A devastating hurricane that made landfall in Galveston, Texas, in 1901 killed an estimated 6,000 people. It also gave birth to the commission form of municipal government.
It was in response to this stunning disaster that a group of businessmen known as the Deep Water Committee set in motion a style of local rule that became known as the Texas Idea. Given the scale of the hurricane’s destruction, it was the purpose of the commission form of government to streamline various processes so that the town of Galveston could quickly get back on its feet.
It was an emergency and temporary measure done away with in 1960.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Texas Idea had its heyday in 1918 when roughly 500 cities across the U.S. had adopted the structure. By 1984 that number had dwindled to fewer than 200. Today, less than 2 percent of cities and towns across the U.S. with populations of at least 2,500 adhere to this antiquated style, according to a Washington, D.C., group, the International City and County Managers Association.
Forest Park, unfortunately, is one of them.
Such systems are widely criticized for their susceptibility to corruption and bickering because it lacks a system of checks and balances. Legislative and administrative functions fall to the same body, yet no single person is accountable for meeting the government’s goals. Administrative decisions, especially in smaller communities, are often in the hands of unqualified people.
Another ready made example of these shortcomings played out earlier this month in Forest Park after a commissioner with no professional experience in the field stood ready to alter the rules of the road at a busy intersection. Make no mistake-the commissioner has every authority to make these changes without the consent of his colleagues or the village administrator and professional staff. Our local ordinances are very clear on that. Any statements made last week by public officials to the contrary were either backpedaling or pandering.
In extracting himself from the debacle, the village administrator is guilty of this as well. But who can blame him?
“I would defer to the council to decide that [authority] themselves,” Mike Sturino, the man who must count to three before he acts, said.
When the five council members did finally discuss the matter on March 10, the question of authority never came up. In fact, it was clear that Commissioner Mark Hosty, whose idea it was to pull the traffic light from the intersection of Circle and Madison streets, came into that meeting having conceded the plan wouldn’t work. For the sake of the council’s harmony it’s fortunate that no one had to draw a line in the sand. But for the sake of the community this discussion about who rules what still needs to be had.
Roughly a year ago this newspaper sat down with each of the sitting council members as they campaigned to win their respective seats. Now seems like as good a time as any to remind commissioners Mike Curry, Rory Hoskins and Marty Telallian of their willingness to take a critical look at this outdated form of governance.