The Dallas City Council's Ethics Relapse

Two years after passing tighter ethics rules, City Hall tried to loosen them on the sly. You won't believe who blew the whistle.

So Perkins' line about how companies and lobbyists wanted the rules changed so they could give council members even more money for their votes was—how do I put this?—lawyerly.

In fact, all this would have slipped under the radar if the lobbyists had not called me. We immediately posted a story on our news blog, Unfair Park, calling attention to what had just been done.

I'm not saying the city council reconsidered its action—and called a special hearing on the matter last week—because the Dallas Observer published an article. Listen. If we had dead-certain, 100 percent knowledge that City Hall was going to collapse at a given moment, they would all stay in there and die just to tell us to stick it.

Former councilman Don Hill would be impressed with City Hall's latest ethics relapse.
Danny Fulgencio
Former councilman Don Hill would be impressed with City Hall's latest ethics relapse.

But after our story, the issue crept into the mayor's race. Candidate Mike Rawlings slammed rival Ron Natinsky, a member of city council, for voting for the looser rules, accusing Natinsky of choosing "money over ethics." And at a mayoral forum last week, both Rawlings and David Kunkle, the former police chief, pledged to make ethics rules much tougher if elected.

(Natinsky, incredibly enough, balked. Unsolicited political advice for Ron Natinsky: When running for mayor, always be for ethics.)

Some council members also felt that Dwaine Caraway had hoodwinked them by slipping the ethics changes into something called the "consent agenda." Every Friday, each member receives a copy of the following Wednesday's meeting agenda. For the April 13 meeting, the agenda was 20 pages. Of that, the "consent agenda" consisted of 75 separate items on 15 pages. Consent agenda items are usually small-bore issues not worth debating. That day's included an item to contract to install waste-water mains and another contract "for the construction of erosion control."

The council almost always adopts the entire consent agenda wholesale by unanimous vote. It's a way to get a lot of business done quickly and without nodding off.

Any council member can demand that an item be pulled from the consent agenda and debated by the full council, and every council member ought to read the consent agenda to make sure there aren't items that need to be debated. But they never do. Doesn't happen. Being on the council is supposed to be a part-time job. They have funerals and graduations to attend all weekend, and then there are people waiting outside their offices for them on Monday morning. They only look at the consent agenda if somebody calls them up and points something out.

The gentleman's agreement, then, is that nothing too big lands on the consent agenda. Hunt and other council members felt Caraway had pulled a fast one on them by slipping a very controversial issue into the middle of the consent agenda.

At last week's do-over, some council members stubbornly defended their vote to loosen the rules, insisting there was nothing tricky about slipping it into the consent agenda.

"As far as I'm concerned, I looked at it. I listened to what our city attorney had to say in executive session," Jerry Allen said. "I knew it was coming up, because it was on the agenda."

Caraway also took umbrage.

"That is somewhat of a slap in the Dallas city council's face as far as I'm concerned," the mayor said. "Certainly on the Dallas city council it is not our intention to slip something in."

Caraway harped on the fact that the consent agenda that day had been adopted unanimously. "Every council member that was present at that meeting unanimously approved the consent agenda," he said.

But the consent agenda is always adopted unanimously. That's why they call it the consent agenda.

Council member Vonciel Hill, a lawyer and former judge, put her finger on the bull's eye when it was her turn to talk. It's always interesting to me how unlawyerly lawyers can be when they need to do some quick damage control.

"We may have unanimously voted to accept this," Hill said, "but my position is that we unanimously screwed up. This is an item that should have been discussed publicly."

"I agree with the terminology that it was slipped in," Hill said.

Member Pauline Medrano proposed that the city council form an ad hoc committee to revisit the ethics question, to see if some or all of the changes approved April 13 should be rescinded. It's unclear how long that will take.

But you can take this to the bank: When they do this again, it will be in full public view and as "an item for individual consideration" by the council, in a room full of reporters and TV cameras.

In full daylight, how many council members are going to speak up in favor of rules that effectively allow companies with business before the council to sluice money into council accounts through their employees and representatives? I predict we will see a major re-blooming of virtue on the council when the lights come on.

So the lawyer just did what he was paid to do. The lobbyists let the dogs out. We had a part. The political candidates played a role. And now the council people will be born again as champions of truth, transparency and all that is sacred and noble in America. Good people, in other words.

I told you how I feel about people.

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My Voice Nation Help

You are such an idiot.


Angela Hunt seems to consistently be the only member of the council to show any signs of intelligence when it comes to doing the right thing for the city of Dallas.

Byron Stuckey
Byron Stuckey

How very, very sad that Dallas has become so corrupt that no-one cares or even notices. Less than 10% of the registered voters even bother to vote in the mayor's race. This means that about 5.1% of the voters can elect a new mayor. The other 95% have just accepted that this is a group of amoral, unethical politicians up there for power, prestige, graft, and publicity.

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

I would guess that Perkins was informed prior to making his "legal opinion" that the Dallas City Council wanted his "legal opinion" to go a certain way. As a good, shameless, prostitute of a attorney that his is, his opinion is matching that of his client. I am sure he is getting well paid with taxpayer money for being such a good lapdog and whore.


Jim, please help readers remember that back in 2008, how the $34 million dollar check from XTO was slipped into the consent agenda for gas drilling and only Angela Hunt and Mitch Rashansky called them out on it. The others gave those two the cold shoulder and went ahead and took the check. Now this is the one reason and the only reason we are in the situation that we have today. Someone(most likely Mayor Skeletor) slipped into the agenda. I would love to hear if Tom Perkins had given the council any counseling before that vote as he said he did for the ethics vote.If you 'google' Angela Hunt's blog from February 8 2008 about the check, everyone should read it and then you will know why she deserves another term. No one else said s#@t that week.

Judy Wilson
Judy Wilson

What a standard to present to our young people who will be tomorrows leaders. What ever happened to truth, trustworthiness, honesty, uprightness, etc. Doesn't say much for the leadership of Dallas or where they are coming from or who they really represent.

Donald Joseph Schulteis
Donald Joseph Schulteis

Maybe we need a city lawyer who has some real ethics who will set the bar at a high side rather than, below the bottom of the scale? That goes for companies who do business with the city too. We the city residents need to direct this; you can't have, as we now see, "crooks" make the laws on themselves.