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Strong Mayor, Top Cop Contract, More Oversight: How Council Would Change the Charter

Dallas is undergoing its once-a-decade review of its governing document. Now, we know the changes the City Council would make to how our local government runs.
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Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn wants to change Dallas’ form of government, giving the mayor the power that presently belongs to the city manager. Councilmember Adam Bazaldua would like to not have to wait for the mayor to call meetings into order. Councilmember Paul Ridley wants to double term lengths for the City Council from two years to four.

These are a few of the 17 amendments to the charter proposed by the mayor and council. Every 10 years, the city of Dallas opens up its governing document and lets residents submit changes. These proposed amendments get vetted by a review commission before heading to the City Council for a vote. Voters will weigh in on their decisions this November.

Council had until last Friday to submit their own amendments, which will be considered along with the eight from the public that the commission approved that have been winnowed down by Council. Six of the Council’s proposals involve modifying the powers of the mayor. Under Dallas’ council-manager form of government, the mayor’s true power comes in appointments. His is one of 15 votes, which means he must build a consensus to push through policy. It’s not like in Houston, whose new mayor immediately got to work ripping out streets projects supported by his predecessor because he can.

Bazaldua and Ridley both presented charter amendments to require the Council to vote on the mayor’s appointments to committees. Those are powerful positions that can shape and direct policy. It’s not uncommon for mayors to use the power to reward or punish their colleagues.

Ridley argues for Council approval for the mayor’s chair appointments in order to “eliminate confusion.” Bazaldua’s asks for the Council to ratify all committee appointments and gives the mayor a 60-day deadline to make them. Behind the scenes, multiple council members expressed frustration with how long it took the mayor to make his appointments. Johnson waited two months after the June runoff last year to announce his decision, which typically occurs within weeks of the election as it did in 2021.

“I’m just looking at the charter review process as an opportunity to make our government more efficient,” Bazaldua said in a text message. “I believe these recommendations would help accomplish that.”

Elsewhere, Councilmember Chad West proposes shifting the city’s general election date from May to November in odd-numbered years, then create four-year non-staggered terms for the Council and limit them to two terms. Mendelsohn also proposed eliminating the ability for members to run for their seats after being term-limited and sitting out for two years. Councilmember Tennell Atkins, for instance, reached his term limit in 2015 but ran again two years later and won. Mayor Eric Johnson would like the charter to allow for the police chief to be offered a contract, a response to last week’s scramble to keep Chief Eddie Garcia away from Houston and Austin.

As for the strong mayor push, voters rejected a pair of ballot initiatives to give the mayor additional powers in 2005. The commission discussed the idea in 2014 but did not offer it to Council for review. The same deal happened this year. Mendelsohn’s entry, which was first submitted by a resident but failed to win approval from the review commission, noted that “the elected mayor should have the power to operate the city as this person is elected by the citizens of the city.”

Council will first review the eight recommendations from the commission during its June 5 meeting, then it’ll go over these 17. The public amendments included a trigger clause for ranked-choice voting if it’s ever allowed by the state, salary increases for the mayor and Council, and changes to how appointments to boards and commissions work, among others. You can review those here, and the City Council’s below.

Correction: Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn directed staff to resurface a failed strong mayor amendment for consideration, but did not write it herself. The language has been changed to reflect this. 

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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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