Got quite a few calls today after posting that item about the city council's Wednesday vote to shutter the Commission on Productivity and Innovation and the Youth Commission. Had no idea you cared. No, seriously. None at all.
First off, council member Angela Hunt is none too pleased about the item even appearing on the council's meeting addendum for tomorrow -- I know, you're stunned. Still, she's got a point. Because, after all, the council didn't even receive a briefing on the subject -- one day, boom, there it was. Urban rodeos and parking boots get months of consideration before being put to a vote; this agenda item, involving a resolution penned by the city attorney, just magically appears ... but at whose request?
"Suddenly, that just happened," Hunt says. "Wha? I've asked several council members if they had information on it. No one I spoke to has been informed of the proposal. No one knew about it till it appeared on the council agenda. I'll be pulling it off the agenda to ask about it and why we weren't briefed. I am curious. Which is not to say I disagree: It may be those commissions aren't productive or useful to the city. I can't say. Which is why it's important to have that discussion before we suddenly find it on the agenda. It's really odd. I don't like seeing things like that thrown up on the agenda without a memo or any discussion. It's very ..." Long pause. "... troubling."
Update at 5 p.m.: City Manager Mary Suhm's comments after the jump.
Suhm tells Unfair Park this was the council's idea, more or less. As in: "The council asked during the bduget process to look at how much it costs to support the various commissions. I think they will put together a team to review all of them, but those two, those were ones they were comfortable letting go. The Commission on Productivity and Innovation is an ad hoc organizatio that began several years ago. We now have a staff team that does that. They saved us $13, $14 million in costs. And so the council said it's time for this one to go. Now, did anyone say, 'Please, Mary, please put this on the agenda?' Well, no. But those expenditures were cut in the budget, so I have no staff to support them."
Insurance man Bill "Bulldog" Cunningham, chair of the Commission on Productivity and Innovation, says he heard about the possible vote to adios his group a few weeks ago, when a city staffer mentioned it "kinda sideways" -- meaning, in passing. Cunningham, who served on the City Plan Commission for eight years and was Mayor Tom Leppert's appointee to the commission, says he was told the group getting a bullet from Suhm in order to save a few dollars.
"But I wasn't aware the council was gonna vote on it," he says. "I haven't voiced any hue and cry to the mayor or anyone else, because of the fact it wouldn't do a hell of a lot of good." He laughs.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
I asked Cunningham what his commission -- a group of private sector types appointed by the council charged with finding ways to streamline and budget-cut city services, oh, sweet irony -- was actually doing worth keeping around. He says quite a bit -- like "working on the bicycle trail situation, multifamily recycling, a sports commission and affordable housing and CHDOs and trying to put together a method of taking the surplus land that might be owned by the city and turning it into productive tax property and affordable homes. We're always trying to push the envelope."
He says one proposal from the commission merited attention but was shut down right pronto -- trying to get Dallas Fire-Rescue to go to three shifts rather than two. He thought it would keep rescue workers alert, as well as save on firehouse costs -- since no one would actually need to sleep in the fire station. Alas, the fire chief said no.
"We keep stacking up subjects that probably will mean something to the city if adopted," Cunningham says. "And we don't cost much money. We've got ... what? ... two city staffers for maybe 14 hours a week?"
As for the Youth Commission, perhaps those kids aren't done just yet: Suhm says council member Dwaine Caraway is looking to add an amendent to the addendum that would call for the creation of a nonprofit to fund the kids' commission.