At the July 26, 2021 City Council Preliminary meeting, the cities legislative body discussed changing their Code of Conduct rules; specifically, the campaign finance reform rule that former member Lily Bao and current member Rick Smith crafted and got passed in December of 2020. They also talked about the endorsement policy for council members. .First, lets talk about the endorsement discussion. Council members Grady and Prince think that current members need to stay neutral in council races. Councilwoman Tu first suggested using the word ‘support’ instead of ‘endorsement’ when current Council members want to help people who are running for city office. Tu thinks that endorsements create a “tear that would make a working relationship difficult and it takes years to heal.”
My response to all of this is, give me a break. First, politics is a blood sport, and those in it need to have thick skin. If you can’t handle a current council member endorsing and working for your opponent, then you need to find another line of work. Second, Tu, Prince, and Grady need to remember the line in the first amendment of the US Constitution that prevents government from making any law, “abridging the freedom of speech”, a fact that Councilman Ricciardelli mentioned at the meeting. Also, just because you got elected does not mean you gave up your right to engage in political speech. Current council members need to be able to help get the person elected they would prefer to work with. The grown up thing to do, when someone helps in your opponent’s campaign, is after the race is over you wish the winner congratulations and get back to work; you don’t hold a grudge or refuse to work with those who helped your opponent. You are an adult running for city office, not a teen running for High School President.
Sadly, a vote to see if the council wanted to move forward with having staff bring back a change passed 6 - 2 with Williams and Ricciardelli in the minority.
Now lets talk about the campaign finance reform. In December of 2020, the council passed an ordinance requiring council members to recuse themselves from votes if the applicant gave $1000 or more to a council member’s campaign. An exemption was made and is as follows:
“In the event a quorum cannot be obtained because of recusals pursuant to this section, abstention is not required and the impacted members of City Council may vote as long as the nature of the conflict of interest is fully disclosed on the record.” You can read the full ordinance at the following link https://texasscorecard.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Plano-Code_of_Conduct_Ordinance-2020-12-08.pdf
Council passed this ordinance because big developers were contributing to the campaigns of those running for city council. It is suspected that these developers were donating large sums of money to make sure their big projects get approval by city council. This is not something that should shock anyone who follows politics. Owners of companies often donate to campaigns for leverage, or just to stop elected officials from creating regulations that would harm the companies. Some companies donate to all the candidates in a race, because that way they are sure to have donated to the winner. While this is not illegal, it is slimy, and leaves most residents at a disadvantage. You see, most residents cannot donate large amounts of money to campaigns. Former Councilwoman Bao and Councilman Smith were looking out for the average resident when they made this ordinance. Now that Councilwoman Bao is gone, the first chance the losers of the December vote got, they brought the ordinance back for “discussion”. More likely it was to get a feel for how the new members will vote on changing it.
Council members Tu, Prince, and Grady all don’t like having limits on them. They want the cash to keep flowing in from high paying donors. Both Tu and Grady also did not like the amount of money PACs gave this past election, and also thought more PACs were made to hide developer donor money. Of course they did not bring any evidence to support that statement. If the members are so worried about PAC money in their elections, they could refuse the PAC money and help, both of which none of them did during their elections.
Council members Smith, Williams, and Ricciardelli don’t mind improving the ordinance, but would vote against its repeal. Unlike Tu, Grady, and Prince, they really care about a conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety. Smith also worries that the cost of running for office is too high, and only the rich or well connected will be able to run for office if they repeal this ordinance. Unfortunately, I think that ship has already sailed.
New members, Holmer and Mayor Muns, did not comment on whether they want to keep, change, or repeal the ordinance. However, when it came time to vote on a motion to have staff bring back a change to council, they both voted in favor with Tu, Prince, and Grady. Councilmen Smith, Williams, and Ricciardelli voted against the motion.
I wish I could say I am surprised by all of this. I knew with the new make up of City Council, the good work that Lily Bao did was at risk of being repealed. Of course like most politicians, the first thing this new group did was work to ease restrictions on lining their coffers.
This is Plano’s Political Pit Bull signing off.