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The City Manager Is Safe, For Now, but the Mess Remains

After City Manager T.C. Broadnax refused to resign amid pressure from the mayor and some council members, the strategy to oust or discipline him was laid bare.
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Photo by Kelsey Shoemaker.

The attempt to expedite the performance review of City Manager T.C. Broadnax has devolved into a messy, confusing trash heap of allegations and backroom chatter presided over by a mayor who has made clear his preference to see Dallas’ chief executive removed from his position.  

After Mayor Eric Johnson went public in support of firing Broadnax—first in a statement calling for “a change in city management” and then in an email newsletter with the subject line “I made the call”—some of his colleagues walked back their support.

And this is where things get complicated. Let’s start from the top.

Last Wednesday, five council members signed what’s known as a five-signature memorandum. That’s a mechanism for a bloc of representatives to request that the mayor place an item on a City Council committee agenda and during a regular briefing for the entire body to hear. It basically fast tracks a priority issue. Council has used this in the past to motivate staff to develop a housing policy and reconsider plans for the ball field at Reverchon Park.

Council members Chad West, Cara Mendelsohn, Paula Blackmon, Jesse Moreno, and Adam Bazaldua signed such a memo, and it was filed with the City Secretary’s Office on the morning of Thursday, June 9. It called for “consideration and performance review of the City Manager, and related action.”

It included a brief bit of background: “While performance reviews are tentatively scheduled for later this month, we believe for the good of the City of Dallas, we must act expeditiously. We hereby request that the performance review of the City Manager and any related official actions supported by a majority of the Dallas City Council, be scheduled on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.”  

Under the terms of his contract, Council needs only eight votes to discipline or remove Broadnax.

On Wednesday, West and his colleagues Gay Donnell Willis and Tennell Atkins—two council members who, at that point, had not signed their names on anything official—met with Broadnax privately. In a text message to me, Willis later explained that the city manager was “offered the courtesy of submitting a letter of resignation.” Multiple sources say he was given a deadline of Friday at noon to communicate his intent to step down. That didn’t happen, even after another meeting with Willis and Blackmon. Then the mayor made his move.

Two more memos were filed. The mayor filed one calling for an executive session to “discuss and evaluate the performance and employment of City Manager T.C. Broadnax.” Shortly after, Willis, Mendelsohn, and Blackmon filed a memo that requested a special meeting in front of the whole body to “consider taking appropriate action related to the performance of the City Manager including discipline or removal.”

The performance review would happen behind closed doors; the special meeting would only be an action item, where the body would vote on what was discussed privately. If the body voted to fire Broadnax, the city charter requires an item be posted to the agenda prior to discussion. That special meeting was set just in case.

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Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax

Yesterday, this all blew up. The mayor announced there would be no executive session, and Willis, Blackmon, and Mendelsohn canceled the special meeting. The city manager has a standard performance review tentatively scheduled for June 23, an annual, consultant-led discussion. Those three council members issued a joint statement:

“After listening to our colleagues, we have requested the city secretary cancel Wednesday’s special called meeting. We believe it is important for all colleagues to feel this process is fair and transparent and we are looking forward to a frank performance review discussion.”

And then the backtracking and equivocating began. Councilman Bazaldua, one of the members who signed the original five-signature memo, wrote on Facebook, “the mayor’s staff fabricated this memo and submitted it to [sic] themselves.” He alleged that “my digital signature was used for this memo, without my consent.”

In a phone call this morning, Bazaldua said he “never gave any permission to utilize” his signature “on a five-signature memo and I never was going to be a part of any official memo at all.” He added, “What I was asked originally was if I would participate in an internal document, a letter to T.C., asking him to discuss personnel matters further with the body.”

He says Tristan Hallman, the mayor’s chief of policy and communications, “explicitly” told him “that this will not see the light of day. This is not official documentation. It will not be stamped by the city secretary.” An email obtained by D Magazine shows one of Bazaldua’s assistants sending the councilman’s digital signature to Hallman on Wednesday morning. (The subject line was “CM Bazaldua Signature.”)

The goal of what he put his name on, Bazaldua told me, was to allow “T.C. to see that there was enough support for us to sit down and have a more serious conversation about performance.”

Hallman denies Bazaldua’s recollection. “I never said we wouldn’t stamp it,” he said. “I said the mayor would put the item on the agenda as his own item, if necessary.”

The idea appears to be a way to show Broadnax that there was broad support for formally discussing his future with the city, an evaluation that could end in public discipline or removal. Maybe the city manager sees that, counts to eight, and resigns to avoid the matter going public. (West says Broadnax was not presented with the memo during their meeting.)

West, Blackmon, and Mendelsohn, three of the other signees, all said they were aware they were signing a five-signature memo. (Moreno hasn’t returned calls and text messages for comment.)

But West said he was assured that the memo would not be filed “without the consent of all five people, including me. I never consented” to it being filed. West, Bazaldua, and Moreno have all requested that their names be removed.

This may feel like we’re hacking through the weeds, but it shows the process of a failed coup. If Broadnax had submitted his resignation Friday, we likely never would have learned about that five-signature memo. West, Bazaldua, and Moreno’s names wouldn’t be on anything that officially requested a process that could end in the firing of the city’s chief executive, whether removal was their intent or not. But they signed a memo, and it’s within the rights of the mayor’s office to file it. Don’t want your name on something? Don’t sign it.

Their intent is now public, spilling into social media, the newspaper, and onto TV. (And Atkins, who was in the meeting in which the city manager was presented the opportunity to resign, didn’t sign his name to anything. “I don’t get in no mess,” he told WFAA. Indeed.)

Rather than resign, Broadnax waited patiently for the coup to collapse. Johnson has never hidden his displeasure with the city manager, even dating back to working out responsibilities during the pandemic. He asked the Texas Attorney General for an opinion specifying his powers while the city operated under a disaster declaration. The two men got into a near yelling match in a meeting while discussing the police response to the George Floyd protests. “I am the city manager. I run this city,” Broadnax once told the mayor.

In the days since news broke about the possibility of firing Broadnax, the Dallas Builders Association and the firefighters’ union have both issued lengthy statements calling for the city manager’s removal. Even Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson weighed in, telling the Dallas Morning News that she is “well aware of the dissatisfaction from business owners in the Fair Park and South Dallas communities who feel that the city does not hear their voices.” This was likely the sort of public rallying some on council hoped to avoid by receiving a letter of resignation.

Broadnax has stumbled in recent months, particularly with a years-long failure to fix the city’s permitting process. It is still taking months to issue commercial and residential permits that other cities process in days or weeks. And yet he downplayed the matter, claiming the hubbub was a creation of the media.

Perhaps a skilled politician could have used the city manager’s recent defeats to unseat him. But that’s not what happened, and now the whole gameplan is out in the open—much to the chagrin of some who were involved.

Their strategy failed. And now that it has, it will be worth watching how these people will put their personal animus behind them and get on with the business of running the city. At least, until Broadnax’s upcoming performance review.

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Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…

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