Sunday, August 17, 2008

It is what it is, #3

More on the Cibrian "problem" and its possible effect on the term-limits debate.

He's right it shouldn't influence the term-limit debate, but it will.

Cibrian's alleged sins should not influence term-limit debate
Jaime Castillo - Jaime Castillo

Now that City Councilwoman Diane Cibrian has grudgingly acknowledged staying for free in an influential landowner's Mexican resort condo, it would be nice to conclude all is well that ends well.

But the collateral damage is too heavy. Among the robust public reaction to the story via e-mail, message boards and telephone is an unfair leap of logic that tarnishes all of her colleagues.
“Cibrian's dilemma is just another example of why term limits is a great way of ‘limiting the damage' an elected official can do,” wrote a reader named “Joe.”
“Another reason to shove term limits up the mayor's nose!” responded “Larry.”

The outrage is understandable, but let's take a deep breath. A timeout, if you will, and consider some of the recent black eyes suffered by City Council.
First there was District 4 City Councilman Philip Cortez, who lied to the community — and current and past elected officials — about a rezoning plan that threatened an intended buffer zone around the South Side Toyota Tundra plant.

Then there was District 10 Councilman John Clamp, who saw no problem after his committee was lied to by city staff about playground audits that really weren't happening.

And now we have District 8's Cibrian, who initially thought she could get away with a “no comment” about staying in the CancĂșn, Mexico, condo of Hugo Gutierrez Jr. around the time the landowner was in the midst of a legal battle with the city.

Besides a lack of judgment, all three council members are bound by one fact: None of them would be in office today if it weren't for the city's strict limitation of two two-year terms.
District 4 would still be represented by Richard Perez. District 8 would still have Art Hall. And Christopher “Chip” Haass would still be at the helm in District 10.
Not only that, similarly solid members, like Kevin Wolff in District 9 and Roland Gutierrez in District 3, wouldn't have resigned early to seek other political opportunities last year.
Does that mean Hall, Perez, et al were perfect councilmen? Of course not.
But they were important pieces of a council that earned monumentally more respect in the community than the current version.

There will be those who use the red herring that the current term limits are necessary because the bad apples cannot become entrenched in as little as four years.
Voters might be lazy, as turnout suggests. But they aren't stupid.
Since 2001, six council members have been voted out after one term, proving that communities successfully exercise their disapproval all the time.

The downside of term limits is also steep. At $20 a week and with no hope of staying longer than four years, the job is most enticing to young politicians who haven't made their way in life and thus must rely on special interests to raise money.
Even still, I'm the first to admit relaxing term limits will not be a panacea.

Mayor Phil Hardberger is neither young nor beholden to special interests, and he's had his share of problems lately. The millions of dollars in cost overruns at Main Plaza, a project he personally pushed, and his lack of urgency on the playground audit problems were severely disappointing.
But there's no doubt he has been a good mayor. And, in my book, it's no coincidence that his best days came under the previous, more veteran council.

As angry readers point out, Cibrian's arrogance hurts the already uphill battle for term-limit reform.
But critics should remember that voters are already good at rooting out bad council members. The real problem is nothing can be done to keep the good ones in.