Laboratories of democracy

My messy local government spat over tax policy, debt, and voters' rights is still evolving.  To my amazement, the relatively non-functional county government managed to get its act together in time to put our proposed bond on the November ballot by the August 17 deadline, thus ensuring that (if we win voter approval) we can borrow our funds by early 2021 and not blow the construction schedule for our new courthouse or imperil our partial grant funding.

Meanwhile, the comparatively transparent and orderly city government simply didn't.  They'd just witnessed a rapid and successful petition effort to force an election on the county's separate $20MM bond proposal to build a courthouse.  The city was using the same negative-notice bond proposal statute to attempt to borrow its own $20MM for a city hall without an election.  The petitioners moved off their county bond triumph to mount a petition drive on the city bond.  It was obvious they would quickly succeed--it took only one weekend--but their deadline for presenting the petition was the day after the deadline for putting the city bond on the ballot.  The city, which should have taken the same pre-emptive action the county took, simply missed its deadline to put the city bond on the November ballot.  Denial?  Fury?  Distraction?  Inability to escape the bubble of their like-minded friends?  I really don't get it.  They're usually pretty sober.  Now the city has to wait until next May for an election to approve its bond, if they don't abandon the bond effort completely.  This is disastrous for the city but not an overwhelming problem for the petitioners.  It makes no sense.

Meanwhile, as we all gear up for a November election on the county bond, both the county and the city boosters seem to want to continue to spend time complaining about those deplorable voters who exercised their right to demand an election.  Why, oh why, did they demand it at the last minute?  Why didn't they get comfortable with the proposed bonds, as the government leaders vaguely hoped they would, though without troubling themselves to inform or convince anyone that $40 million in debt was a fine idea?  I find myself having to say repeatedly that the city and the county had complete control over their own schedules for when to publish the twin 45-day notices of intent to borrow without an election, both of which were always and by statute subject to the right of voters to petition for an election.  The voters could not force the city or county to publish the notices weeks or months earlier, but I cannot find any reason why the city or county couldn't have done so.  The numbers may not have been crystal clear last spring, but they're not crystal clear now, either.  You pick the best number you can and try to borrow that, explaining to the public as best you can why it's the right number.  What is the difficulty here?

There is also continued grousing over the idea that 5% of voters can override the presumptive will of most voters to approve these wonderful bonds.  My own view:  the alternative is to let 5 people control the bond decision for the entire city full of voters, and another 5 people control the bond decision for the entire county full of voters.  At least this way, all the voters will get a chance to decide how wonderful the bonds are.

Did either the county or the city leadership deliberately wait until the last minute?  I can't think why they would, but I guess it's possible.  They're not talking.  They're just resentful it didn't work.  I understand the resentment, in a way, but I'll be darned if I can understand why they think it's a good idea to keep talking about the resentment when what they really need is to win a vote on the bonds.  They should be falling all over themselves to congratulate the voters on their franchise rights, and working hard to give them good facts and arguments in favor of the bonds.  Instead, they're up to their usual strategies of fighting transparency with a bitter determination born of the conviction that it's simply wrong to distrust them and joggle their expert elbows.  Monday's Commissioners Court meeting was practically a morality play entitled "what local government officials act like when you presume to ask questions and they despise you for it."


Aggie said...

What was it that Snidely Whiplash used to say? "Curses, Foiled Again!"

Even the evil villians get to complain.

E Hines said...

I have to ask: how many of these worthies--on either the city or the county governing bodies--are long-term incumbents?

I already know you're not one of the priesthood, you're still a member of the unwashed peasantry.

Separately, keep your head down, and stay above water. Simultaneously.

Eric Hines

Anonymous said...

Up here, the city has four huge bonds already passed, one without letting people vote (did it in April while having semi-open meetings on-line). Now they want another large bond, plus extend their terms to four years and reduce how often the city commission meets. I'm OK with them meeting every other week instead of every week, but there's no way in [words I won't sully this nice blog with]I'll vote for the commission members to have four years instead of two.


Texan99 said...

LittleRed, be sure your neighbors are aware that they can force an election on a "continuing obligation" bond by presenting the governing body with a petition signed by 5% of qualified local voters by the deadline stated in the notice of intent to borrow, which should be 45 days after initial publication. Publication should be in the local papers, but must also be on the governmental entities' website if it maintains one.

Texan99 said...

Eric, the current Commissioners Court has four members with about 12 years of seniority, and me, the newcomer. The City is less ossified, but three of its members either were appointed to serve out other people's terms, or ran unopposed.

LR, I forgot for a moment I wasn't talking to a Texas resident--at least I think you're not?