My first column for the Advocate, more than 20 years ago, was about the mess that was the city’s animal services department. It’s still a mess — which is not only an indictment of the way animal services is run, but the way the city is governed. The council-manager form of government is supposed to give us this peachy keen, non-partisan, non-political, super-efficient city administration, where the sun always shines and the roses always bloom.
Instead, we have the same problems all big cities have. We just have to look in different places to find them.
Of which animal services is a prime example. Every couple of years, there is some kind of reorganization, but it never seems — to listen to the bosses Downtown — to be because of a problem. The latest came in August, when the city announced it was laying off 53 employees. But don’t worry, they said. The layoffs and reorganization had nothing to do with some of the minor inconveniences that the department had gone through, like the cat who crawled into a wall and died. Or the employees who were terrified to free the cat lest they be fired. Rather, the layoffs will improve an already fabulous way of doing things.
The latest scandal comes after the previous scandal, when city officials wanted to spend $18 million to build the new animal shelter, even though voters approved just $14 million (and it took more than six years to build the new shelter, which says something else about the how the city works).
The situation is so bad at animal services that the Humane Society of the United States is doing an audit. Imagine that: An outside agency is spending its time and money to document how badly the department is run, and no one Downtown seems the least bit concerned.
But then they never are. These are the same people who recently released a study that said 83 percent of the city’s roads are in satisfactory condition, which seems like the kind of statistic that only a bureaucrat could love. But why not? Do a survey, define the terms, and it’s amazing how well everything always turns out.
In fact, the city is run by an unelected elite that does pretty much what it wants to do, with little oversight by the city council and none by voters. Much of this is our own fault, since we don’t bother to vote in municipal elections, and the people we elect to the council seem terrified to suggest that the emperor has no clothes. Or even that the emperor needs to wear any.
The budget process is the best example of this. I sat through budget town hall meetings the last couple of years, and it was amazing to watch how the city officials and most of the elected officials who were there made it clear that the voters — the taxpayers — who attended really didn’t understand what was going on. Which is one reason why I didn’t go to any budget town halls this year, despite the dire predicament that the city finds itself in (which, of course, no one Downtown acknowledges — yet again, the city manager has congratulated herself on what she calls another excellent budget). I can only take so much foolishness without doing something embarrassing, and there would have been way too much foolishness this year.
Periodically, I’ll ask councilmen what they think of how the council-manager system is working, and whether we need to make any changes. And they always — and I mean always — say that it’s working wonderfully, and why would we want to change it? Which is quite scary, since that means that mostly intelligent people think that a system lets animals die for no reason at all is working wonderfully.
Even scarier: What would have to happen to change their minds?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.