Councilman’s plan for individual money pots should be shelved

Posted Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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As the Fort Worth City Council gets closer to finalizing its project list for a proposed $292 million bond issue next May, it also is nearer to determining the percentage of the funds, if any, to be allocated for public art.

The public art component, based on a decision in 2001 to dedicate 2 percent of all capital spending to the art program, has become a contentious subject in a year when tough economic times limited spending for other infrastructure projects and city services.

Some council members have proposed eliminating the public art element from the bond proposal altogether or capping it at a lesser amount such as 1 percent.

Last week Councilman Danny Scarth came out in favor of the the 1 percent maximum as a compromise, but he added a caveat that called for using part of the money saved to create another fund to be divided up among the council districts and the mayor.

Scarth’s proposal would divvy up a pot of $18 million (derived from the arts savings and funds from several other projects like urban villages and transit-oriented development) to give the mayor and council members $2 million each to use at their discretion in addressing special needs of their constituents.

The councilman argued that such a fund “allows us to be able to give real tangible feedback to the people we have heard from.”

Whether council members think this is a good idea should be decided on its own merit, separate from any discussion on public arts funding that they may or may not choose to alter.

Although the idea of having individual pots of discretionary money may be appealing to some council members, it is a bad idea that ought to be discarded.

Councilman Joel Burns and Mayor Betsy Price have already raised the appropriate question of how to determine equity under such a plan, but there is the probability of an even more troubling consequence.

Introducing individual discretionary control of money in a single-member-district elected body runs the risk of creating fiefdoms that won’t bode well for the city as a whole.

It has the potential of what cautious leaders worked hard to avoid when they designed the single-member-district plan almost 40 years ago: ward politics.

This idea should be permanently shelved.

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