If you have been following City Hall over the past few months, you’ll know that the stress of the pandemic and the ongoing protests against police violence have created some friction between Dallas’ two top officials: Mayor Eric Johnson and City Manager T.C. Broadnax. You can catch up on the passive aggressive war of dueling memos here. Today we will see how that pivotal working relationship may play out over an all-important budgeting season. At a 3 p.m. press conference, the city manager will unveil his 2020-2021 city of Dallas budget.
By way of background, because Dallas has a council-manager form of government (it is the third largest city in the country that hasn’t switched to a so-called strong mayor, or council-mayor, form of government) the city manager is tasked with drawing up the annual budget. The mayor and City Council offered some initial input. Over the coming month, a series of town halls (virtual this year, of course) will be held before a series of council workshops and hearings, and the Council will finally approve the budget on September 23.
This system places a lot of power in the hands of the manager and city staff. After the budget is rolled out, it is difficult to make sweeping changes to it. Council members jostle to get their pet projects into the budget, perhaps with some feedback from the community, but much of budget season can feel more like performance than process. The key is getting your projects into the budget before the manager’s draft.
Last week, the mayor issued a memo laying out what he would like to see in this year’s budget. The memo touches upon the two big issues facing the city in the coming year. The first is the massive projected revenue shortfalls resulting from the pandemic. The second is the ongoing protests calling for a defunding of the Dallas Police Department, part of a nationwide call for a large-scale rethinking of how policing is done in America that has erupted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Regarding policing, the mayor is clear: he does not want to “defund” the police. Rather, he asked the manager to honor the Dallas City Council’s stated commitment last year — before the George Floyd protests — to invest in public safety. This includes funding a staffing increase at the police department.
Mayor Johnson also suggests investing in the kinds of programs that will relieve DPD from responding to certain kinds of incidents, including an expansion of the RIGHT Care pilot program, which deployed mental health experts along with police to some 911 calls that involved mental health crises. The pilot program resulted in a decrease in arrests and steered thousands of patients to health services.
The mayor also wants to fund recommendations made by his Task Force on Safe Communities, which looked at how Dallas could remediate blighted buildings and abandoned lots, improve lighting in neighborhoods, leverage counseling in schools to address aggression in children, and hire and train “messengers” within high-violence neighborhoods to serve as “violence interrupters.” He would also like to see investment in code compliance and to give the Community Police Oversight Board “the resources it needs to credibly fulfill its mission,” though it is not clear from the memo if the mayor is advocating for subpoena power to enable the board to conduct independent investigations of police misconduct.
Regarding the revenue shortfall, the mayor would like to see the manager implement salary cuts across City Hall as well as reorganize and consolidate city departments. He does not say explicitly if this means cutting jobs. The salary cuts proposed by the mayor would be implemented on a sliding scale, with the largest cut — 25 percent — for city employees making more than $250,000 and the lowest — 1 percent — for city employees making between 60,000 and 69,999. Employees making below $60,000 would not see their salary cuts.
That last provision puts the city manager in a curious position. Will he unveil a budget today that cuts his own salary by 25 percent, as the mayor suggests? Broadnax currently makes $400,000 each year, and the mayor would like to see that cut by $100,000. Also, will the manager’s budget lay out a vision for the future of public safety that includes a more aggressive redistribution of city resources to deal with crime, public safety, and community investment?
The mayor and council are getting their first look at the budget this morning, and they had a call about it last night. The public will get their first glimpse at 3 p.m.