Other Voices

I run for public office because elections and officials’ acts matter

Arlington District 3 City Councilman Rivera listens to an opinion from a speaker at a town hall meeting. Rivera is not running for re-election.
Arlington District 3 City Councilman Rivera listens to an opinion from a speaker at a town hall meeting. Rivera is not running for re-election. Star-Telegram

Only 20 minutes before the deadline to file for a place on the ballot in the May 6 municipal elections, I became the second candidate for mayor of Arlington.

Why would I do that? I want to provide voters a choice and to ensure public access to all candidates.

The future of my city matters, so unopposed candidates bug me. Unopposed candidates don’t have to listen or pay much attention to the interests of voters.

Molly Ivins once said “In a rigged game, the players get sloppy.”

What does it say of us, and our system, that we don’t even field opponents to maintain democratic appearances?

It’s surprisingly easy to run for city offices. By collecting signatures or paying a fee, you can gain access to the ballot and equal treatment from political organizations.

When you run for office, you’ll meet some down-to-earth, decent folks — and some snooty ones, too. But you’ll be exposed to some ideas you otherwise would never have considered.

If I could tie together a common thread from my seven campaigns, it would be that electoral and municipal systems must advance in order to stay relevant.

The youth of today know instantaneous communication through their phones. I see no reason why local government could not survey residents for attitudes and preferences before most of the actions it takes.

The bottleneck in government is the system’s resistance to listening to legitimate concerns, something various communities have desired for decades.

Having asked over the years why we have such low voter participation, averaging 5 percent turnout locally, the most common response I hear is “my vote won’t matter.”

Sadly, it’s difficult to argue that a single vote matters to many elected officials, when campaign donors are offering fists full of dollars.

Still, elections matter. Voting matters. Important issues are at stake.

The people of Arlington, young and old, including immigrants and others without voting rights, all deserve the same dignity and respect as our top official, our elected mayor.

Public servants must realize that transparency is integral to maintaining trust.

I have long maintained that the perks of elected office out-value the salary and lead to ethical conflicts.

I have pointed to Arlington officials’ use of the city-owned luxury boxes at Rangers and Cowboys games. One game at the city’s luxury box at Globe Life Park is valuated at $3,800, more than a year’s salary for the mayor or 18 months’ salary for a council member.

Every sitting member to whom I have spoken acknowledges that they receive tickets and use this city property as part of their office — to benefit the residents of Arlington, but also to take family members.

This to me exemplifies misusing city property to benefit oneself and one’s family.

Another thing I have pointed to as pervading the City Council and the Arlington Police Department is a seeming adherence to a closed-door model, where only some are granted access, information or credibility.

These groups generally prefer to sweep things under the rug. There is no reason, aside from privacy restraints, for our city’s government to be in possession of information tor which everyday residents have no access.

Arlington, like any evolving, growing city must increase the citizenry’s oversight of its police.

The last decade has seen scandals involving the use of red-light cameras, steroids, fake traffic stops, under-trained guards, rogue officers, and personal information and case file leaks.

I’ll be glad if the latest purge of 16 officers removed the bad apples, but we must no longer be satisfied without verification in the form of public ownership of all police recordings.

There must be no walls between the public and our public servants, and no walls between the people and the police.

Chris Dobson is a repeatedly unsuccessful but ever-undaunted candidate for Arlington city office.