The new reality of Dallas City Council meetings: remote attendees.

Local Government

Council Members Bail on Mayor’s COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee Meeting

Council members question continued need for COVID-19 ad hoc committees as the mayor vents his frustration on Twitter.

The interpersonal drama between Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and his fellow City Council members that has flared up during the COVID-19 pandemic was on display once again today at virtual City Hall.

One of the two Dallas City Council ad hoc committees set up by Mayor Johnson to respond to COVID-19-related city issues was supposed to meet today, but only one council member logged in to the virtual meeting. Lacking a quorum, ad hoc committee chair Casey Thomas was forced to cancel the meeting. The committee was to be briefed on a resolution introduced by the mayor that would set new standards to ensure that the city favored contracts with Dallas-based companies or companies that hired Dallas residents. After the council members’ no-show, Mayor Johnson swiftly took to Twitter to vent his frustration.

“I’m very disappointed that many of my City Council colleagues skipped their COVID-19 committee meeting today, leaving our chairman without a quorum,” Johnson wrote. “On that agenda was the #DallasFirst Resolution to give preference to city contractors that are based in Dallas or hire locally.”

The seven six council member absentees come as frustration lingers among some council members over the mayor’s handling of city business during COVID-19 pandemic response. At the outset of the crisis, and at the request of the city manager, Johnson suspended all the council’s regular committees. He set up two COVID-19 ad hoc committees to deal with matters relating to the pandemic. Early in the crisis, some council members argued that this arrangement limited their ability to impact the city’s response to the pandemic. Now as Texas moves to reopen and the mayor has reinstated regular council committees, they are questioning the continued need for the COVID-19 ad hoc committees.

When reached for comment, COVID-19 ad hoc committee members who missed today’s meeting said they had prior commitments, but a few raised questions about the necessity of the meetings.

“Since we have our standing committees back online, wondering why we have duplication work for both council and staff,” Northeast Dallas Council member Paula Blackmon said in a text. “Doesn’t make sense.”

South Dallas council member Adam Bazaldua pointed out that the item the mayor tweeted about will be briefed to the council’s Government Performance and Financial Management Committee on May 26 and will be on the full council agenda for May 27.

“What is there to be briefed on?” Bazaldua said. “I do look forward to Chairwoman Gates taking this up in committee. Two back-to-back briefings over the same subject is not effective government.”

This may seem like procedural bickering, but it sheds light on both the relatively new mayor’s management style and sustained frustration from his fellow Council members over how he manages city business. It also says something about the atmosphere at City Hall that communication between the City Council and the mayor is taking pace through public absences and Twitter. One might think that this kind of thing could be ironed out over a few phone calls, but that’s not how City Hall appears to operate these days.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the ad-hoc committees as task forces. It’s been changed.

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