At the Council's Brainstorming Session, a Novel Proposal: Free Downtown Parking!?!

On Sunday we sneak-peeked City Manager Mary Suhm's money-making proposals for covering the latest inevitable budget shortfall. They include everything from a plan to "vaporize" waste to imposing a tax on plastic bags and bottles to leasing the city's seal to private companies to selling City Hall for $900,000 cash money (wait ... that wasn't hers). So, of course, we had to see how the council felt about Suhm's proposals; hence our visit to City Hall today, always a pleasure.

After Suhm ran through the list, she instructed the council to focus not on which ideas they liked, but on which ones they didn't. Mayor Tom Leppert expounded on her point: "I would view this as almost the tip of the iceberg."

With that in mind, various council members took turns picking and choosing the ideas that really gave them "heartburn," as Leppert had put it. And, for the most part the council agreed on which ones to remove.

For instance, no one liked the idea of marketing the city's seal to private companies. In fact, many refused to even entertain it. "I strongly oppose allowing the city of Dallas's name to be attached to private entities," said Vonciel Jones Hill. She was greeted with nods of agreement.

Other failed ideas (for now): changing bulk trash pick-up from monthly to on-demand service; implementing a garage-sale permit fee and imposing fines for holding garage sales without permit; and increasing the franchise fee beyond current 4 percent charged to commercial waste haulers that do business within the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, rather than participate in the exercise, suggested his own possibly "controversial" idea, as he put it: How about free parking in downtown? (Clearly, he does not read Unfair Park.) Which was but one part of his suggestion ...

"I look at downtown being a mall," he said. "If you go to the mall, you simply pull up and valet park, if you choose to. I think we should look at valet parking ... and eliminate parking meters." A few council members -- among them Angela Hunt, Dave Neumann, Sheffie Kadane and Ann  Margolin -- agreed to some variation of this idea, whether it be free parking just on the weekends or all the time.

"I want us to begin, Mayor, thinking outside the box completely," said Caraway.

After the council had spoken, Leppert concluded the session by imploring council members to be nimble in these difficult economic times. "The challenge now," he said, "is leaving as many ideas on the table as we can."

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