Nobody should be too surprised at the outcome of the election, wherein all incumbents, including three of the four members of the self-proclaimed “Conservative” team, “won” re-election. I capitalize and put “Conservative” in quotation marks because that is the name the team chose to call itself. In fact, everybody running for office was relatively conservative, although some were more so than others. I put “won” in quotation marks to question whether those who got the most votes and will therefore be duly sworn into office really won, given the constraints under which they must govern for the next two years.
The “Conservatives” ran a good campaign. They were well-organized and well-coordinated. They had more yard signs, more mailings, and more endorsements in both The Flash and the “newspaper.” Some have criticized the “Conservatives” for their team effort, claiming that they violated the spirit of the city election law, which requires everyone to run as an independent and without party affiliation. But this criticism makes no sense. What the “conservatives” did was perfectly legal, and obviously effective. It’s irrational to demand or expect candidates for office to abstain from tactics that are not only legal, but work.
But now comes the hard part: Governing.
Governing under any circumstances will be hard, especially for those council members who take their responsibilities seriously, and I know nobody on the city council who is less than 100% serious about doing his or her best for the citizens. The problem is working within the limits imposed by state law and voter expectations.
State law requires the city to balance its budget, and determines the types of taxes and tax rates the city may levy. This is fundamentally good since it prevents the sort of irresponsible fiscal policies which have led to massive deficits and debt at the national level, or could lead to confiscatory taxation and the economic ruination of the taxed. Yet it also limits the degree to which the city can raise funds for necessary projects as well.
Moreover, the “Conservatives” won by promising what are commonly considered conservative fiscal policies, including lower taxes and a healthy skepticism towards expanding old projects and launching new ones, such as the prospective events center. Again, so far, so good. One hopes they’ll show their conservative colors by making certain the events center is financed by private means, and, preferably, by private enterprise. There should be no public financing of an events center except through bonds approved by the voters in a special bond election—a point on which everyone, whether or not he’s a “Conservative,” seems to agree, for now. And while they’re at it, the “Conservatives” on the council should work to eliminate the economic development “grants” and tax breaks (aka “corporate welfare”) and channel all eco/devo funds into infrastructure projects that will benefit everyone, and not just the favored few.
Of course, one must also wonder how the “Conservatives” and the others on the council will finance much-needed programs—road construction and repair, sewer extension and maintenance, water production, police and fire protection, etc., etc., especially if the costs of these programs goes up—and it’s frequently the case that the longer one puts off spending on solving a particular problem, the more one ultimately have to spend anyway. “A stitch in time saves nine” may be a timeworn cliché, yet it is no less true for being widely quoted. For now, the council is in luck: An expanding economy and rising property values should supply sufficient funds in the near term to at least maintain existing programs and services. But what if the cost of maintaining current programs and launching necessary new programs begins to rise faster than then the economy can supply needed revenue? Or what if the economy goes into a recession? What’s Plan B? What taxes will be raised, or programs scrapped or deferred? It’s then than the city council will really have to earn its pay, and its members begin to wonder whether they really won, or lost. But for the meantime, congratulations or condolences to everyone who ran in this year’s city council election. Whether you consider yourselves winners or losers in the recent election, you’re all winners in life.
By the way, I was sorry to learn that Jerry Warren has apparently decided to resign his city council seat. He and I were on opposite sides of the 2014 election which brought him to the council and ushered me off. But I appreciated his candor when he admitted that the implementation of Prop 1 in 2015 would have, contrary to what its propagandists claimed, costs as well as benefits. And although he and I differed on what the property tax rate should be, I admired his integrity and fidelity to principle in maintaining, after his election, that the tax rate should be returned to 48.5 cents, as he had demanded before the election: It is one thing to promise to cut taxes, it is an altogether different thing to work to keep one’s promises. So should Jerry Warren leave, he has my thanks for his service, and should have the gratitude of everyone who appreciates honesty, integrity, and straight talk in government.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.