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Strong Mayor, Pay Raises, and More: Dallas Charter Review Commission Winds Up Its Work

The city's Charter Review Commission's April deadline is looming, and it's still making its way through dozens of proposed amendments. Here's where we stand and what has been proposed..
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Dallas' first charter was adopted in 1871. Much has changed since then. Illustration by Bethany Erickson/Photos: Kesley Shoemaker/Dallas Municipal Archives

The 15-member Dallas Charter Review Commission has been working since last fall, ultimately reviewing and debating the 123 suggestions submitted by the public.

It’s now in the home stretch of that work. The commission next meets on March 26. It is due to hand over its recommendations to the City Council in April. The Council will then look at and debate those recommendations. The final amendments will be on the November ballot.

The city charter is the document that outlines the rules for how the city operates. The city is required to review it once a decade. The task seems tedious at times but is also exciting—anyone can suggest a change, and those suggestions are often based on someone’s personal experience (good or bad) with the city’s operations.

This time around, the commission has discussed expanding the number of city council districts, giving the mayor and council payraises, eliminating the positions of mayor pro tem and deputy mayor pro tem, and even moving the Park and Recreation Board from its independent status to operating under the city manager’s supervision.

From that original field of 123, the members—who include a former Dallas ISD trustee and three former council members—have narrowed the discussion down to 27 items. You can see the complete list of what has been excluded, withdrawn, and considered so far here

The Commission will spend its last few meetings reviewing its list of included proposals and crafting a report of their final recommendations that will go to the City Council.

Some items were debated substantially but ultimately voted down. These included proposals to move the May municipal elections to November, increase the number of seats on the city council, stagger council terms (much like Dallas ISD staggers its trustee terms), and move the city from a council-manager government to a strong mayor government. 

A proposal last week to move the long-independent Park and Recreation Board under the oversight of the city manager also failed to capture a majority of the vote.

Among the items to still be debated is the pay for city council members and city plan commissioners. One proposal would pay council members $125,000 a year and index their pay to inflation. Another would pay plan commissioners $25,000 a year.

Due to the length of the discussion at last week’s Commission meeting, a  few lingering proposals were tabled. These include a proposal to create a trigger ordinance that would allow the city to adopt ranked choice voting if state law changed; a proposal to require council approval and a public hearing for the hiring of all department directors; and a proposal to require the city manager to obtain the council’s policy priorities before submitting the annual budget and that the budget reflect those priorities.

Here are some of the 27 proposed amendments that have made it through so far:

One proposal would allow boards and commissions to choose their vice-chairs. “Currently, the Council chooses these and it tends to turn political,” the resident submitting the suggestion said. “The person that is best suited for the job should be chosen by their peers.” Another amendment proposes that the Park and Recreation Board should also be allowed to elect its vice chair.

To conform with state law, the city staff suggested amending the charter to require that council candidates be residents of Texas for at least 12 months and have resided in the district they plan to represent for at least six months before the filing deadline. A candidate for mayor would be required to live in the state for a full year and the city for at least six months.

Another proposed amendment establishes the Office of Inspector General as an independent office, similar to the City Manager, City Auditor, and City Attorney, “providing the OIG with the independence that is needed to effectively operate and conduct investigations” without answering to any other city office.

A proposal would allow the city to publish an ordinance or other proposition in a newspaper or “digital format of general circulation in the city.” The reason: “My concern is the physical paper will not exist in several years so there needs to be language to include digital circulation.” Another amendment would ensure the notices are printed in English and Spanish and that hearings for zoning cases are communicated to people living in the impacted area.

Another proposal would extend the time to collect signatures on an initiative of referendum from 60 days to 120 days. A different one would also reduce the amount of signatures required to be collected from 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to 5 percent.

Another proposal would require five council members, the mayor, or the city manager to request a special meeting. Currently, a meeting can be called by three members, the city manager, or the mayor, but supporters say this is a holdover from the days when the council was a nine-member body. Five council members are already required to request a briefing or to place a matter on the agenda.

City task forces, commissions, and boards are already open to all Dallas residents. A proposed amendment would allow all residents to serve on the city’s redistricting commission, city plan commission, civil service board, and park and recreation board. The city charter currently only allows for “citizens or registered voters” to be appointed to those seats.

The city will hold several town halls to discuss the proposed amendments, including a virtual one on March 28. The Commission will meet again on March 26, and another meeting on April 2 is scheduled. You can find archives and meeting minutes here.

Author

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.
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