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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Unelected Corruptors of Fort Stockton

The general consensus among those I spoke with in Fort Stockton , Texas, is that the mayor, Ruben Falcon, is an incompetent fool. In fact, it is an open secret that the money his family has gained came originally from drugs. Recently, his father died by suicide. At the funeral, during his eulogy, Falcon was heard to utter

our family is living the American dream. Look, at me I'm the damn mayor

Not very statesmanlike in my opinion, but then again, you get the government you vote for. In Fort Stockton, it's a lot more complicated than that. Like in most small towns, the mayor, along with most of the city council, is a part time position. In fact, each pays only a few hundred Dollars monthly. In fact, the mayor has little if any power.

The only real power for the mayor and the city council lies in choosing the City Manager, currently held by Rafael Castillo Jr.

The day to day decisions of the town are made by the City Manager. The manager also gets a salary that allows him to make this job his only job. For the elected officials, being a part of government is something they do for prestige, civic duty, or even some sense of power, but they must do something else to earn a living. Because all the elected officials have positions that are largely ceremonial, the town has ceded most of its power to unelected bureaucracies. There only real role is selecting the City Manager and that's it.

In this way, Fort Stockton becomes corrupted much like Chicago, Cook County and Springfield. The real decisions are made in bureaucracies beyond the eyes of the public. The real decisions are made by those that aren't answerable to the people. In Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield, this happens because those with money use it to influence those in office, and then gain power in the bureaucracies and use it to corrupt. In Fort Stockton, that process doesn't even need to occur because those in office never had any power to begin with. As such, the town is run to the benefit of those with influence. Those with business interests use their power so that the bureaucracies run the government in their favor. Much like in Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield, often this means they control the bureaucracies themselves. Even in corrupt Chicago, the citizens would never stand for Richard M. Daley ceding day to day operation of the city to an unelected City Manager. Yet, in Fort Stockton, that's exactly what's happened. Furthermore, the town's only newspaper the Fort Stockton Pioneer only comes out once weekly and so doesn't have nearly enough resources to be the proper watchdog over its city government.

There is a sort of unique political irony and opportunity here. Because Fort Stockton has a sort of shadow government, much again like in Chicago, Cook County, and Springfield, anyone with the vision has the platform to run on and turn the government over to those that are elected. With it, that individual would also consolidate more power into their own hands. There is no reason why an unelected bureaucrat would make near $100k while the mayor would barely make $2k. There is also no reason why the day to day decisions would be made by someone unelected, as it is by the City Manager, while the elected mayor is largely ceremonial.

An open government, a transparent government, and a government answerable to the people, would be run in the exact opposite way. In Fort Stockton, the government has finally made the City Council meetings accessible to all online. So what? Nothing of substance ever gets done there. There meetings are largely ceremonial and almost entirely nothing more than a debating society. If the city government were really transparent and open, the meetings held by the City Manager would be the ones open to the public. Of course, if the government were really open, the City Manager wouldn't be the one with all the real power.

Small towns like Fort Stockton don't necessarily have the money to pay for all sorts folks to run their government. Yet, it appears the town is perfectly happy having the one running it be an unelected bureaucrat like the City Manager. The platform is there for someone to point out that this is ludicrous, and move the power away from the unelected bureaucrat and into the hands of its elected Mayor. With it, that individual would also pull off some political jujitsu because with it, they would consolidate power in their own hands.

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