Shining a light on the council raises more questions

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The stories published by The Flash Today have offered readers invaluable insights into how the current Stephenville City Council is (mis)functioning.  These insights offer great benefits to the readers, yet also hint at potential costs to good governance.

The greatest benefit is the greater knowledge of day-to-day operations that The Flash Today’s stories offer readers.  Several council members, with unprecedented openness, have provided reports and emails on executive sessions, wherein much deliberation and decision-making have been conducted.  The Empire-Tribune quite reasonably asked why there were more executive sessions from which the public was usually excluded, and The Flash Today has effectively brought the public back into the loop.

Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

Moreover, The Flash Today has provided the public with questions which could, and should, be raised, in the upcoming city council elections, such as:

  • Was the process by which the dismissed Director of Planning and Building hired hopelessly compromised by incompetent hiring procedures, especially the possibly incomplete vetting of her job history, as discussed in this column last week?
  • If she was doing so poor a job that she had to be fired, why has she even been reconsidered at all for another position or consultancy;
  • If she was good enough to be considered for additional service, why should she have been fired in the first place?
  • How will all this affect the development and implementation of the current city council’s signature policy, economic development?

And let’s not forget the tantalizing rumors raised by the stories concerning a possible run by her for local office.  This idea is actually quite plausible.  She obviously has knowledge, experience, and a ready-made political base of supporters who protested her dismissal in the first place.  And she doesn’t even have to live in Stephenville if she doesn’t want to.  All she need do is claim a rented address as her “residence,” and legally she’ll be good to go.

But from the The Flash Today’s stories we can also infer a dark side to the entertainment the city council’s been providing us.  If participants in meetings know that what they say will be kept confidential, they’re more likely to speak with seriousness and candor, and less likely to play to audiences.  Yet, if they believe that what’s said even in private may soon be made public, will the overall quality of discussion of public policy issues decline?  Will there be less candor and serious discourse and more grandstanding, even in private?  Will animosities be fueled, and will this lead to more decision making on the basis of personalities and emotion, and less on the basis of a rational analysis of what’s good for the city as a whole?

Only time can answer these questions.  But one can always hope that good decisions can still be made despite the current turmoil.  Indeed, lost in all the hoopla is evidence of one excellent decision the city council made during the budgetary process—the decision to fully implement the pay plan unanimously adopted by the city council during my last year, whereby many employees’ salaries are to be raised to bring them into line with market conditions.  They certainly deserve these salary adjustments, and the current city council deserves full credit for making them.

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.

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