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Mayor Eric Johnson in State of City Address: ‘It’s Time to Assert Ourselves’

Is this the long-overdue end of regionalism at Dallas City Hall?

In his “state of the city” address this morning, Mayor Eric Johnson pointed out that Dallas has seen its population grow by 9 percent in the last decade. He didn’t say that the majority of that growth came in the early part of the decade and that in the last several years our neighbors in Collin and Denton counties have vacuumed up nearly all the new residents and new business, while Dallas’ population numbers seem to stabilize — or stagnate, depending on how you want to characterize that sort of thing. But Johnson, flanked by his colleagues in the City Council chambers at City Hall, also indirectly spoke to the story that these more recent numbers tell about North Texas’ population boom.

“While we’ve long known that we’re competing nationally with other major cities, we’ve been slower to recognize the serious challenges right here in our backyard,” he said. “The cities that we used to call our bedroom communities have caught us napping.”

In an apparent rebuke of the sort of suburb-friendly kumbaya “regionalism” that past Dallas leaders have championed (often at Dallas’ expense), Johnson said it is “time to assert ourselves more aggressively. Dallas, the city of Dallas, is the economic engine for this entire region, and we need to start acting like it.”

That means fighting for the big corporate relocations and real estate deals as well as serving “the people who can fill those jobs, the people who already call our city home.” He announced a pending report on workforce development, which will cover “upskilling opportunities and programs” for Dallas residents. The mayor said he aims to appoint a “workforce czar” who can help implement those sorts of programs using federal COVID-19 stimulus funds.

The city’s asserting itself more aggressively also means fixing Dallas’ busted permitting system, which we’ve written about at length and which Johnson called an “existential threat to our city’s growth.” The mayor also pointed to recommendations from the ethics reform committee he convened as a way to hold City Hall accountable, and he referred to a new “sunset review process” that will, Johnson said, help reduce waste and modernize city services. “It simply cannot be the case that every single part of our city government should be allowed to grow indefinitely,” he said.

He briefly touched on the possible comeback of electric rental scooters (Johnson likes them), the potential dredging of White Rock Lake (also pro), as well as better and less cumbersome regulations for food trucks. (This last bit occasioned the mayor’s one recognizable joke, a reference to his keto diet, and I appreciated the effort in a 45-minute speech.) He alluded to the fact that the city will soon have to deal again with pension fund woes for police officers and firefighters.

Johnson touted Dallas’ increased spending on public safety, the positive early returns on a new crime plan under new Police Chief Eddie García, an economic development plan aimed at promoting southern Dallas, the future of the convention center and its role in redeveloping downtown, and Dallas’ bid to host 2026 World Cup events.

And, because Dallas mayors always have a task force up their sleeves, he announced a new task force. The Dallas Is For Families task force will recommend ways the city can “create, enhance, and promote our city’s programming and infrastructure and policies aimed at families.”

In these “state of the city” addresses, mayors also typically talk about wanting to lower property taxes (check) and make some kind of reference to the inherent goodness of Dallas and the people who live here. Johnson’s two-plus years in office have come amid the COVID-19 pandemic—the mayor had to reschedule this speech after contracting COVID-19 himself—and last February’s freeze and power outages. The latter occasion, in which neighbors helped neighbors through frozen temperatures and widespread blackouts, showed the city at its best, he said.

“If you live in Dallas, you’re never truly alone,” Johnson said. “You’ll always have a community behind you.”


You can watch the full speech below:

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