designed separately for both small and larger dogs. They like the simple entrances and exits to both sides that provide better control for dog owners arriving at and leaving the dog parks. They also like the simplicity of the dog park's landscaping and elements, including some creative but simply designed water fountains that provide drinking water for owners as well as a pup-level drinking station for dogs.

When we commented to them that Garland was considering a highly developed $1.1 million dog park with water features for the dogs, they wondered why that huge cost was necessary. They saw it as an extreme luxury. They were puzzled why Garland would spend the money to put water features in the dog park when Central Park itself does not include water features for children.

They also said they would not bring their dogs to this particular AZ dog park if the city had placed the dog and skate features adjoining each other. In the AZ park, the dog and skate parks are about 75 feet apart, separated by a road and parking serving both elements as well as the other features, such as walking trails, basketball courts, soccer fields, the children's play area and children's water features, a small restaurant, as well as many other features of the park.
 
While the husband and wife said they wish their home were a little closer to the dog park, they personally would be offended if either park was situated right outside their front door and could imagine that others would, as well.

They said they constantly monitor their dogs' interaction with other dogs and leap in quickly if they detect any kind of burgeoning tension with another animal. They try fastidiously to abide by all the dog park rules and expect others to do the same.

Dog Park rules are precise and citizens try to follow them carefully.

These users said they felt certain the skaters, if operating immediately adjacent to the dog park, would annoy their dogs and create difficulty for them personally.

The combined acreage of the two dog parks, for both large and small dogs, would probably amount to under one acre. The couple said they believe the size is completely adequate for their dogs' needs.

Over at the skate park on New Year's Eve morning, we encountered a young family where the daughter had received a new scooter and her brother had received a new skateboard for Christmas. The father said this was the family's first venture to the skate plaza. He said the family liked the stringent rules governing this particular skate park, which itself was about one-half acre. He said the family especially likes the rule prohibiting bikes in the skate plaza.

This auxiliary sign in the skate plaza emphasizes only three rules. The larger, more detailed sign pictured elsewhere in this blog spells out plentiful details for the safety and protection of skaters and observers.

The father said it did not bother him that the dog and skate parks were situated in the same general area because the road, parking spaces, and landscaping dividing them provide a protective barrier.

On another day we talked with a police officer who is based at the city's station in the same complex as the two parks. Officer T. McCracken said this is the fourth jurisdiction he has served that has had both a dog and skate park situated within it. He said he believes this park works better than any of the other three, particularly because no bicycles of any kind are allowed in the skate park.

McCracken said that he was not aware of any gang or other illegal activity at this suburban Phoenix park during his time on the force. He said he considers the skate park a plus and not a minus for the city and is not a site that officers believe they have to "fuss over" constantly. He said he believes the skate park's location, which is down the street and within walking distance of a housing development but not situated immediately adjacent to it, contributes to the "targeted" use of the park. He said people who visit there seem strategically to have set out to skate as opposed to a park near a housing development where potential skaters or visitors might "amble by" and thus be induced in to cause trouble.

He said he did not believe necessarily that the police department's presence was the only reason for the skate plaza's success, since the skate plaza preceded the police department there by several years.

The presence of the police station so near the dog park and skate plaza helps act as a deterrent to crime. Security cameras in the skate plaza and the overall design that allows citizens utilizing other features in the park to observe activities at the skate plaza also help reinforce the security in the park.
At the very beginning of the current public discussion about Garland actually building dog and skate parks, I spoke with Garland Parks Director Jermel Stevenson, whose resume includes the Phoenix area, and several Garland city councilmembers about our admiration of this AZ park. I've even provided Stevenson and others with Internet links to information about this park. As has been their styles in recent months, their responses have been more formality than listening ears. (Not until the December 21 meeting was I sure that Stevenson could remember my name. After I introduced myself to him for about the 20th time, he insisted he knew who I was, but this had never previously been apparent.)

My previous contention surfaces again here: Do Garland citizens REALLY count? Here was a vitally impactful suggestion by a citizen that earlier might have helped prevent the current mess in which the city finds itself. But did anyone ever take the time to follow through? Are only the high-priced consultant services that take taxpayer dollars the only ones that are given a nod?

Obviously, we are very fond of this AZ park and have believed for many years that it could serve as an excellent role model for Garland in its quest to figure out what to do with set-aside funds for both a dog park and a skate park. But to our knowledge, NO ONE has EVER taken us up on our suggestion to learn more about it.

What we like about this AZ park are:

1. Its simplicity: the dog and skate parks and other elements in the park are functional, practical, reasonable, and effective. The whole park itself impresses and draws visitors—not just the skate and dog features. For Garland to build these two features at its Central Park without a major plan supported by citizens for all of the park would be a disastrous mistake.

The skate plaza at the suburban Phoenix park prohibits bicycles and does not try to be "all things to all people" like the proposed skate park in Garland. Skaters and police say prohibiting bicycles in the skate plaza is especially effective.
2. The way the dog-and-skate elements blend into the overall planning and design of the entire larger park in which they are situated—all the elements work together as a whole. Unlike Garland where projects too often are done piecemeal and helter-skelter, this park was planned and developed as a complete unit from the ground up. The situation in Garland's Central Park is a total mess because of local politics and a complete lack of thorough, businesslike, professional management—also because everything being done there right now appears to be totally uncoordinated and completely random and unfortunately often based on political whim! Pieces of a puzzle need to all fit together so that the completed work appears logical, coordinated, and well planned.

3. The fact that these two AZ themed parks—very controversial in our own Garland community—are widely loved, accepted, and used in the Arizona community in which they are situated. If building that park was ever controversial, we never heard about it. We watched it being constructed from the ground up and often asked each other why Garland couldn't build the same kind of park the same way.
Precise and carefully administered rules make the skate plaza safer and more appealing to citizens. A graffiti hotline is one of the items the sign mentions.

4. The intricate governing details about how each of these two elements in the overall park are managed is impressive and appealing. One has the feeling no stone was left unturned in planning how the dog and skate parks would fit into the overall community life of the park and the neighborhood where they are situated. Rules for use of both elements in the park are precise, well-thought out, and carefully administered. (See photos of posted rules accompanying this blog.)

Appropriate and abundant signage throughout this entire park give an overall impression of professionalism and quality.
Back in Arizona, everyone seemed to like the fact that the AZ skate and dog park elements are controlled with very precise rules that are enforced by the nearby police station and on-duty parks personnel.

Kay and I are particularly impressed with posted signs asking citizens to call 911 immediately if they see anyone attempting to mark graffiti in the park. Based on the design of the park with only one entrance, we have the impression that if such a call were received, the police would immediately seal off the park and go in after not only the graffiti artist but anyone else acting illegally there.

The sign advises to call 911 anytime a park visitor sees anyone trying to deface the park with graffiti or other matters. A graffiti hotline is also mentioned.

Garland spends way too much time trying to deny that crime and other illegal activities occur in our parks, when rolling up our sleeves and going to work to find creative solutions would be a much better use of time and city funds.

The integrated nature of the whole park with its interwoven features, such as the walking and running trails, also allows citizens not utilizing either the dog or skate parks to immediately spot and report problems to the police or park employees—kind of like an informal "citizens on patrol".

And the nearby police station? An added bonus that not only provides security but also leaves the impression that the city makes safety in the park a top priority. As I've said many times, Kay and I wish we felt that same sense of safety and security at Garland's Central Park, located about the same distance from our home in Garland as the AZ park is from our investment properties.

Garland CAN learn from other cities—and from its own citizens. We don't always have to try and reinvent the wheel based on local politics at a given moment! When others anywhere in the U.S. do it right, Garland needs to stop, listen, and learn.

After spending time in these well-executed facilities accomplished so effortlessly, Kay and I could only shake our heads and ask ourselves, "Why did this ever have to become such a mess?" in light of the current political upheaval in Garland.





The population of El Mirage, situated 10 miles from Phoenix, is 31,000. The park is called Gateway Park.







Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Thanks for coming down": courteous, well-meaning, but have Garland's city councilmembers truly listened to citizens addressing them?


Many citizens who attended the recent "Public Input Meeting" at which proposed plans for a new dog/skate park in Garland's Central Park were displayed may have wondered what impassioned testimony from the public accomplished. Here, a city representative outlines potential features of the two new parks.
The physical arrangement of the room in which Garland City Council meets in regular session sends off a subtle message that this blog has emphasized repeatedly: citizens don't count like they should in this city.

The podium at which a citizen speaks when addressing city council is at the end of a downward slope in the meeting chamber, while the mayor and councilmembers' seats are elevated as if on a stage. The nine elected officials sit behind a tall desk that gives the impression of a judicial bench that is higher than the spot where the citizen stands.

The room design impacts the public TV camera's angles showing both citizens and councilmembers. Citizens are viewed from a position slightly above their heads. Councilmembers are seen straight-on. The difference in angles could be perceived as making citizens appear minimized, while those on the dais look thoughtful and professional.

Body-language specialists might even describe the arrangement as intimidating to citizens, empowering to officials.
The physical arrangement of the room in which Garland City Council meets in regular session sends off a subtle message that has been discussed in this blog repeatedly: citizens don't count like they should in this city. Here a member of the public testifies at a recent council session.
As a Garland plan commissioner who has sat for 10 years on this same dais for twice-monthly plan commission sessions and also as a member of the public that has spoken dozens of times to council, I've been perched in both locations and know how uncomfortable citizens feel standing at the podium and how empowered people sitting at the dais feel.

Garland certainly isn't the only government entity to ever utilize this subliminal message, but it still has no place here.

The room arrangement really ought to be the other way around: In a real democracy (or republic) the citizen-bosses ought to be the elevated ones looking down on the nine members of council, who are supposed to be the servants of the people.

Or at the least, both citizens and political leaders ought to face each other at the same level, eyeball to eyeball. That is, after all, why legendary King Arthur had his round table for his knights! (The symbol was of the monarch sharing his power, authority, and honor with others whom he esteemed.)
Councilmembers are viewed straight-on, while citizens are viewed slightly above their heads. In an interesting way this symbolizes the relationship between public officials and members of the public that elect them.
As the citizens of Embree and other neighborhoods have so powerfully espoused during the latter part of 2017, council and the city's bureaucracy work for the citizens—not the other way around. Many of our leaders have lost sight of this important component of our citizens' role. This was never more apparent than at the city-convened December 21 "Public Input Meeting" regarding Central Park.

A thoughtless city government is nothing new to Garland. My first introduction to how citizens are easily disregarded occurred some 14 years ago when my next-door neighbor begged me to go with her to a plan commission hearing to protest new construction in Garland High School's back parking lot abutting our neighborhood.

The neighbor and I left that so-called "public hearing" believing we had NOT been heard in the slightest.

In the hallway afterward, the GISD architect told the two of us "Oh, you are just going to love what we are going to do." He described landscaping along our alley that first would be installed (and later removed without any explanation as soon as the construction at the school passed the city's inspection). He also failed to mention that the removal of the school's tennis courts and the elevation of its new Fine Arts Building would create a direct line of vision from the porch of the new school building to our backyard porches—prompting us after the landscaping mysteriously disappeared to have to build, at our expense, taller fences and have to plant more trees to regain our lost privacy.

Meanwhile the city looked the other way and refused to enforce its own requirements about landscaping for new construction!

I've heard too many stories over the years from other citizens who believe they have been ignored by city leaders—that the city did not act in their best interests. This blog has repeatedly cited examples and situations—such as authorized citizen studies that were overruled or ignored and citizens whose expertise has not been valued—where Garlandites are minimized and overlooked in the political processes.

Perhaps now with the dramatic dynamics under way on the current city council—the mayor resigning and leaving office in May and a successful recall petition against a councilmember who also will depart in May—something will change. Maybe, just maybe, citizens once again will be respected—like they were in decades long past when Garland was a smaller city and politicians truly were held more accountable because of citizen familiarity with individual members.

While my concern is about citizens in general, nearby property owners where issues arise are the ones that are most overlooked by the city's leaders and bureaucracy. Anytime a public outcry occurs over an issue, public officials need to ask themselves how they personally would feel if tennis courts, an armory, or some other building were suddenly torn down—or a car wash built or a mini-warehouse planned or a noisy church constructed—next door to their homes without anyone in the city government ever even thinking about what the action might do to them and their immediate neighbors. 

Since moving to downtown Garland in 2000, I've worked closely with city council and various city departments on a variety of issues. I've seen the bureaucracy at work both from the inside and outside. I personally know some in the bureaucracy and in city politics who understand the concept of respect for citizens; I also know others who clearly don't get it and who think of themselves as bosses of those that elected them. 

Often when a citizen has addressed city council, either the mayor or a city councilmember instantly responds to the speaker, "Thanks for coming down." The expression is supposed to be an acknowledgement that a citizen has taken his or her time to travel to city hall and to address the council. The words have become so rote that they are trite. I personally am repulsed when I hear this cold, bureaucratic phrase and try to refrain from using it when someone addresses the plan commission. Many public officials wear out those words with their lips but not with their actions or hearts. To me it has become a courteous-sounding way to say, "Talk all you want. We're not really going to listen to you!"

What actually needs to be communicated is, "All of our citizens count. We want to hear you. We want to know what your concerns are. We will work until we can find solutions that have the least negative impact on all of our people."

Recently at the December 21 public meeting to discuss the future of the dog park and skate park at Garland's Central Park, I witnessed the same bureaucratic behaviors that have troubled me for years. The audience was lectured by two parks officials ad nauseum about what the city was planning to do—setting forth every argument, statistic, and fact for their side of the argument—before finally "allowing" citizens to offer controlled input at this gathering labeled a "public input meeting".
After lengthy justifications from parks representatives, citizens are allowed comments, but did those comments change the outcome in the long run?
Turning a deaf ear to citizens—or minimizing or trying to squelch their concerns, communicating that what they say won't really make a difference in the outcome—is never a way to run a city government.

As some people say about their kids, "They're mother-deaf" or "They're parent deaf." City officials are often "citizen-deaf" when it comes to citizens—especially those living closest to a troubled project.

My concept of community is obviously far, far different than that of many of our elected officials, many that were swept into office by a tiny fraction of the voters eligible to vote in their districts or races or by no actual citizen vote at all because the behind-the-scenes politicos managed to eliminate all potential other candidates. The city political system works diligently to keep the numbers low, so the control remains in the hands of the select few.

To me, government works in cooperation with its people and not against them—recognizing that citizens, who are taxpayers in different ways, are the true "owners" of the city—not those hired by the bureaucracy (and who too often don't even live in Garland) or those elected for short terms and then replaced. A real government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" works to include ALL CITIZENS, both white and non-white, male and female, rich and poor, in the city's governance.

Also, I believe with voters so apathetic and uninvolved in our city right now, our current leaders have a moral and ethical responsibility to do everything within their power to work to reverse that trend and engage and encourage all eligible citizens to register to vote and to go to the polls and actually vote, then to make their voices heard in as many ways as possible. Working behind the scenes to suppress voters—which occurs when "benign neglect"is allowed to rule the day and night—is simply not right.

At the meeting Thursday evening, December 21, it was clear that park officials and the majority of city leaders had made up their minds about what was to be done in Central Park. There was not going to be any reconsideration, despite the impassioned pleas by neighbors. The city is determined to build a dog park and skate park somewhere there. And they were not the least bit interested—or at least sympathetic—to seriously addressing all the issues (traffic, crime, noise, lack of supervision, etc.) that the homeowners will face from that decision. It was equally clear that the vast majority of those in attendance wanted a different solution.
Various site arrangements are disclosed for the dog park/skate park in Central Park, but the fact remains: some nearby impassioned neighbors don't want the facilities there at all. Did this matter at the meeting where "public input" was received?
Having once been treated unfairly by a cold and uncaring local bureaucracy, I feel really sorry for homeowners whose houses abut the park where the politicians and bureaucrats are determined to build these dog and skate parks. Been there and experienced that with the construction 14 years ago at Garland High School! The school district didn't care one iota about the school's neighbors and the damage their ill-conceived and poorly planned and executed construction project was going to inflict on the school's neighbors next door. All the arguments and power-plays in the world won't make it easy for the people of Embree to swallow whatever solution the parks department imposes on the park's neighbors. I admire the neighbors for at least trying to be heard, despite all the ways the city's messed-up political structure has worked against them.

A second "public input" meeting on Central Park scheduled for January 9, 2018, has been rescheduled but no date has been set yet. Let us hope this time city officials arrive with their ears, eyes, and hearts open and with an attitude of finding a solution best for all.

Citizens do matter. Taxpayers do count—no matter who the bullies are or what their agenda is.

Some day, some how, some way, Garland citizens are going to rise up and make the point to our city leaders that CITIZENS COUNT, that taxpayers are the ones footing the bills for their decisions regardless how reckless they might be, and that Garland deserves better than having a tiny elite of mostly white citizens and wealthy non-citizens that rule over this city of 237,000 individuals of many races, creeds, religions, and economic means.

Arrogance has no place in our city government. Servant leadership is what we need.

As I have repeated many times in many ways in many places, citizens count.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The closing of Baylor Garland Hospital was signaled nearly a decade ago, but most missed the warning signs

Garland's Salvation Army was the first location for Hope Clinic, but almost as quickly as it started there, the Army's commander ousted the clinic, creating much uncertainty about the clinic's future. Few then knew the interplay that would soon occur between the new charitable clinic and Garland's only hospital.

The recently announced closing of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at Garland, the city's only hospital, didn't happen overnight. The direction the hospital was heading for the past decade wasn't difficult to spot.

How were the clues missed? Why didn't someone loudly sound the alarm bells before the medical institution's doors were ready to shutter? Why did so much optimism and a view through rose-colored glasses seem to rule the day?

It's a story that began more than a decade ago, dating to the time when another medical facility for the city—a charitable institution promising hope for the city's oversized uninsured and poverty-level population—was being birthed.

As an early board member of that charitable medical institution—Garland's Hope Clinic—I remember too well the empty bank account, the eviction from the Salvation Army facility, the overwhelming needs of the uninsured and undocumented in Garland, and the lack of public support.

Those first board meetings of the nonprofit in 2002-2004 were filled with excitement for the project but concern because of the odds at success.

Slowly but surely the board began, with the help of some local downtown Garland churches and the brilliant leadership of ace volunteers Ed Seegers and Barbara Burton, to pull itself "up by the bootstraps".

Then something rather miraculous—but also very unusual—happened: Hope Clinic was "discovered" by Baylor Garland. A little grant here. A gift of equipment there. Then more grants. And more equipment. And then the first representative from Baylor Garland was elected to the board. Others soon joined the parade.

Soon the support from Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at Garland seemed like cascading waterfalls. Money and equipment and personnel poured in. The once-scarce volunteer medical team flourished. Doctors affiliated with Baylor Garland began volunteering by the droves. Services moved from one night a week to weekdays.

All seemed so wonderful. God's blessings were pouring out in abundance on the clinic—and in such a short span of time, we said.

I well remember one of my last board meetings, with dinner served in the board room of Baylor Garland Hospital's president, Tom Tennery, who retired this past February 1. My head swam with contrasting memories of the early days when we could hardly find a place to hold a one-night clinic, let alone pay the bills.

Hope Clinic had come so far so quickly—thanks largely to Baylor Garland.

While Baylor Garland Hospital was dying, it breathed new life into Hope Clinic. But did this also send out distress signals about a situation that would lead to the hospital's downfall?
While not wanting to "look a gift horse in the mouth", a few of us trustees wondered quietly why the hospital was being so generous. Behind the scenes, some said that the hospital needed a way to siphon off to a charity situation its burgeoning collection of needy patients who couldn't pay their medical bills but desperately needed care. Hope Clinic seemed like the perfect answer.

That explanation seemed reasonable given the huge underserved, uninsured, needy population in Garland. It seemed like a win-win for the clinic and the hospital. With 27 percent of Garland without health insurance and 47 percent of Garland families living below the government-established poverty level of $48,600, certainly some solution was needed.

With the Clinic's board and operation filled with so many truly qualified top-notch medical personnel, as a non-medical person I believed it was time for me to move on and to devote my talents to other worthy community endeavors, so I resigned as a Hope Clinic board member in 2011.

I curiously took note soon thereafter that even more Baylor Garland people, including a former board chair and other board members, were swarming onto the Hope Clinic board and into its operation, too. I wondered what that meant.

On the other side of the equation was Baylor Garland itself. Friends on the hospital board reported that despite the phenomenal growth of Hope Clinic, the problems at the hospital did not stop but continued to grow. This was seen in the growing number of people unable to pay for the hospital's services. In recent years the hospital's uncollected debt has risen from 5 percent to 16.5 percent—frightful statistics for any business. Some are reporting the loss to have reached as much as $20 million a year.

Simultaneously our nation was going through the upheaval in the medical community nationwide, thanks to Obamacare, the Republican rebellion against it, and related issues, such as the Great Recession and its aftermath. 

Without Baylor Garland's support, can Garland's Hope Clinic provide for the city's 27 percent uninsured and 4 percent living below the poverty level? That won't be easy.
And the rumors—oh, the stories we were hearing—in the doctors' offices surrounding the hospital and elsewhere in the city! Could our city's leaders and average citizens and voters have missed them? One physician told us he would not do any referrals for tests to Baylor Garland. He was fed up with the hospital located across the street from his practice. Every time we would visit the Baylor medical complex, more and more vacant office space was obvious at the hospital and in the surrounding medical buildings. Nurses, staff, and other medical personnel whispered that they knew the situation at the hospital and in the whole medical center was growing dire. The website, Nextdoor, lit up with rumors about the troubles at the hospital.

In downtown Garland we celebrated when Veritex Bank, situated southeast across the street from the hospital, purchased the property bounded by North 11th Street, Main Street, 10th Street, and State Street, to build its new beautiful facility to relocate in our neighborhood. At the same time we knew that was just another nail in the coffin for the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at Garland complex.

And then came the announcement earlier this year that Baylor Scott & White had put the hospital up for sale. The Dallas Morning News ran the story. Rumors circulated wildly and widely.

At that time one knowledgeable source close to the situation told me that shortly before hospital President Tennery retired on February 1 and before Baylor Scott & White put the hospital up for sale in early March that key Garland leaders met with Tennery and other hospital management and were told that a real possibility existed that the hospital might have to close, if a buyer could not be found. 

Simultaneously cheery optimism also made the rounds among many in the city's establishment about at least four entities vying to purchase it. Some even smugly said they knew which entity it would be. That frankly seemed a little illogical to me, since the overall Baylor system is wealthy and filled with talented people who should have been able to find the right formula for the hospital's future. Why would four other entities, some identified as groups of medical professionals, be willing to take on the challenge when the Great Baylor had failed?

Garland City Council finally put the hospital on its public agenda for May 1 of this year. When the hospital representatives failed to show up for the meeting (a rare occurrence) to give their report, council seemed surprised but were obliged to move on to the next agenda item. I wondered why no council member later publicly pressed to insist to know where the hospital representatives had been and why they went AWOL—and to schedule them on the agenda again promptly!

Sleepy little Garland (the 12th-largest city in Texas and 87th in the U.S.) seemed to be nodding off as yet another earthquake was ready to rattle our windows!

Several days before the official announcement last week, a hospital board member told me privately that a solution had been reached. It sounded as though he was saying a sale had been negotiated, but he was adamant that he would say no more. His body language told me the situation wasn't good. His uneasiness led me to sense that at best it would be a partial sale, perhaps of only the hospital's emergency room.

Now, as we all know, Garland's third largest employer—after the school district and city—will close at the end of February. The fallout will be significant, particularly on the south side and central portions of the city.

The postmortem has begun. The "Why-didn't-we's?" are already flying on Facebook, on websites, and everywhere you look right now. And the pragmatists among us are already counting the emergency clinics and other medical facilities still available in the immediate area and hoping—and praying—for the best.

At the heart of the issue lies some of the same old issues that have plagued our city for decades:
1. secrecy,
2. failure to face reality quickly, and
3. the ever-requisite "positive" spin on whatever is happening regardless of how negative its impact might be.

Ever heard of the expression, "you can't cure the problem until you know there is a problem"? I've heard it stated a dozen different ways, but all means the same thing: You've got to know what the problem is in order to fix it.

Like the proverbial "elephant in the living room" many seemed to know that the hospital was in deep, deep trouble, but no one seemed to want to talk publicly about it—at least beyond a few sparse words and occasional comments on social media.

Instead of allowing the hospital to just slowly die over the past five years—covered over with unrealistic optimistic rumors until the bitter end—the public needed to know early on in clear and certain terms that the problem was real and that unless a real solution could be found, the south and central parts of Garland would once again take another powerful blow to its mid-section.

No, the City of Garland doesn't have enough money to bail out an institution like Baylor Garland, especially after the Baylor Scott & White empire ruled it a financial failure. I am not—and would not—suggest that. The time for solutions to "fix" the hospital is over. The window of opportunity has long passed.

Now we once again have to pick up the pieces and move on! Like the long-empty Hypermart, the soon-to-be-empty buildings at and surrounding Baylor Scott & White Medical Center at Garland will remind us once again for a long time that we MUST face reality directly and quickly—despite how bad it might feel at the moment.

I was delighted to see the information released Monday by the City of Garland that the city will work to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone in the hospital area to stimulate redevelopment. That process will involve a public hearing and an ordinance, which will take time to roll out. However, the socio-economic problems that caused the issues at the dying hospital still remain. 

Barbara Burton, left, one of Garland's most powerful fundraisers, helped lift Hope Clinic to its current status as the leading provider for Garland's uninsured residents. Kay and I were pictured with Barbara a year ago in front of plaques acknowledging the clinic's leading donors. Will that donor base be sufficient with Baylor Garland Hospital gone?
A corollary to this story is, can Hope Clinic survive without Baylor Garland? Hopefully yes. The clinic has attracted some of the best minds and best donors in the city.

But at the same level? With the same financial strength? Let us all hope that it can. Without that lifeboat, our huge uninsured and poverty-level population will face an even bleaker future.

Meanwhile, Garland continues on its road to a "Tale of Two Cities" divided by a east-west line mostly along approximately Belt Line, with the wealthier population to the north and the poorer population mostly to the south.

Until we address that dividing line head-on and roll up our sleeves and go to work to eliminate the problems it creates, other earthquakes will rattle our windows again! Will we be alert and ready to act quicker next time?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Think 'Dynasty'—Garland's political system needs radical overhaul opening elections and participation processes to ALL voters—not just the chosen few

Garland's City Council was never designed to be a self-perpetuating board, yet its failure to work to widen the tent to encourage ALL voters to participate in elections leaves it susceptible to dynasty building. Pictured here is the council in 2014.

Even though Garland's City Council members have term limits, the most politically ambitious among them sometimes find ways to extend their political influence long after they are off the dais.

That does not necessarily mean that they run for mayor or another public office either.

One such way is to recruit—then mentor—a successor for their council seat (or mayoral seat). The recruit then often feels compelled to perpetuate the former councilmember's legacy, agenda, pet projects, and special interests.

I call this dynasty-building. The incumbent doesn't really leave office but instead welcomes a successor who the incumbent then tries to control or maneuver—once again robbing the voters of their right to choose candidates freely and fairly.

The action gives the appearance of a self-perpetuating board of directors rather than a democratically elected body representing a large population.

It's one more way our city government is set up to suppress voters and keep citizens at arms-length from holding their rightful place as the real bosses/employers of the council.

Instead of allowing the political processes to work normally and in healthy ways—with qualified candidates rising to the top naturally and then squaring off against each other in a fair election—the incumbent steps into the background and tries to become a puppeteer pulling strings for his or her preferred successor.

I was reminded of this recently when one councilmember mentioned rather casually that a soon-to-be retiring councilmember was experiencing difficulty recruiting a candidate as a successor.

Why, I immediately wondered, does that incumbent councilmember need to become concerned with this matter? Shouldn't successors rise like cream from the raw milk of voter rolls? Why is this considered a prerogative of a sitting council-seatholder?

With so much apathy among Garland voters, this little two-step recruitment dance often goes unnoticed.

I was an eyewitness to this dynasty-building operation back in 2012.

More than six years ago, then-District 2 City Councilmember Laura "Perky" Cox wanted me to run for her council seat, once she termed out.

Perky was the councilmember who first appointed me to the Plan Commission nearly 12 years ago.

I was honored to be appointed by her to the Plan Commission and doubly honored that Perky wanted me to succeed her as the councilmember for District 2.

Deep in my heart, however, I didn't believe running for council at that time (2012) was right for me. I knew I had much work to do in my own neighborhood, which was suffering greatly from numerous issues that required serious attention from the city and school district. (As bad as things were then, we didn't know whether we would even be able to continue to live in District 2.) I was concerned I, as a councilmember, might run into some conflicts of interest with the city on some of those matters, so I took the ethical route and bowed out of running for office.

I also wondered whether Perky, a lawyer with an impressive resume and a commanding personality, would have a difficult time allowing me to steer an independent course—letting me be my own person on council.

Anyone who knows me quickly learns that I'm my own person. I make up my own mind about issues, people, and events. I am happy to have all the facts placed on the table. I am eager to hear other people's opinions. I seldom make snap judgments. In fact, I make it a habit—and encourage others to do so—to gain as much information on a topic as I can before I make up my mind and express an opinion. It's fine with me if other people don't agree with me, and I respect them for that.

I've been on dozens of public and private boards at the local, state, national, and international level. Those boards span the horizon from journalism to banking to religion to secular non-profits. My experience has been broad-based and has reached far beyond Garland. My peers on all those boards quickly learn my independent streak. In other words, peer pressure doesn't sway me much at all. I would never fit into a power bloc or clique on any board. I'm not a "party" person. I don't vote along "party lines". After being fully informed, I vote my conscience and what I believe to be right.

And if I discover by acquiring additional accurate information that I'm wrong, I'm always willing to back up and make a quick u-turn to put me back on the track I feel is best. I've demonstrated this on Plan Commission again and again.

I've had lots and lots of practice with that style over the years through many opportunities. And I am very comfortable with it.


But I also am loyal, so while I said "no" to Perky about running to succeed her, I also pledged to support whatever candidate she leaned toward in the election. I owed Perky a lot for introducing me to Garland city government—after my first mentor, Ed Jackson, introduced me to Perky. I didn't want to disappoint her, but I made the decision that I knew was right for me and for the City of Garland.

She strongly backed Eric Redish, a young man whose credentials at first seemed impressive.

Eric had some things about him that current District 2 Councilmember Anita Goebel and her supporters quickly seized on and threw at him with a hurricane force.

I never actually met Eric, though Kay and I contributed money to his campaign and put his signs in our yard. When Anita stopped by our home to ask for our support for her campaign, we told her it was nothing personal against her, that we liked her, but that we must decline. We told her we are people of our word and we had given our word to Perky that we would support her candidate. We were determined to honor our word. We are not like some local, state, and national politicos who change their commitments with every wind that blows by.

I watched as Perky worked herself tirelessly to get Eric elected. She and her family members went door-to-door in District 2 at an exhausting pace.

Perky's diligent work nearly paid off. Eric came within only five votes of winning the general election. Had only three people switched sides in the May 2012 General Election, Perky's candidate, Eric Redish, would be in the seat Anita Goebel now occupies and which is the center of so much controversy.

I sometimes wondered whether Perky wanted Eric to be elected more than Eric, deep down, wanted to be elected.

A few days before the General Election in 2012 Perky arrived at our home for a meeting in which she was for the first time to introduce Eric to Kay and me. The clock ticked by for hours as we waited for Eric to arrive.

Morning turned to lunchtime. No Eric. Lunchtime turned to mid-afternoon. And still no Eric. Kay even wrote another check to Eric's campaign, thinking that was the reason for Perky's extended stay.

We sensed something could be dreadfully wrong.

A few days later came the cliffhanger election in which Eric barely lost—and then the explosion that changed District 2 forever. After the election results were in, Eric made it quite clear that he did not want the incumbent councilmember, Perky, so heavily involved in his campaign any longer.

While my heart took note admirably of his independence, my mind said that Eric had made a questionable political blunder by his choice of words and timing.

Perky backed off from the runoff election. We took down our Eric Redish signs and waited to see would happen next.

Much to everyone's surprise except ours, Anita Goebel won the run-off election by 51 votes. (2012 general election results: Eric Redish 300 votes; Anita Goebel 269; Arlene Beasley 39; Redish lost by 5 votes. In the runoff, Goebel 282 and Redish 231; Goebel won by 51 votes.)


For the next two election cycles (2014 and 2016) Anita never drew an opponent, so no election occurred and she was re-elected unanimously by city council. We did, however, promise to support her each time, if she did have an opponent, even offering to hold a fundraising event in our home.

Eventually Eric left Garland, and I started thinking about what lessons were to be learned by that experience.

I began to realize how unwise it is for incumbent city councilmembers and mayors to try to influence who their successors should be—to create a de facto dynasty whereby the incumbent is able to vicariously extend his or her term "in office".  

There's nothing wrong with councilmembers or mayors having personal preferences about who they'd like to see in office; after all, they are voters in their district, too. And there's nothing wrong with a councilmember's cordially answering questions from would-be successors who might want to throw their hat in the ring.

But as I've said in other blogs, Garland's political system is set up to be very, very biased toward incumbents. Once in office, an incumbent city councilmember or mayor has lots of means at his or her disposal to further his or her grip on future city elections. This is another subtle way Garland city politics operate to keep elections few and interested voters and candidates even fewer—and at arm's length.

The deck is stacked against a newcomer to city politics, unless that person has the backing of the incumbent in that office or from some other very powerful person in the community.

Nationally, the public is crying out loudly against such an incumbent-favored, power-broker-laden system. "Term limits" is only a part of the war cry we are hearing.

Rigged elections and favoring incumbents or their anointed is one of many concerns I have about our current city charter and the careless way it has not been updated in a decade.

Just this week we've learned how outdated our city charter is on a number of other issues, including a recall petition. What the charter says about recall elections is trumped by newer Texas legislation, which itself favors incumbents. What a mess! And why wasn't this confusion straightened up years ago? With the state seemingly on the offensive against its larger cities, our charter needs to be reviewed and revised any time the Texas Legislature meets and adopts anything that changes the actual wording or meaning in our charter.

Because of the lax way the city has managed its charter for the last decade, Councilmember Goebel, the subject of the current recall petition, gets to stay in office until May when the next election under Texas law can be held—and also which coincides with when she terms out as a city councilmember. Regardless how many signatures are on the recall petitions—currently more than three times the number of votes that propelled her into office—her decision to resign effective May 5, 2018, means she gets to stay put and finish her third and final term.

While some have erroneously tried to cast the recall position (spearheaded mainly by women) as an anti-woman effort, the root of the rebellion was discontent in her district and among some of her original supporters. She also already had voters in her district upset with her for a variety of issues—failure to return phone calls and answer emails, failure to respond to their concerns in a professional manner, failure to support all neighborhoods, and being too heavily influenced by people who don't live or vote in District 2.

So what good is the recall petition wording in the city charter except to frustrate voters and protect incumbents?

I've already written about how the charter is written to favor incumbent city councilmembers by forcing potential opponents off boards and commissions—to stifle potential candidates and the need for city elections. City Council meetings this week pointed out how ineffective and outdated the recall-election language in the city charter is.

Now I'm beginning to understand how the system is set up so that incumbents get to choose their own successors, too—like a self-perpetuating board of directors. Nothing in the charter prevents them from doing that.

In addition, guess who gets to call a "charter review committee" and decide which nine members get to sit on it? Any changes that committee proposes can't go to the voters unless city council gives its approval. In other words, before any changes to the charter can go to the voters, the incumbent city council members get to decide what the citizens will be able to vote on. Ever heard of the expression, "the fox guarding the hen-house door"?

Nothing about Garland city government surprises me anymore. The system needs a radical overhaul opening up the election and participation processes to ALL citizens—not just the chosen few who are mostly whites with a sprinkling of nonwhites.

As one leading community leader said to me at a recent Christmas party, "I can't believe a person can get elected to city council in this city with just 200 to 300 votes." That's sad but true and not just in District 2 either!

For a city of 237,000 citizens, with some 88,000 voters living in eight city council districts, the tiny number needed to win is truly astounding! The 281 votes Anita received was about 2.5% of all the voters in her district. Actually it's rather frightening that so many citizens care so little about our local government that they don't bother to get involved or vote. 

Unfortunately, many of our local politicians would just as soon leave it that way and do nothing to change it. I was lectured recently by a city politico who claimed that Garland's large Hispanic community doesn't vote in elections, and anyone running for office should ignore them. I don't believe that. Rather than be persuaded to accept that myth, I saw that comment as a call to arms to figure out ways to make sure ALL CITIZENS are assured of their right to vote and are encouraged to vote and participate in our government.

Also regretfully, the charter does not allow for a "constitutional convention" like our U.S. constitution does. Otherwise, I would recommend it.

Only an effective mayor and council members with hearts for true reform and ALL CITIZENS will resolve the damaging issues that are mounting day by day in the City of Garland!

(graphics represent sample political signage)