Rick Wamre: Just a few reasons to really take notice of local elections

Dallas City Hall: Photo by Hilary Schleier
Dallas City Hall: Photo by Hilary Schleier

We’re going to write about something during the next two months in print and online that most of us care little about.

Local elections. Specifically city council elections.

How do I know we don’t care?

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Generally, not much more than 20 percent of us decide it’s worth the trouble to vote in city council races. And heaven forbid there’s a council runoff election on a rainy day — then we’re looking at school board-election turnout numbers, with a few thousand voters making the decision.

We also know what happens when we write a story on our advocatemag.com daily news website about politics or education: Readers scroll on by.

Maybe a comparison would help: If we write about both a new neighborhood restaurant opening and a city council policy initiative on the same day, it’s likely that 10 or even 15 times the number of people will read the story about the restaurant.

Candidates have talked about repairing our streets since I moved to Dallas 17 city elections ago. The streets are worse today than ever, and no elected official has paid any price for promising action and then hiding the ball.

Think about that: 10 times the readership for a story about food, while only a fraction of us care about the latest shenanigans at city hall, most of which cost us a lot of money.

Just as an example, how many of us know the council will be handing about $270,000 of our tax dollars to six protestors because it voted to approve (with the exception of councilmen Griggs, Kingston, Davis and Medrano) an ordinance so illegal that a judge wrote a 62-page opinion ridiculing it?

How many of us know the Dallas Convention Center is angling for another $250 million or so in expansion money, even though it has tens of millions of dollars in outstanding debt from the last couple of expansions?

How many of us know a quasi-governmental agency has basically said that even if the city council votes to block the Trinity Toll Road, the agency may just go ahead and build the billion-plus-dollar road anyway?

And speaking of the Toll Road, how many of us have any idea how close it is to becoming a reality, even though no one — not even the mayor or council members — can honestly tell us what is going to be built and how much it’s going to cost?

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What about the horrible condition of city streets (nearly $1 billion in deferred maintenance)? Shouldn’t we be concerned about how that type of negligence will eventually affect our home or business property values, not to mention our vehicles?

During the next couple of months leading up to the May 9 elections, the candidates will be talking about whatever we as neighbors ask them, and they’ll be filling the mailboxes of the few of us identified as likely voters with mailers telling us how great they are. (If your mailbox isn’t full of candidate boasting, you’re considered an unlikely voter whose opinion doesn’t count.)

There are a lot of great things happening in Dallas these days — the economy has improved, home values are increasing, and people are finding jobs again. But in order to keep the momentum going, we need to be smart about our next moves, and we need to start reinvesting in our city’s infrastructure to benefit the people already living here, rather than spending hundreds of millions more trying to impress the people who don’t.

Candidates have talked about repairing our streets since I moved to Dallas 17 city elections ago. The streets are worse today than ever, and no elected official has paid any price for promising action and then hiding the ball.

The least we can do is make them show us the ball during the election and then keep an eye on it after they’re elected.

The three-card monte hustle needs to end one of these days, and it can end only if enough of us keep our eye on the ball. Every day.

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Editor’s Note: After this column was published in our March print magazine, Brandon Formby with the Morning News reported the NTTA is unlikely to push forward with the Toll Road if the Dallas City Council votes against it — yet another good reason to pay attention to the council races this year.

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  • Daniel J. Caldwell

    As a witness at the recent city council meetings, @RickWamre:disqus low-balled the amounts the council voted to give away…not $270K, but $2.6 million of free money (25-Feb addendum agenda item 27), unless he was talking about a less-fortunate bunch of 6 protestors besides the group I saw. DC for District 6

  • Barbara Macleod

    I am interested!!! Please keep up important press watchdog duties on our local government!

  • Thanks for pointing out the $300 million number, Wylie. I couldn’t find that exact info when writing the column, and I didn’t want to overshoot the number. But it’s pretty sobering, especially when every few years we are asked to throw another hundred million dollars or so into the property. If I tried that with my house, I’d probably be facing foreclosure since even the big value gains wouldn’t have kept up with my stacked borrowing. The convention game seems to be a never-ending “keep up with the Jones” beauty contest, all in an effort to attract the very few mega-conventions in the country.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    [How many of us know the Dallas Convention Center is angling for another $250 million or so in expansion money, even though it has tens of millions of dollars in outstanding debt from the last couple of expansions?]

    Actually, the convention center is presently encumbered by over $300 MILLION in outstanding debt.

  • Hear hear! We look forward to your coverage!

  • Keri

    Perfect article, hits the nail right on the head. My husband and I are soon to be home owners, as we have rented here in oak cliff for many years. I appreciate your incentive and making people like us aware. Please keep sharing the knowledge. Your spending the good word to young voters and that right there makes all the difference in the world! THANK YOU!