Second Thought: Wednesday, December 05, 2007
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Let There Be Light — and Heat

Fort Worth needs some debate in the sunshine.

By DAN MCGRAW

When former Fort Worth City Council member Clyde Picht was running against incumbent Jungus Jordan, the voters in District 6 got a mailing from Mayor Mike Moncrief a few days before the election. The letter was pretty scathing in its attacks on Picht — the former councilman didn’t work hard on crime control, it said. The letter accused him of treating city staffers poorly and noted that Picht had supported an ethics investigation of the mayor for accepting free travel from the Cabela’s sporting goods megastore, which was looking for tax breaks from the city at the time.
Moncrief never specifically endorsed Jordan, but the intent was clear. The Fort Worth mayor didn’t want Picht back in city hall and was urging voters to help keep him out.
It would seem that the mayor had no problem with one elected official getting involved in another’s city council race. But several months ago, before the November election for the open seat in District 9, Moncrief told council members they should not get involved in this race. According to several sources, this little warning was issued in an executive session — our mayor likes to use these private meetings for his own purposes.
But it seems that council is not going along with the request from on high this time. Before the Nov. 6 election, council member Chuck Silcox spoke on behalf of candidate Chris Turner, pointing out that one of Turner’s opponents, Joel Burns, is gay. Silcox’s message was blunt: Vote for a guy who is married to a woman, not for one who’s “married” to a man.
Burns and Fort Worth school board member Juan Rangel made the District 9 runoff, and another endorsement has come forth. Council member Sal Espino, citing a longtime family friendship, has endorsed Rangel.
In most cities this would not be an issue. But given Moncrief’s view of the local political scene — behind-the-scenes discussions as the rule, little tolerance for any public dissent, freezing out the news media at every turn — these public endorsements might be a sign of some change. It looks like the mayor may have lost some of his totalitarian power over the other council members.
Moncrief likes to use the closed-door sessions to do straw polls on issues — and some council members in the past have questioned the propriety of that. If the vote comes up 6-3, he persuades the dissenting council members to change their votes. Fort Worth will look better if the vote comes out 9-0, he suggests.
This is what small towns do. Debate is seen as a bad way of doing business. But as Fort Worth grows into its big-city suit, maybe some leaders will see the lack of public debate as a negative. This city has so many issues to deal with — economic development, minority neighborhood disgruntlement, Trinity River Vision, traffic congestion — and they should be publicly decided.
Perhaps the tiny rebellions on Moncrief’s no-endorsement edict are the first steps toward open debate in this town. There may be new ones if council members follow through on their stated intent to force debate on several issues, including what to do with gas drilling money. The mayor has told council members not to talk to this newspaper, but most of the council members speak with us. They laugh that it makes Mikey mad.
We use politics in all facets of our lives, from dealing with the boss to negotiating with kids to casting votes at the polls. It doesn’t have to mean constant arguing — just the chance to air our views without being run over. Moncrief seems to think that running over the populace is fine as long as it done quietly and with a smile.
So if Silcox and Espino want to pick favorites in an important city race, more power to them. What this town needs more than anything right now is some vision and, more importantly, an open debate on what that vision should be.


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