When it came time for the city council to vote on the FY2011-12 budget moments ago, it wasn't without a few bumps in the road. Several council members told City Manager Mary Suhm they weren't at all thrilled with her plan to shuffle fire trucks with the intention of retiring one of them. And Suhm didn't seem particularly thrilled with their nitpicking the budget -- especially when Carolyn Davis suggested taking that one item out of the budget, which you just can't do. "This is part of the whole budget," Suhm had to remind her. Mayor Mike Rawlings reminded: "This is what we did last week in work session."
Suhm's plan involves moving trucks -- one from Station No. 49 to 40, one from 26 to 52, one from 15 to 33, and one from 19 to 20 -- while mothballing another, which the city manager says will save around $2 million. As Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez told me late last week, "The truck proposal we presented to the council represents the effort on the part of fire department management to really take up the challenge of answering the question: Can we provide the same or better service to the public and achieve savings? And the department came up with a professional plan that does just that."
But some on the council -- including Davis, Pauline Medrano and Scott Griggs -- are particularly concerned about losing the truck at Station No. 19 on East Grand Avenue and shuffling trucks in southern Dallas. "I just don't want it on my conscience that this sliver" of the city is unprotected, said Medrano; Tennell Atkins echoed that sentiment moments later when he said, "I don't want it on my conscience we have a safety issue involved in the city of Dallas."
Suhm promised she'd come back to the Public Safety Committee within the next six to eight weeks with a further look at both the truck shuffle and concerns over Dallas Fire-Rescue dispatch scheduling. Maybe she'll have a new plan, maybe she won't. Either way, she said, "I am committed to trying to see if I can find the resources and offer an option."
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Which wasn't good enough for Griggs, who says a 2007 study for which the city paid $400,000 said we actually need more fire trucks.
And then Vonciel Jones Hill spoke, saying: This isn't the council's business.
"I support the fire department unequivocally," she said, explaining she'd met with DFR reps in recent weeks. "I will say now publicly what I said to them privately on both the issues of dispatch and the placement of resources. While I hear your concern both of those issues are management issues, My role is policy-making. I do not want to slip from policy into management, and I will not do that. I think it is important for Ms. Suhm to hear the council's concern about management issues, but ultimately management issues belong to the manager., If I am not happy with management decisions, my job is not to make those decisions for management but to look and see if I have the right management. I believe that I do, and I support the manager making management decisions."
With that, the budget passed unanimously. Now, to flow control!