04/27/04 Redistricting and Other
Editor's Comments: Ruth Morgan served on the City's Redistricting
Commission. Sunday's DMN ran an Op-Ed from her in response to Belo's
report: Is Dallas on Tilt? I responded directly to Dr. Morgan and
she back to me. She has granted permission to post our discussions.
Ruth Morgan: Dallas
needs to do more than change city charter
Editorial Page: 12:04 AM CDT on Sunday,
April 25, 2004
In a city
historically obsessed by image, The Dallas Morning News
took a bold step by commissioning a
consultants' study to identify Dallas' problems and, with a team of
reporters and editors, providing a "road map for renewal."
The call to action no doubt stems
from experiences of the last decade, when city officials occasionally have
been obstacles to good governance, when citizens of all economic, racial and
social status have become disillusioned with City Hall, and when Dallas'
image as a "city that works" has lacked credibility.
Among its recommendations,
The Morning News said "it is
time to fix the city charter." It proposes to end the distracting debate
over an executive mayor vs. city manager form of government by clarifying
the roles of the mayor, the City Council and the city manager and by
creating a strategic plan to guide decisions.
The proposal to end the debate over
the form of city government is a positive step. But progress on revising the
charter will require fixing three potholes in the road to renewal: (1)
Charter changes are controlled by the City Council, (2) there is a lack of
political will to enforce the charter and (3) there are historical
disincentives for effective city planning.
Let's look at each.
First, any charter review commission
that is appointed by elected officials who have a vested interest in a
proposed change or in the status quo is doomed to only limited success.
The recent commission
illustrated that point. Its recommendations only tinkered with the structure
and powers of government. A voter initiative may be required.
Next, a fundamental problem of
governance in Dallas hasn't been omissions in the city charter but, rather,
the unabashed violation of the letter and spirit of the charter.
Good government can be restored without major changes in the city
charter by challenging the practices that have modified the functioning of
Dallas' council-manager government. Specifically, these steps need to be
? End the inbreeding at City Hall. In the last half-century, no city manager
has been appointed from outside the City Hall culture. The last nine city
managers have been appointed from within or have returned as manager after
briefly holding positions in other cities. The next city manager should be
one who opens City Hall to fresh ideas.
? Cast the spotlight of publicity on the corruption and cronyism that can
occur on issues that concern only a single council district. Council members
must stop deferring to their colleagues on zoning and budget requests. More
public knowledge of that problem could help remedy it.
? Stop council members from meddling in personnel decisions at City Hall and
involving themselves in other day-to-day operations. That may require
regularly posting reports of when individual council members make requests
of city staff.
? Address the unavailability of information and lack of transparency at City
Hall. For the study commissioned by The Morning News,
Booz Allen Hamilton had to get from other cities information that was
unavailable in Dallas. In researching a book on Dallas government, I
repeatedly ran into the problem of unavailable data. On one occasion, a city
staff member told me, "That's the way they want it."
? Halt the habit of attacking the messengers: Professional city planners and
city auditors are essential to good government.
Dallas has experienced a decline in
electoral competitiveness, an overall decline in voter turnout and a general
perception of a decline in the quality of city government. City officials,
civic and business leaders, and citizens have the power, if they have the
will, to reverse those trends.
Finally, the finding
that "Dallas still is the largest city in its peer group operating without a
strategic plan to outline where the city's going, how it's going to get
there and how it will measure success" isn't surprising.
Over the years, city planning has
flourished and ebbed in response to the priority given it by civic and
business leaders. A common thread has been the preference given to unbridled
speculative real estate development over quality-of-life considerations,
like green space, human services and environmental protection.
Nor is a call for a beefed-up city
planning staff a panacea. City staff planners in Dallas historically have
found their professional judgment in conflict with the interests of powerful
business leaders. Planning staffs can have only marginal impact without the
support of the mayor, the city manager, the media and the public.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, two city planners, James
Schroeder and Jack Schoop, tried to direct the explosive growth in Dallas.
Both lost their positions in their attempts to stop the onslaught of the
developers. Since 1982, Dallas hasn't had a strong planning voice;
professional planners have come and gone because of the inhospitable
climate. The Dallas Plan of 1994, officially adopted by the City Council,
was quickly ignored and circumvented.
A change in the city charter isn't
going to remedy the absence of strategic and long-range planning unless
countervailing forces exist to offset the business orientation toward
short-term profits. It is in the city's best interest to require and
publicize a process for public review and comment on requests for exceptions
to city plans.
Ruth P. Morgan is a professor emeritus of political
science at Southern Methodist University and the author of a just-released
book on Dallas politics, "Governance by Decree: The Impact of the Voting
Rights Act in Dallas."
agree with most of your op-ed comments, but I was shocked at your
position. It is at complete odds with your stances on theRedistricting
You had a chance to do some good
and restructure this city away from ward politics when you served on the
Commission. Instead, you participated in dissecting several important
neighborhoods in East Dallas, Oak Lawn, NW Dallas and Oak Cliff, so you
could protect what you wanted for your far North Dallas District. You
helped create the most convoluted district lines we have seen to date.
Victoria Loe-Hicks confirmed last week on Mark Davis that the study shows
the city council district shapes are problematic and are causing
disenfranchisement and disinterest among Dallas activists.
What you did on the Redistricting
Commission was as harmful (if not more) than anything one of our many
inept city managers has ever done.
I have never been more disappointed
in an elected or appointed official as I was with your complete deaf ear
to all of us begging you to protect neighborhoods before playing racial
politics. It was to be expected from some of the political hacks and
unprepared members on the Commission, but you knew exactly what you were
The lines you helped draw have
finished off any chance of a stronger NW Dallas and have created fiefdoms
in Oak Lawn and East Dallas that may be impossible to break up.
The real tragedy is that you have
the education and expertise to know better, yet you chose the wrong way.
Sharon, Thanks for
writing. I am just surprised that you are shocked--if
you listened to some of my questions and points carefully.
My views now are the ones I had when I served on the commission
and they have been my views since I was well into the research for my
book on Dallas politics, Governance by Decree.
If you will recall, I
tried my best to get the commission to accept one of the basic
principles of redistricting--not to divide precincts. The reason for
this is obvious--this was a neutral way in advance of drawing
district maps of trying to prevent gerrymandering block by block to
split neighborhoods in order to pick up minority votes. If you will
also recall, the unspoken point was not lost on the Commission or on
the Council and my motion was rejected hands down at the outset. That
was a clear signal of what was going to happen when we got to the
point of actually drawing maps.
You will also find in my book any number of instances in which I
address the issue of not dividing neighborhoods. Unfortunately, there
is no way that we are going to be able to restore primacy to
neighborhoods in redistricting--given the DOJ and court decisions--
until we have an opportunity to address issues raised by the temporal
provisions of the VRA. Furthermore, the city needs through citizen
initiative and referendum to require an independent redistricting
commission--not one on which each council member appoints a
commission member to protect incumbency and to enhance a "safe"
district. To her credit, the council member who appointed me to the
commission did not instruct me and left me to use my best judgement.
This was clearly not true of many of the others, as you could tell by
You are way off base to suggest that I participated in dissecting
important neighborhoods so that I could protect what I wanted for my
far North Dallas district. I'm not even a resident of the far North
Dallas District, but as a matter of
fairness, it did not make sense to me to devise
two more districts in the city that would have gone all
over the map, when two compact districts could be drawn.
I don't know specifically to whom
you are referring as being disenfranchised and
disinterested, but I certainly would be the first
to agree that the current districting in Dallas has negative effects
not only on elections, but also on governance and public policy. If
you are interested in reading Governance by Decree: the Impact of the
Voting Rights Act in Dallas (Kansas University Press, 2004), and want
to discuss any of my data or my conclusions, I would be pleased to do
so, as I really can't respond to your allegations when I don't know
what facts you are basing them on, except your view that the final
map unconscionably split neighborhoods, and with that I agree.
Ruth, Thanks for your reply. The
problem with your plan to consider precinct lines
is that they weren't drawn yet when the Commission was doing its work.
Any districts drawn on precinct lines would have little or no
connection to the new precinct lines.
It was not necessary to draw
districts based on race. The Supreme Court has
dealt with it. Race could be considered but was not to be the sole
justification for drawing lines. No more than the number of
telephones per household as you and your
colleagues let Joe May get away with.
You were in a position to go public
with the bad stuff that was happening. You
chose to be a team player. Old Bill Andis was so out of his league that
he appeared to be in a stupor. You could have influenced him, but
you went along to get along. You could have
worked with Corky Sherman and Rob Richmond, but
you wanted to be on the winning side rather than make a
statement that could have brought attention to the disaster looming
I would like to post your response on
Sharon, In the interest of
furthering discussion, I have no problem with your
posting my response, as long as it is posted in its entirety and not
You are correct that the precinct
lines were not drawn yet, but your response implies
decade-long permanency to precinct lines. I
have looked at changes in precinct lines since the
1970 census and they have been changed almost
every year during each decade, but the changes
citywide have been only marginal. Not
crossing precinct lines is an accepted principle
in districting--often embedded in state law.
And like many other things, districting has to be based on existing
data at a snapshot in time, and principles cannot be ignored even
though future changes--in this case in precinct lines--are