Richard Greene

Term limits are a bad idea. Arlington’s Vandergriff era proves it.

Lake Arlington was one Tom Vandergriff’s many contributions to the city of Arlington.
Lake Arlington was one Tom Vandergriff’s many contributions to the city of Arlington. Star-Telegram

Let’s engage in some looking back at Arlington’s history and wonder what it would be like if voters had lost a great leader due to some arbitrary restriction on how long he could have served.

Tom Vandergriff will always be recognized as the legendary mayor who set into motion the journey that has made his city one of the most successful in the country.

Just about everything that is happening today can trace its origins back to the Vandergriff era of remarkable progress that, as he would later say, “set the table” for what was to come.

His reign came to an end more than 40 years ago when the city’s population was only about one-third of what it is today. But, by then Arlington was set to achieve its destiny known for seizing every opportunity to improve the quality of life for its citizenry.

Vandergriff always used the pronoun “we” when describing what had been accomplished during his 13 terms in the mayor’s office. His acknowledgment was centered in the reality that it was the forward-looking people of the town that deserved the credit for its success.

That reality gave birth to the quintessential “can do” spirit that now spans four generations and is growing.

So, it is a compelling thought to imagine what it would have been like if his time as mayor had been cut short to just six years and then banned for life from ever holding that office again.

The result: Arlington would be nothing more than a town where automobiles were assembled and where its citizens got their drinking water from a nearby lake.

Those are the two big achievements that Vandergriff led between the time he was first elected until he would have had to vacate the mayor’s office and turn the city over to someone else.

What actually unfolded during the 20 years that followed proved beyond a doubt the fundamental value and importance of leaving voters free to decide who they wanted to represent them.

Otherwise, there would have been no Six Flags Over Texas, no Texas Rangers baseball team, no Dallas Cowboys and no entertainment/tourism industry that is the city’s largest economic generator and today booming to heights without limits.

While you could speculate that any of that would have happened under some other mayoral figure, the absolute fact is that it did happen because voters had the power to keep Tom Vandergriff in office.

There is no imaginable alternative that would have produced such results. Bringing major league baseball to Arlington was the turning point for the city’s success as we know it today.

Every other political and business leader in the region who was identified with the effort had all given up when it seemed impossible to convince the powers of the national game to allow a team to be located here.

Everyone except Arlington’s mayor who wouldn’t quit. The Rangers arrived here in 1972 — some 21 years after Vandergriff had been first elected.

Today the city is on the doorstep to achievements never before imagined. Our mayor is providing strong, dependable leadership that corporate America and outside investors say is key to their decisions of where to invest.

Under the radical limitations of the term limit plan on the Nov. 6 ballot, voters would lose their option of keeping Mayor Jeff Williams in office long enough to capitalize on the unparalleled opportunities now before the city.

Ousting him is the announced objective the author of the retroactive measure that he alone, without any significant citizen input, designed with the purpose of removing the very popular Mayor Williams from office.

The risk to Arlington’s future if this extreme plan passes bears some sobering introspection beyond the instinct that just any sort of term limit scheme is a good thing.

This one is not.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor, served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and lectures at UT Arlington.
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