Know who I don’t envy this year? The mayor. And know who I envy even less? The city manager. Because if they think the past year — or two years, or three years — has been difficult, just wait until they get a peek at 2012. It will be bad enough, if only because the city budget crunch that started in 2008 doesn’t show any signs of ending. But what will make it worse is that the city leaders still — four years later — don’t have any sort of plan to deal with the budget shortfall. Or, actually, for any of the problems facing the city.

Their attitude, as a friend of mine has so ably noted, is to always go for it on fourth down. Because, certainly, they have to make it one of these times, don’t they? That going for it on fourth down and getting stuffed every time usually leads to losing the game is something that never seems to occur to the people Downtown.

The most recent example of this? The city’s mystifying debate last year about whether to move to the next stage in its water conservation plan. Again, this seemed fairly obvious, given that Texas is suffering one of those record droughts that shows up every couple of decades. We’re down one-third in rainfall this year, and the long-term forecasts aren’t optimistic. But City Hall dillied and dallied, as if it was waiting for rain to come and make a decision moot.

But that’s far from the only time that his approach has failed over the past couple of years:

The budget. We still, four years later, don’t have any sort of comprehensive plan to deal with what looks to be a more or less permanent change in the U.S. economy. We just keep hacking at the libraries and forcing people do pay us to take their garbage until the budget balances, and then worry about next year next year.

The Trinity toll road. The thing that makes me crazy about the city elite’s continued insistence on building the highway — which even some its most ardent supporters outside of City Hall have given up on — is that it needs federal money. And there is no federal money. If Congress can’t agree to fund the everyday workings of the federal government, why do people Downtown still think Congress will give them money? Couldn’t the time, effort and money that’s being used on the toll road be put to better use solving some of the other problems?

The Trinity River levees. This mess makes my head hurt. The agency that regulates these things says the levees need to be fixed. So why are we wasting time, effort and money once again arguing about whether they need to be fixed? Why don’t we just fix them? If you call a stupid play on fourth and 1 and come up short, arguing with the referee isn’t going to change the outcome or make the stupid play look any less stupid.

But, lest we start the new year on too cynical a note, there are reasons for optimism. The task force formed by the council to recommend regulations for increased natural gas drilling in Dallas seems to be doing a bang up job — fair, sensible and more or less orderly. This, of course, is a huge surprise, since the natural inclination is to assume that the task force would be — how to say this politely? — stacked to allow the natural gas companies to drill whenever and wherever they want.

I have no idea why the task force seems to be working; I’m just glad it is. Can this actually be a sign that someone Downtown realizes that sometimes, punting on fourth down is not a bad idea?

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.