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Less Than a Week In, Dallas’ Interim City Manager Makes Changes at City Hall

Kimberly Bizor Tolbert started her job as interim city manager on May 2. She kicked off her first week by shaking up the city's organizational chart.
A deceptively quiet-looking Dallas City Hall. Photo by Kelsey Shoemaker.

Kimberly Bizor Tolbert hasn’t waited to make changes at City Hall since becoming Dallas’ interim city manager on May 2. The new boss has shaken up the organizational chart and outlined her goals for the first 100 days.

In an email to the Dallas City Council yesterday, Tolbert announced that interim Dallas Water Utilities director Sarah Standifer would change her title to permanent director. The move may be seen by many City Hall watchers as controversial, particularly those who count themselves among our city’s environmental hawks. Standifer notably was atop the department that oversaw managing the Trinity River and the watershed when environmental snafus seemed common, like a borrow pit and a drained wetland pond that attracted the attention of the state in the forest near where the Trinity Forest Golf Club was being built.

Standifer joined the city in 2002 and was appointed interim director of the city’s water utility in June 2023, when her predecessor, Terry Lowery, retired. In her email, Tolbert cited Standifer’s expertise in water and wastewater management, as well as her affiliations with the Trinity Regional Flood Board, National Waterways Conference, and Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. 

In the same email, Tolbert also announced that Emily Liu has been hired as Director of Planning and Urban Design. Liu comes from Louisville, Kentucky, where she held a similar role. Tolbert said that Liu had been with Louisville for more than a decade, with much of that time spent leading the planning department. She has also worked in Illinois and Ohio and, in 2022, became the first woman in Kentucky to be inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners. She’ll report to work in Dallas on May 20.

“Emily has broad expertise across various aspects of urban planning and design, such as long-range planning, zoning, housing, transportation, urban design, and historic preservation,” Tolbert wrote. “She was pivotal in leading Louisville’s acclaimed Zoning Reform initiative, which has been recognized as a model for other cities.”

Liu’s new post has been open since September, when then PUD director Julia Ryan left to join a consulting firm in Arkansas. Andrea Gilles, who was assistant director when Ryan left, became the department’s interim director, most notably helping lead the city through an ongoing update to its land use plan called ForwardDallas. Tolbert said that she will return to her assistant director post when Liu gets to Dallas and will continue to work on initiatives like ForwardDallas, authorized hearings for zoning changes, and updates to the city’s development code. 

Elsewhere, current top deputies may soon leave. Assistant city managers Robert Perez and Majed Al-Ghafry are both on the short lists for city manager positions in Topeka, Kansas, and DeSoto, respectively. The city councils in both cities met Tuesday and discussed their prospective hires in executive session. Topeka took no action, and DeSoto city spokesman Matt Smith said his city had nothing to announce yet. 

Under the new organizational chart, Perez oversees code enforcement, sanitation, Dallas Animal Services, 311, and the city’s Office of Homeless Solutions. Al-Ghafry leads the city’s aviation department, Dallas Water Utilities, public works, transportation, the city’s Office of Bond and Construction Management, and the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability.

There are also two new interim assistant city managers, Robin Bentley and Donzell Gipson. Bentley has long been the city’s director for economic development, and Gipson has been an assistant director with the Police Department. 

Bentley will now oversee convention and event services, development services (including the beleaguered permit office), economic development, housing and neighborhood revitalization, planning and urban design, and the Small Business Center. Gipson is tasked with managing the city’s building services, equipment and fleet management, IT, procurement services, and civil service departments.

With former City Manager T.C. Broadnax on day three of his new job in Austin, Dallas is chugging along on its search for a permanent boss. The city just wrapped up its bidding process for search firms, and city staff will soon make recommendations to the Council as to which organization will identify a permanent boss. In the meantime, the city is inviting residents to weigh in on what the job should require, and work is continuing at City Hall with some new responsibilities.


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.