It is not quite clear to us what powers Easton Mayor Walter Ward is referring to when he says he plans to use his “executive powers” to accomplish goals for economic development and annexation of property into the city limits.
What is clear is that such grabs for power are not just a symptom of government in small places like Easton, but a trend at every level.
Only two types of cities are defined in the Texas Constitution. One is the “home rule” city such as Longview, which is allowed to set its own rules and policies unless expressly prohibited by the state constitution.
The most basic requirement for being a home rule city is a population of 5,000 or more.
Any city with less population than that is, by default, a “general law” city, and its council is restricted by specific rules. Cities of more than 5,000 population almost always immediately vote to become home rule to free themselves of such restrictions.
According to the 2010 census, Easton had a population of 510 people. We don’t know how much it has grown in the past nine years, but it isn’t likely even to have doubled in size. It would take some extraordinary development for Easton to qualify as a home rule city within the lifetime of anyone reading this.
Thus, Ward’s mayoral powers are delineated fairly clearly by the state’s constitution and do not include arbitrarily overturning a decision of the City Council or bypassing the council to annex property or make economic development deals.
Ward, like so many executives of government across this land, is frustrated that he cannot do what he wants by whim. He seems to have the desire to rule as a monarch, not mayor.
That is a condition becoming too prevalent at all levels of government. In recent days, we have seen it evidenced by top elected officials in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well.
But just because Easton is a small place doesn’t mean the issues involved are not important. This is about government being responsive to the wishes of the people it represents.
Some of the fighting in Easton does appear to be based on personalities and some disagreement over the role of City Secretary Precious Wafer, who has helped bring some needed changes to the day-to-day operation of City Hall.
Those changes may have irritated some residents, and three of the five council members have opposed promoting Wafer to city administrator. However, this is also a financial decision. Easton does not have much municipal funding to work with, and such a promotion would cost money.
For his part, Ward says his goals and changes would be beneficial to all Easton residents, and we have no reason to doubt that. That doesn’t change the rules, however. He still needs the assent of the council for most of his actions.
This is another example of how government really works. It requires those of various opinions to work together or be faced with the prospect that nothing is done.
At some levels of government, the choice has clearly been stagnation. In Easton, it does not have to be that way, and only time will tell which way its elected officials will go.