The most embarrassing week in recent Dallas City Hall history comes to an end with a municipal prayer circle.
Last week, Mayor Eric Johnson leaped out in front of the effort to fire City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “I made the call,” he titled an email newsletter. Bad call. He needed eight votes to do it, and a chunk of those took off running once their names were made public. A special meeting to discuss Broadnax’s job performance and potential discipline was canceled, a council member alleged that the mayor’s office had forged his signature on a memo, and some on council walked back their support for Broadnax’s removal.
That left the two men to do something they have never been good at: they apparently met and talked. Some sources say Broadnax initiated the meeting, took it on the chin, and left with a list of to-dos and a prepared statement: “I know my team and I can be better. I understand that I am fully accountable to my 15 bosses. So today, I want to say to the mayor, to the members of the City Council, and to all the residents of this dynamic city: I accept the challenge.”
However that meeting worked out, Broadnax is staying put. He and the mayor came up with five priority fixes:
- “The city manager will develop a clear action plan for fixing” the city’s permitting issues, which Council asked for last month. (Broadnax downplayed the matter, saying it was overblown in the media and the development community and that delays would be fixed in nine months.)
- The two are “committing to working together to make Dallas the safest major city in the United States.” That includes negotiating contracts with the police and fire unions, but also investing in blight remediation, violence interrupters, and “place-based public safety initiatives” similar to what’s happening in a previously vacant lot down Malcolm X. Boulevard.
- He’s charged to “continue to make improvements to the 911 call center,” which has for years suffered with staffing issues.
- A grab bag of “high-priority issues” like “enhancing the city’s international stature,” further supporting the entity that allows the city to invest in economic development opportunities, and implementing the mayor’s priorities for the various council committees.
- And “communication.” During the pandemic, it came out that these two basically only communicated by sending each other memos. Now they’ll meet on a “biweekly basis” to discuss priorities.
In his statement, Johnson says it “is time to heal.” (The two released lengthy statements in a dual news release; you can read them here.)
“But after some serious and frank discussions with our city manager, T.C. Broadnax, I believe he is ready to make the necessary changes to address issues that are critically important to our residents,” read a statement from the mayor. “I am confident now that he fully grasps the gravity of the challenges we face and that he understands the importance of our shared priorities. And I am ready to work closely with him in these efforts.”
The words and sentiment are nice, but this was an ugly deal last week. The Dallas Builders Association and the largest firefighters union both came out in support of firing Broadnax. Retiring U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson joined the chorus, saying City Hall had not responded to requests from residents in South Dallas.
Commissioner John Wiley Price lined up in support of Broadnax, as did the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Phil Crone, the head of the Dallas Builder’s Association, said he “had no inkling this was coming.” Crone’s sticking point has been the broken permitting office, which is taking weeks or months to approve commercial and residential projects that are green-lit in days in other cities.
“Whether it gets fixed because the city manager has turned over a new leaf and is now empathetic toward what we have through for two years or he simply needs to get it right because his job depends on it doesn’t matter to me,” Crone wrote in a text to me. “Last month we were told it should be perfect in nine months, but the reality is we still have a long way to go just to be average.”
The statements attributed to Broadnax and Johnson—which were planned to be delivered during a press conference that was derailed by Johnson testing positive for COVID-19—say the right things. Broadnax says he needs to be held accountable; the mayor gets to say he’s doing that. Goals are now on paper, which Council can point to if they aren’t achieved and need to restart the discipline talk.
But the sloppy, contentious way in which this process was handled forced elected officials and many stakeholders to take sides for no good reason. The work of the city will continue, but we’ll have to wait and see whether they can escape whatever blowback this created.