One of the first things you’ll notice while attending a local government meeting is that political posturing is considered paramount above all else. Stated differently, “getting along” with other politicians is more important than hammering out policy solutions that place the interests of residents first.
This play-nice culture isn’t simply a matter of opinion; it’s unofficial policy.
Just take a gander at what contradictory conduct the Texas Municipal League (TML) encourages officials to engage in. For those who are unaware, the TML is an association created to represent the interests of city governments, their politicians and staff.
Item 18 reads, “The Council should speak as one voice…Once a decision has been made by the Council, try and be supportive, even if you personally [disagree].”
Item 19 reads, “Praise in public, criticize in private…Don’t use media to criticize your colleagues or staff…[politicians and bureaucrats] are more likely to receive criticism privately than in front of [the citizens].”
In contradictory fashion, items 33, 43, 44 and 48 read, “Don’t forget your constituents…”, “Act in and ethical manner…”, “Do the right thing…” and “Be a leader, not just a politician…”
But concern for taxpayers is absent from TML’s Constitution. Section 2.1 clearly states, “The purpose of this organization is to advance and sustain the interests of the cities of Texas.” While some may consider this a purely semantic distinction, nowhere in the entire TML document are “citizens” or “taxpayers” even mentioned, let alone protected.
In other words, the TML is a special-interest association that selfishly represents the interests of the “public servants” themselves. Interestingly, the purpose of having municipal entities is the exact opposite; they exist for citizens to organize a governing body that serves the interests of individuals in the community, not the people hired to manage them.
If you’re still not convinced, take a closer look at Article VII, where it names TML’s affiliates. All twenty-one of those listed are associations that explicitly represent public officials and bureaucrats, not taxpayers.
Organizations such as the Association of Mayors, Councilmembers and Commissioners, Texas City Management Association, Texas Municipal Utilities Association and the Texas Police Chiefs Association. Even the librarians are organized, through the Texas Municipal Library Directors Association.
It begs the question, who’s looking out for your best interest?
There’s a more practical reason why organizations like the TML exist: to centralize power at the association and away from their members. And this takes place voluntarily, of course, because all government entities and their officials have a shared interest in joining forces to represent their own interests at the taxpayer’s expense.
Predictably, organizing is sold to the public as a way to maintain “local control”, which would be useful if politicians and bureaucrats were benevolent. But just like every other human in the known universe, they’re not; they are self-interested.
TML gleefully lobbies against local debt transparency legislation, efforts to strengthen TOMA or other reforms that would limit the taxing and borrowing power of the governments they operate.
And if that isn’t depressing enough, remember, cities pay dues to TML using your tax dollars. Stated differently, you finance their self-serving lobby efforts, which not only fail to advocate for your own interests, but regularly fly in direct opposition to them.
It’s time for citizens to organize associations that protect them, or at the very least, demand that their local officials break ties with organizations like TML.
As Milton Friedman posed rhetorically to a critic of popular sovereignty, in defense of political and economic freedom, “Where in the world can you find [these] angels who are going to organize society for us?”
Texans would be wise to realize that, if they want to remain a society that governs themselves, their engagement is needed at all levels, especially here at home.