City Hall

Here's What's Coming in Dallas' Search for a New City Manager

In a move that should go in the news dump hall of fame, Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez announced on Memorial Day afternoon that he would be stepping down at the end of January 2017, ending a three-year reign as the unelected CEO of the city. While Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is the face of the city, Gonzalez is the most powerful person in the administrative apparatus that often drives Dallas' policy.

Before being hired to replace his predecessor, Mary Suhm, Gonzalez served 15 years as an assistant city manager over two separate stretches, spending some time as Austin ISD's superintendent in between. Despite being hired after a unanimous vote from the City Council and being paid one of the highest salaries of any municipal employee in the United States — $400,000 — Gonzalez was embroiled in near constant battles with the council during his time in the top job.

Things were sour before Gonzalez even officially had the job. As interim city manager, Gonzalez partnered with Yellow Cab executives on an ordinance that would've effectively banned ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft from the city. Gonzalez placed the proposed ordinance on the consent agenda — the block of presumably routine items that gets passed at every council meeting without debate — before it was pulled by Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, Gonzalez's two biggest adversaries on the council. The Gonzalez/Yellow Cab proposal was eventually shot down, and Dallas ended up drafting a comprehensive transportation-for-hire ordinance that's kept Uber and Lyft operating in the city, unlike Austin, which recently lost both companies after amending its city ordinances to make it tougher for people to drive for the services.

Gonzalez was often maligned for lacking transparency or failing to ensure appropriate communication between city departments — something that came to head during the aftermath of the fatal dog mauling of Antoinette Brown in South Dallas. Dallas police and animal services had not coordinated to do something about the dogs that attacked Brown, despite the fact that animal services had been called repeatedly to the address from which the dogs were eventually picked up. Brown's death felt like a final straw for Gonzalez's tenure and Monday's announcement confirmed that it was.

Whatever the reason for Gonzalez's scheduled long goodbye — it might have something to do with the pension rate he'll receive from the city being tied to his average salary for his three highest-paid years of employment — it will give the council plenty of time to find his replacement.

Gonzalez was the next in a long line of city staffers who rose through the ranks of Dallas' bureaucracy before eventually doing a stint in the top job before moving on. If the mayor and members of the council push in that direction, the two obvious choices working at 1500 Marilla are First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans and Assistant City Manager Mark McDaniel.

Evans has the benefit of being directly next in line and having a portfolio at  City Hall that includes the city's economic development office and convention business. McDaniel recently took over the Trinity River project from longtime Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan and was a finalist for the city manager's job in McKinney.

Kingston and Griggs do not want another internal candidate.

After expressing his optimism for the future of the city of Dallas following Gonzalez's departure, Kingston said he and Griggs plan to ask the rest of the council to hire a search firm Wednesday to begin seeking outsider candidates by targeting other big cities that also have weak mayor systems, like Phoenix and San Antonio . The city spent only $50,000 on its search three years ago, and Kingston says it needs to make a bigger effort if it wants to convince outside candidates that it's serious about actually hiring them.

"Dallas is the second or third largest council-manager city in the nation. It could be an absolute plum of a job, but we have this horrible problem that nobody ever thinks we're serious," Kingston says.
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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