Councilman Tennell Atkins wanted the town hall meeting to be done "the right way." That's why he asked all his angry constituents to stop talking directly to him and instead write their questions down on little cards. The cards would then be passed to the front of a room, for another city official to calmly read aloud.
"That's the process, that's the procedure," Atkins said.
The people who showed up to town hall meeting --homeowners who live near the Dallas Executive Airport who were never warned by their representative until recently about the airport's $35 million runway expansion, weren't thrilled about the whole question-on-card rule. They wanted to ask questions about how their neighborhood may change. In their own words, they wanted a normal conversation between adults.
"No, I don't want him to read my question," one woman called out. "That's you dictating our responses."
Atkins interrupted. "We want to be civilized," he said. People eventually relented and turned in their cards to the front. But Atkins' plan at keeping the talk civilized went haywire when one of the questions on the card turned out to be an insult directed at Atkins.
"Will Mr. Atkins and Councilmember [Vonciel] Hill agree not to financially benefit from any development?," said Dallas aviation director Mark Duebner, reading off the card.
Atkins stepped up to the microphone. "I don't have to, I'm rich already," he said, sounding defensive.
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Most of the questions centered around why residents weren't clued in on the airport's renovation plans much earlier. Atkins and Duebner promised to form a citizen's advisory committee with homeowners, and they made a point of asking for everyone's phone, email address and home address. They said people wouldn't have to worry about eminent domain or losing their homes in the expansion, and that the new planes the airport attracts will agree to some sort of noise abatement plan.
So sure, the city's airport expansion plan has sure seemed secretive in the past, and may have even broke federal rules related to telling people who live near airports information about the airport, as Eric previously reported. But the city tried to assure everyone that the lack of transparency was a thing of the past. The renovation, Duebner hopes, will bring much-needed business to the struggling transportation hub.
In an introduction that could either have been a sincere but sloppy compliment or a just subtle jab at his constituents, Atkins thanked all of them for finally coming to the airport.
"Over 20 years this airport's been here, and it's the first time I've seen this many people in this airport at one time, and say we'll come together to find out what's going on. That's called community coming together," he said. "What we're trying to do is come together to find out what's going on in our neighborhood."