City Hall

Dallas City Council Finally Passes Long-Labored Over Ethics Reform

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Wednesday morning, the Dallas City Council passed its long-gestating ethics reform package. The vote was unanimous, but it comes at the end of months of arguing over the grievances that serve as the basis for many of the new rules. In the end, some members griped that the new regulations aren't tough enough, some complained that they're too tough and others believed that they, like many such rules already on the books, will be unenforceable.

"You've done something remarkable," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in congratulating the council after the vote. "This is an amazing thing for the city."

While there are some simple things in the new ordinance — the threshold for disclosing gifts has been lowered from $500 to $250, for instance — many of the provisions added are clearly directed at specific council members in an attempt to remedy specific incidents.

Council members, under the new ordinance, will be banned from "berating, admonishing and publicly criticizing city employees," a provision that is a not-so-subtle dig at Council member Scott Griggs, who was charged with coercion of a public employee after he yelled at a city staff member about public documents that he believed were being backdated. The charges against Griggs were dropped.

The ordinance also includes a provision allowing council members to use honorific "Honorable" before their name in political endorsements, something for which Griggs and Sandy Greyson had fought as the ethics resolution was shaped.

Others on the council, like Monica Alonzo, have chafed at Griggs and Philip Kingston's endorsing of challengers to incumbent council members in violation of longstanding council norms. Under the old ethics rules, neither "Councilperson" nor "Honorable" could accompany any council member's endorsement. Now "Honorable" is OK.

Rawlings saw a pet issue shot down, however. After repeated instances of closed-door, executive session meeting details — like the hiring of the new city manager, T.C. Broadnax — leaking to the press, Rawlings sought to have all electronic devices banned from executive sessions. Adam McGough, who has two sons, argued against Rawlings, maintaining that he and others on the council need to be able to communicate with family members during potential emergencies.

In another big change, winning campaign managers in council races will not be allowed to lobby the city council for one year after their campaign. That provision, however, like the rest of the new ordinance, won't kick in until after May's council election. During committee debate over the rule, Council member Rickey Callahan argued that applying the rule to this election wouldn't be fair, because campaign managers would've entered the campaign under one set of rules, but ended the campaign with another.

“It has the appearance, of just before an election, of trying to modify, change, make certain people who have already filed for an election uncomfortable. They knew what the rules were going in when they filed,” Callahan said earlier this month.

Wednesday, Callahan voted for the reforms despite his belief that the rules won't be enforced. (No council member in recent memory has been rung up on ethics charge.) Philip Kingston, a member of the "ordinance doesn't go far enough" crowd, agreed. "This is ethics pantomime," he said.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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