Contemplations of a Run for City Council
Posted by Mike O on January 28, 2011
As various candidates for city council come to me (as if I’m some sort of Tea Party equivalent to the Godfather- I’m not, folks!) and, with my previous dealings with the Plano Council, one significant question arises:
Is there no place for someone who is merely representing the average Taxpayer?
Each candidate I have met, many of them very good people, represents some interests that are not the norm for 80% or more of the city. A large number of them are either professionally or personally involved in local real estate (other than their domicile). Others are involved in the legal profession, often in areas dealing with the city and zoning. And these professional, financial involvements- with all of their related social networks- cannot help but influence their viewpoints and decisions. They deal vastly more day-to-day with those whose profession revolves around the city decisions than their tax statements- and not just as a councilperson.
And then there are the hoops that such candidates are expected to jump through; the ‘leadership training’, service on various volunteer committees, the Chamber lunches, and the like. Yes, educational and they establish working relationships, but also are intended to ‘mold the potential candidate, to start them down the path of ‘thinking like the rest of us’. The upside of that approach for most is far greater than the downside. The city is pretty well served by many who have gone this route.
But is the city served best if these are the only voices heard, the only experiences represented on the Council? Is the City of Plano served best by vote after vote that is 8-0 (or 7-0 because of someone’s conflict?) Is the continuing rubber-stamping of whatever passes through the City Manager’s hands really the best thing for the citizens?
There is no question that Tom Muehlenbeck has done a pretty good job overall, but questions must arise, simply because someone who has so long held the position will inevitably develop a rigidity of thought that may not see things from any perspective except the past (which- in Plano- has been filled with ever-growing economic growth and such growth can cover a LOT of managerial sins). The fact that the ‘found’ $5 million suddenly in last year’s budget cycle should have certainly caused more than offline grumbling by council members. It should have gotten people significant downwind from Tom up before the council to adequately explain this.
And, with a new City Manager in the offing, it won’t serve the City well to only hear the people shaped by the ‘Muhlenbeck’ experiences with the city, as the high-growth phases gears down somewhat through the normal lifecycle of a suburb.
I guess Ben Harris can be thanked (more likely cursed) for setting my decision in motion. I decided to visit the Council meeting on one of their more typical days. Ben came up to me and said: ‘What are you doing here? We’re not spending any money.” My response was “You’ve got the lights on, don’t you? You’re spending money.” However, while I watched the meeting and reviewed the agenda, I added up what was there and informed Ben at the end of that meeting, they had spent $1.27 million at that meeting. He was taken aback by that; it was all routine stuff, so his viewpoint was they weren’t ‘spending any money’. But that amount represented the tax payments of over 1,000 houses just like mine and need to be thought about. That is the mindset that is troubling at City Hall.
So I have the paperwork to file and I contemplate my options. Three of the four slots I am qualified to run in; let’s see where this all leads.