Friday, August 28, 2009

Some Things Come With the Job - Like Showing Up

I'm going to have a little trouble writing this post. I may fumble it a little, so forgive me where necessary and be sensitive to the intent.

Criticizing local black politicians doesn't come easy for me. At least not publicly. One reason is because Dallas' history of black city councilpersons is historically brief. I'm old enough to remember George Allen, the first African-American to serve on the council - it was 1969. And, what is most unfortunate, I could actually take the time and name all of the black Dallasites who have served on the council since then. So, I, like many others who have given some leadership in the African-American community, have been slow to publicly offer much in the way of criticism or critique. Some would say that's more excuse than reason...if you say so, I take the, uh, criticism (or critique).

So here goes...

Why would anyone go through all of the trouble of running for office AND reelection and complain about having a rule stating you have to sit through at least half of that meeting in order to get paid for the full session?!

Are you serious?

Now council persons only make around $37,000 a year. A mere pittance I know. But this is not like you win the election and then get told how much the job pays. As far as I know, no one is actually drafted to run - this isn't the armed services. You actually ask for the position.

Here's the deal: The mayor of Dallas, Tom Leppert, is instituting the above stated rule. And four of the 15 council persons (I'm including the mayor) actually voted against it!

Excuse me?

That's bad enough - but the comments of one council member, Carolyn Davis, who happens to be African-American, are particularly troubling: "An angry Davis said the new rule could interfere with personal business like picking up her daughter from school."

""I feel like I'm in a strong mayor form of government. It's wrong. It's just wrong. It's absolutely wrong," she said.""

Now aside from being weary of family being the default position by which one shuts down all criticism and vigorous argument; most parents I know people who have had (or have) work schedules where they have to make arrangements to take children to school or pick them up. There are any number of parents who do, indeed experience pangs of guilt because they can't see their children off to school or be at home when they get out. But we live a 24 hour society and virtually all of us do what we have to do given our resources.

But Dallas' city council convenes once a week August of one year through June of the next. Council members do have busy schedules otherwise. But they have a little adhered to rule that states they only have to have a 10% attendance at committee meetings (apparently excluding regular council meetings). And now, the requirement to be present for only half of a council meeting. On Wednesdays. For eleven months. For a position for which you've campaigned. To represent the people who've placed their trust in you.

I don't get it.

Here's the source of my angst. The area Ms. Davis represents includes areas that are in crisis. Those areas are in dire need of economic redevelopment, code enforcement, increased safety, jobs, homelessness, services for the elderly, housing, jobs. It has areas of concentrated poverty and has been designated an environmental justice community. Its amazing that whomever represents that district doesn't have a cot at city hall! She's quibbling about a rule that says you need to stay for half a meeting?!

I don't get it.

I almost always bristle when friends, relatives tell me that Dallas is 'behind the times'. But part of the reason for that is because I know it to be true.

African-American city council members in the past had tough challenges. Indeed, fighting racism on the council and off the council. Fighting to demonstrate their competency and being taken seriously - carrying the burden of being 'the first', knowing that how they carried themselves would impact how those who followed would be received.

Don't get me wrong. We had our share of revolutionaries and flame throwers. They were activists whose antics infuriated and frightened white people, they ennobled some blacks and embarrassed some others. But given that time in our history they were just what we needed. They voiced our frustrations and demanded respect for us.

Today is different. We need serious people. We need politicians who will develop a degree of sophistication that will earn them respect that can be leveraged to make our communities healthy. We need politicians who are visionaries, who understand the critical nature of the transformation of these neglected communities to the health and well being of Dallas as a whole.
We don't just need those who voice frustration. There are people in those neighborhoods who are want to make a difference - they need someone to represent them in the halls of government that has the ambition to make history. We need politicians who will organize and prepare citizens to understand what they can expect from government and show them how to work to get that. We need politicians who will talk about what they can do with their constituency - not how hard the job is and what's not possible.

Ms. Davis' attitude and her comments are unfortunate. Really. It shows a lack of understanding of the significance of the office she holds. Many of us have jobs that allow us to take certain liberties. Many of us take more of those liberties than we should. But few of us would ask for a promotion and then complain that the demands of the job we ask for don't allow us to take those liberties anymore.

Some things just come with job. Like responsibility.

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