There’s no doubt about it—the citizens of Stephenville wanted Prop 1 and a new direction for economic development, and they expressed their demand in the purest, cleanest, most democratic way possible in politics—through a free election. No decision in politics should be taken more seriously or implemented more vigorously than one made by the voters in an actual election to adopt a constitutionally sanctioned course of action.
Yet the announcement by the local “newspaper” that the city council had selected the first seven members to serve on the board of directors for the newly-created Economic Development Authority (or Corporation—I’ve seen both “Authority” and “Corporation” used) revives questions about claims made by Prop 1’s supporters. For example, one of the questions I raised during the campaign was how the creation of a new appointed board, would, as their propaganda put it, “give Stephenville citizens the voice they deserve” in the planning and implementation of policies to spend more taxpayers’ dollars on economic development. I’ve always believed that the best way to give people more control over money is to give them more money—in this instance, through tax cuts. Obviously the overwhelming majority of voters thought my idea bad, and resoundingly rejected it at the polls.
But what revives the question (in my mind, at least), is the composition of the new board of directors. At least one lives outside the city limits, and possibly more. I’ve been told that the law allows for the appointment of non-residents, that non-residents with business interests within the city should be allowed to serve, and that no illegality or subterfuge is involved. I’m not going to argue otherwise. Yet I still wonder how appointing those who do not live in Stephenville to a board which will help determine the expenditure of Stephenville taxes will “give Stephenville citizens the voice they deserve.” Was the city council unable to find seven citizens who actually live in Stephenville who were able and willing to serve on this new board?
Another question concerns how, as the propaganda put it, “citizens of Stephenville will not only have a strong voice for how their tax dollars are spent, but also a strong system of checks and balances within city government.” But how can there be checks and balances between the city council and the board it appoints? (Fun fact: At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the delegates, who wanted to design a system of checks and balances among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, considered having the president elected by the Congress, but ultimately rejected that idea because they did not believe that someone appointed by another group could check and balance those who appointed him.)
The fact that the board is to be appointed by the city council is enough to convince one that checks and balances will not be in place, but the identities of the actual board members is another giveaway. Among the names on the list of board members, I recognized several who had ardently supported the election of the Mayor and his allies, and none who had supported any other candidates. Nothing illegal or irrational about this—it is only natural that elected officials, whether, Democrats, Republicans, independents, or whatever, appoint their allies to office. Nonetheless, what we have here is not checks and balances, but politics as usual.
Whether this will produce good or bad economic development policies remains to be seen. Since the board has not yet had the time to propose new policies, neither criticism nor praise is justified at this time. But the propagandists have argued that one of the best ways to promote economic development is to spend more money on infrastructure, and here they’re exactly correct. If the city council and its new economic development board do what the propagandists recommend and emphasize infrastructure, Stephenville will indeed prosper, and Prop 1 will be a resounding success. So the biggest question of all is: Will they?
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.