I like elephants. Really. My mom used to read me Babar stories when I was little, and they made an impression that lasts to this day.

But elephants as a major topic of concern for the Dallas City Council? Don’t we have better things to do?

This has been the summer of the city council’s inattention. Budget in crisis? Then let’s worry about where the zoo should send Jenny the Elephant for her retirement. A federal court decision threw the city’s 50-year water plan for a loop? Then let’s fret about what to rename Industrial Boulevard, while performing as many Pythonesque pratfalls as possible in the process. The neighborhoods are wary and mistrustful of a variety of development that seems to require continued waivers and variances? Then let’s build — and own — a convention center hotel, and take about 15 minutes to decide to do it.

Frankly, I’m tired of being forced to note all this foolishness. I have a bunch of column ideas that I haven’t been able to use, because every time I want to write one, the council does something that’s even sillier than what it did the last time. So the article about the truly intriguing tai chi class at the Ridgewood recreation center or my cholesterol-fueled search for the best chicken-fried breakfast in this part of town gets delayed another month.

That’s because one of my jobs is to keep an eye on the council in case it does something un-council like, which has been a constant with this group since it took office 15 months ago. Half of my columns since then have been about something they’ve done or might do or are considering doing. And we’ve had other news in that time, too, including the Lakewood Whole Foods saga.

Yes, but, some of you are thinking: Siegel wouldn’t like anything the council did, and this is just more of his whining. And, ordinarily, I’d be willing to argue the point with you. Another of my jobs is to admit when I’m wrong.

But not with this council, and not at this time. This is the least politically sophisticated council I’ve seen in my 25 years in Dallas; it’s missing the savvy, legislatively wise members such as Annette Strauss, Ron Kirk and Chris Luna who made up previous councils. I might have disagreed with their stands or what they did, but at least they understood how the system worked. Can you imagine, for one moment, that Kirk would have allowed the Industrial renaming fiasco to happen when he was mayor?

This council has two significant shortcomings. First, the members who vote with Mayor Park Cities don’t understand that everyone doesn’t think like they do, and that this is OK. How else to explain the grade school potshot that Ron Natinsky took at Angela Hunt this spring for not being a team player in an East Dallas zoning dispute?

What Natinsky and his colleagues don’t realize is that the council is not supposed to work like the Cowboys, where the players do what the coach tells them — even if they think a quarterback sneak on third and 20 is stupid. Disagreement is any legislative body’s reason for being. You want to sneak on third and 20, and I want to pass. We talk about it, and come up with a compromise. That’s how democracy works.

Second, this council wants to be liked. I have seen the look on the faces of several members when their constituents have disagreed with them, and it’s devastating. They’re hurt — genuinely, honestly hurt that a voter is angry at them. So they spend more time than necessary dealing with silly issues or crawfishing back and forth on the same issue in an attempt to make sure they please everyone.

The only person who can please everyone is a fictional character like Babar. And even then, the King of the Elephants probably had his doubts.


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