Advice on New Year’s Resolutions

I appreciate good advice, even when it’s critical or requires me to revisit a position I’ve taken. Good counsel usually ensures more analytical thinking on my part and leads me to a better understanding of my decisions, even if I don’t ultimately follow the advice.

With that in mind, I appreciated the Dallas Morning News’ recent advice to me in their editorial “Texans to Watch in 2009”:

“If Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt really wants a more prized seat at the horseshoe, this is her year to show she can broaden her appeal (and fundraising) beyond her East Dallas base. Our advice? It’s not enough to be against everything, no matter how loudly the peanut gallery might cheer.”

Evaluating the Editorial Board’s arguments led me to ask myself some hard-hitting questions. Do I want a “more prized seat at the horseshoe”? What am I “for” so as not to be “against everything”? Who is this “peanut gallery” and why aren’t they sharing their trove of peanuts?

On the “prized seat” thing, I mulled it over and decided that’s not really my goal. I like where I sit. But perhaps the DMN didn’t mean that literally. Maybe they meant it in a more figurative, high-school-popularity-contest way. Like maybe I could become more popular with the in-crowd if I just started nodding my head when bad ideas were proposed. It sounds like getting a more prized seat means toeing the line against my better judgment and resisting the urge to investigate, research, and understand complex, important issues like the city-owned convention center hotel and the Trinity River Project. And restraining myself from publicly objecting to the direction of these projects so as not to rock the boat. My conclusion is that there’s enough of that already. I like my seat just fine.

But I did appreciate the DMN’s point that “It’s not enough to be against everything.” That is very true. So I wanted to take a moment to be clear about what I am for:

  • Transparent, open government.
  • A lean city budget that anticipates less money flowing into the city coffers due to a tight economy, rather than an overly optimistic budget that requires cutting services mid-year.
  • A dramatically expanded code enforcement department that is funded with more than 1% of the overall city budget, like, say 5% or more.
  • A convention center hotel that doesn’t put taxpayers at risk if it fails.
  • A Trinity River Project that gives the people of Dallas what they were promised in 1998: A vast, beautiful urban park with lakes and sailboats.

Those are just a few. I’ve got more, but that’s for another blog.

I was, however, more than a little surprised by the Editorial Board’s comment about the peanut gallery. For those who like definitions, a peanut gallery is “a group of people whose opinions are considered unimportant.” So who is this peanut gallery the Editorial Board was referring to? I certainly hope it’s not my constituents. Because they are my bosses, and whether the DMN likes it or not, that’s who I answer to. If my bosses are “cheering,” then I’m doing my job.

The “peanut gallery” barb struck me not only as presumptuous, but as elitist. If a small group of wealthy, powerful Dallasites were cheering, I’m betting the Editorial Board would find that reassuring. But the unwashed taxpaying masses? Not so much. Perhaps they think I should aspire to win the approval of the Dallas Citizens Council, or better yet, a coterie of editorial writers, most of whom don’t live in Dallas. I’ve given it some thought, and I’ll stick with the peanut gallery, thank you.

Here’s my advice to the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw peanuts.

As for their advice to me of “Go along to get along, don’t speak up, don’t rock the boat”?

Not going to happen. That’s my New Year’s resolution.

Happy 2009.