Dallas City Council Guts Already Ineffective Ethics Complaint System

Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill thinks we shovel horse manure. We prefer to thinking of it as "quoting," and sometimes that's the same thing.
Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill thinks we shovel horse manure. We prefer to thinking of it as "quoting," and sometimes that's the same thing.
Mark Graham

Before getting into what actually happened Wednesday, we will note that council members basically never get rung up on city ethics charges. Complaints get filed, are briefly annoying and then just sort of fade off into the ether.

Still, Vonciel Jones Hill and much of the rest of the council took the opportunity to make it much harder to file a complaint, much less have one stick. A Hill-proposed amendment to ethics reporting rules requires that anyone submitting a report have personal knowledge of every event referenced in the complaint. A complaint can't be based on information obtained by the person filing the complaint; he or she must have seen or participated in it first hand.

Hill said the current system allowed people to "go pick up a copy of the Dallas Observer and gallop off" to file a "horse manure" filled ethics complaint.

We're flattered, certainly, but the new changes, according to council member Scott Griggs, make it virtually impossible for civilians to file ethics complaints. The only people likely to have first-hand knowledge of what's alleged in the complaint are the person being complained against and his or her co-conspirators.

"There's always going to be people who abuse the system, there's always going to be people who file frivolous complaints," Griggs said. "For the honest people that want to step up and file a complaint, let's not completely close the door on that."

Under the new rules, complaints like the one filed against Sam Merten -- who's running for District 9's seat on the council -- for a questionable $10,000 check he received from the mayor, would not even be reviewed by the city's ethics commission.

See also: Dallas Council Candidate Sam Merten Faces Ethics Complaint Over $10k from Mayor Hill's idea was warmly received by all but Griggs, Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston, the only council members who voted against the personal knowledge requirement.


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