The Dallas City Council is Tackling Ethics Reform Behind Closed Doors. Anyone Else Have a Problem With That?

Defining inanity: It's not often anything we read in The Dallas Morning News makes us laugh out loud, but we giggled last Thursday morning when we read this headline over a story out of City Hall: "Lobbyist registrations, gift limits discussed in closed-door session."

That's right, the city council, tackling ethics reform while a massive City Hall corruption case unwinds in federal court, decided to cancel a public hearing on a strong reform measure and instead, talk things over in private. Déjà vu, anyone?

"Whatever was said behind closed doors remained there, in a kind of replay of the way the council hashed out ethics reforms in 2000..." DMN staffer Rudolph Bush wrote. That was when then-council member Laura Miller was pushing for tough reforms over the objections of her colleagues, among them Don Hill, whose ongoing trial on charges of corruption stirred the mayor and council to take another stab at an ethics upgrade.

The 2000 reforms were watered down, mostly in closed session.

To the council and Mayor Tom Leppert's credit, the new proposals have some heft. Beyond requiring those who lobby at City Hall to register with the city secretary, the measures would restrict the timing of campaign contributions from people filing zoning cases and require at least three council members to second any council vote on a zoning change.

That last one could be problematic. Today, council members generally have the final word on zoning cases in their own districts. Stripping away that deference could be seen as a large step back from the hard-won single-member district system strongly favored by council members in the city's southern half.

Even council member Angela Hunt, one of the members who originally proposed lobbyist registration, welcomed more time to mull that one over. She works closely with neighborhood groups in her District 14, and requiring her to get three other council members to support her on neighborhood issues might muck up the process.

Still, she tells Buzz, she's not too concerned about getting the extra seconds. "I've never lost a zoning case. I think my colleagues know I'm very educated about my zoning cases."

She says it may be that the council should consider expanding that rule to other issues—developing affordable housing, for example—where the questions are highly local but the developers compete for a limited pot of money.

And yes, she says she does "understand how some people might question the council going behind closed doors."

Right. It just doesn't look good. Maybe what the council needs is an image consultant. We hear Carol Reed is very good.

 
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