Three City Council members scheduled a special-called meeting of the council tonight because they want the mayor to designate City Manager T.C. Broadnax the city's emergency management coordinator. This follows a week of back and forth memos, social media and blog posts between the mayor and some council members, stirring controversy over distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination. The meeting will start at 7 p.m.
Last week's sniping arose when five members of the council sent a memo to Broadnax asking his help setting up sites in underserved neighborhoods where residents could register for a place in line to get the vaccine, which is in strictly limited supply. Mayor Eric Johnson sent his own memo to Broadnax, ordering him to ignore the request, which Johnson said should have been routed through him in his state-mandated role as emergency management director. In the same memo, he also took a swipe at council members, suggesting they were interfering for political gain.
More tit-for-tat memo-ing followed, and the episode exposed a rift between the mayor and several council members over Johnson's style of communicating.
In a joint statement, council members Paula Blackmon, Chad West and Adam Bazaldua said they want to authorize the city manager to assist with COVID-19 vaccine registration, including, but not limited to, setting up registration hubs to “ensure equitable distribution of the vaccinations.” This assistance would also include providing laptop computers and personal protective equipment for the registration hubs.
The current emergency management coordinator, Rocky Vaz, did not respond for comment. Vaz's is a staff position answerable in this case to the mayor, the mayor contends.
There's no public beef between Vaz and the council. In Dallas’ city manager form of government, all city staff in normal times report to Broandax. But the pandemic is far from normal, and in current order of battle, Vaz's is — in theory, anyway — above Broadnax in the chain of command for the vaccine effort. In a phone interview with the Observer, Blackmon said it only makes sense for the city manager to be the emergency management coordinator.
In a statement sent to the Observer, Johnson said he was surprised these council members called the special meeting considering they wanted to "boycott" a COVID-19 committee meeting last year because they saw it as duplicative and too taxing on staff.
This is another jab at the council members, and to Blackmon, it's an unfounded. The mayor is referring to a set of meetings last year that some council members thought were redundant. She said the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Assistance was to be briefed on the city’s first procurement. The same briefing would go before the Government Performance & Financial Management committee and then to council.
“We didn’t boycott, it just was not needed,” Blackmon said.
Nevertheless, Johnson said in his statement: “I am heartened that they changed their mind about that, but the issues that they placed on the agenda have already been addressed or are spelled out clearly in state law. I encourage my colleagues to avail themselves of the city attorney, to attend the Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19 Recovery and Assistance, or to pick up the phone and call if they have questions or concerns.”
To some council members, the mayor asking them to pick up the phone might seem a little hypocritical considering what they say is his penchant for communicating through memos, press releases, social media and blog posts.
But, the three council members say they also want to clear the air and have an open discussion about how members of City Council should communicate with each other moving forward.
“The memos, emails, and other forms of one-way communication must end,” they said in their joint statement. “The public is counting on us to come together with our government partners to work side-by-side to distribute vaccines so we can eventually open our city.”
They said the false narratives and accusations are hurtful and undermine the work of the council and staff. It is time, they said, to develop a plan to move forward and continue the work they are expected to do. “People are frustrated, confused, and scared,” the statement said. “We must answer their calls for help.”
The stakes in the dispute, already high, grew even greater last week when the mayor announced in a press release the state will be sending 5,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses directly to Dallas for public distribution.
Until now, the city has only directly received doses to vaccinate its public safety workers, though and Dallas has been partnered with the county to distribute vaccine to the public at the Fair Park "mega center."
These 5,000 vaccine doses will be given by appointment at a drive-up service at the Kay Hutchison Convention Center. The site has been used recently to distribute around 2,000 doses to Dallas police and firefighters. The city is also considering other sites for future vaccine distribution.
Names of eligible residents will be pulled from the existing Dallas County Health and Human Services registration database. They will be ranked based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of State Health Services and DCHHS.
Those residents will then be contacted by the city to make an appointment at the site, which will be open between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays, as well as one day over the weekend depending on availability.
“I am excited and ready to get these highly effective, life-saving vaccines to the public,” Johnson said. “As I have said, the city of Dallas is ready to help the state take its vaccination efforts to the next level. We will do so equitably, efficiently and without political influence.”
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