Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Should We Call You "Boss Miller"?????

Miller to make strong-mayor bid Plan would strengthen office, but it's no cinch to make ballot
11:36 PM CST on Tuesday, November 16, 2004
By EMILY RAMSHAW / The Dallas Morning News

"Dallas Mayor Laura Miller will try to win support from a divided City Council today for her proposal to create a strong mayor form of government – including charter amendments that would give the top elected official the ability to hire and fire the city manager and prepare the city budget.

But Ms. Miller's long-anticipated, carefully crafted plan – already a hard sell to council members and the public – has more competition than the mayor bargained for.

Even if the proposal is embraced by elected officials, it must battle for a spot on the May ballot with a Dallas council candidate's petition to increase mayoral strength by eliminating the city manager.

Under state law, competing or contradictory referendums can't be placed on the same ballot. And while the mayor's proposed amendments have yet to receive the needed council support, Beth Ann Blackwood, the District 14 council candidate leading the grass-roots charge for a strong mayor form of government, has said she's well on her way to collecting 20,000 signatures to bring the issue before voters.

"I didn't see the petition drive coming – I wish I'd brought ... [the amendments] up earlier," Ms. Miller said. "If the signatures are submitted and get clearance, we have a big problem."

But some city officials say the mayor's proposal doesn't have the council support it needs to reach the May ballot. And they say recent race-related disputes in the council chambers haven't set the stage for open-minded discussion.

"To the extent that it will bring an emotionally, politically charged issue at a time we're trying to get on one accord – I see it as a real major distraction," Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill said. "And frankly, a discussion at this point is somewhat of a complication for the city manager search."

The mayor said she's optimistic today's discussion will be "intelligent" and "without fuss." And she said polls show the public is interested in having a stronger mayor at Dallas' helm, as opposed to shared authority between the mayor and the city manager.

"It's very difficult for a city manager in a city the size of Dallas to report to 15 masters," she said.

The mayor on Tuesday distributed two lists of charter amendment recommendations to her colleagues – one for a strong mayor form of government, and a second, less severe alternative.

Under Ms. Miller's priority list, the mayor would have the authority to hire and fire the city manager, the city attorney and the chief financial officer, and to prepare the annual city budget. The mayor and City Council members would hire and fire their own staffs – something the city manager currently does. And the mayor's salary would double to $120,000 a year, while council members would receive $60,000 a year, up from $37,500.

"Council members work virtually full time," Ms. Miller said of the pay raise. "It will open the door to additional people running." [that's one way to get a raise]

Ms. Miller's second alternative includes the salary increases and allows the mayor to hire and fire the city manager. The city manager would still prepare the annual budget, but the mayor would have line-item veto power over the budget that could be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the council.

The mayor said she's willing to have the charter changes go into effect in 2007 or 2011, once her term has ended. [yeah, right]

. . .

In 2003, the city's Charter Review Commission recommended maintaining the city manager-city council style of government. Last summer, a consulting firm supported that recommendation. But David Laney, a Dallas attorney and former commission chairman, said he doesn't think it's wise for the city to remain on its current path.

"Structurally, it is anemic, and vulnerable from a number of standpoints," he said. "There is an enormous disconnect between the voters who select somebody and the result."

[emphasis added]

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