A friend and former Amarillo city commissioner posed a simple question at lunch the other day: “How do you think Paul Harpole is doing as mayor?”
Hmmm, I thought about it for just a second.
Then I wondered aloud, what precisely does the mayor do? Not just this mayor, but anyone who occupies that office.
I’ve been thinking about that ever since — and about whether our municipal voting plan produces the kind of government that entices large numbers of qualified individuals to run for municipal office every other year.
The answer to my friend’s question went something like this: The mayor’s office is basically a symbolic one. The mayor has no real power. He represents the same constituency as the other four City Council members; they’re all co-equal. The council relies on a well-compensated and competent staff, led by the city manager, to do all the heavy lifting; they prepare the budgets and make administrative decisions all across the board. The council sets policy with its votes and then instructs the staff to carry them out.
That was a long-winded way of telling my friend that the mayor — who I happen to like and respect very much, by the way — hasn’t done enough for me or anyone else to really make a solid assessment of the job he’s doing.
We pay these individuals $10 per meeting. That’s it, plus some reimbursement for expenses they might incur while representing the city, say, by attending some seminar or business-recruitment outing.
I am circling back to another idea I posited on this blog some months ago about some rethinking I had been doing about the city’s at-large voting plan. We elect all five governing council members from the same citywide voting pool. Why not expand the council’s numbers by two, elect one or two council members at-large and divide the city into three or four voting precincts from which we could elect the rest of the City Council?
At this point, I’m no longer totally opposed to the notion of creating an all single-member district council, with just the mayor being elected citywide.
The city’s population is on the brink of hitting the 200,000 mark. It’s becoming increasingly diverse ethnically and racially. It has become something of a haven for immigrants who leave their homeland and find their way to Texas.
The time might be at hand to consider a serious reshaping of our municipal government structure. We could create one that allows for some diversity on a governing body that represents the population it represents. We could give the mayor some actual clout by allowing him or her to represent the largest pool of residents. Perhaps we could actually pay these individuals more than coffee money for the service they perform on our behalf. We also might consider giving them some oversight over departments within the city and enable them to have some actual influence to ensure the policies are being carried out in accordance with City Council members’ wishes.
Maybe one day when someone asks me how the mayor’s doing, I can respond with a meaningful answer.
What are your thoughts? I’m all ears.