Almost a week after Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings issued a memo to try to curtail City Council members' responses to open microphone speakers at council meetings, two council members will take to the open microphone themselves on Wednesday to talk about the Trinity toll road.
Rawlings' memo came after March 4's council meeting saw Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston and Rick Callahan address comments about the road to a trio of open microphone speakers who'd shown up to offer their support for the two-decades old, largely unfunded project. Griggs, especially, lit into the road, calling it a "boondoggle" based on "pretty watercolors." Callahan defended the road as a means for people in his Pleasant Grove district to get to jobs in North Dallas, while Kingston, as he has so often before, referred to toll road supporters as zombies.
Rawlings, citing an opinion from City Attorney Warren Ernst, claimed that the council members were discussing an item not on the agenda, which is prohibited under the Texas Open Meetings Act. City Council members can give specific facts in response to an open microphone speaker, but they can't express opinions. Griggs told Unfair Park that the Trinity toll road was, factually, a boondoggle, by way of saying that he didn't violate the TOMA.
Wednesday's council meeting will be the first since March 4 and the toll road will, again, be an off-menu special. Kingston and Vonciel Jones Hill have signed up to address the council about the road as citizens.
Wanda Cash, a journalism professor at the University of Texas in Austin and expert on the TOMA, says that she's not aware of anyone taking a similar action to Kingston and Hill.
"How do [Kingston and Hill] step away from their roll as an elected official and go down into the audience? It sounds like a Peter Sellers movie. You can't do that," Cash says. "I don't know of a specific prohibition in TOMA that limits their ability to do that, but what they should do is put it on the agenda. If you put it on the agenda then the public has the advance knowledge that this issue is going to be discussed in an open forum, that's the spirit of the open meetings act."
Kingston vehemently disagreed with Cash, saying he was insulted by the suggestion that he and Hill might be running afoul of the TOMA's spirit.
"I think it's a shame that the mayor doesn't want to have dialogue about this, so I'm utilizing another tool that I have to be able to talk about this important issue," he says.