City Council Meeting: Charter Amendments

Today we voted on whether to present the Charter amendments to the voters in a November referendum.

Voters will not simply vote up or down on the entire amended Charter. Instead, each of the proposed changes will be set forth in separate propositions on the ballot.

For example, Proposition 1 will address increasing the Mayor’s powers. It will also include increasing the Mayor’s salary from $60,000 to $120,000.

Councilmember Rasansky moved, and I seconded, taking out the salary increase from Prop 1 and putting it in a separate proposition. The Mayor should get a salary increase if he or she has greater responsibilities. But the voters should have the opportunity to vote separately on the stronger mayor issue and the salary issue. By putting the two issues together, we run the risk of killing the strong mayor issue simply because voters may not want to increase the Mayor’s salary. That’s not right. People should have an honest opportunity to vote up or down on the strong mayor issue. We shouldn’t try to obscure the matter with a controversial salary increase.

ACTION: Failed 7-8 (AH voting yes)

Next, we voted on whether to put the Charter amendments on the November ballot.

ACTION: Passed 14-1 (AH voting yes)

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Council Quality of Life Committee Meeting: 311 and Trails

We had two agenda items today: COGNOS and the Citywide Trail program.

COGNOS is a computer program for manipulating city data, specifically 311 information. Data is not much use unless you can slice it and dice it and find patterns. COGNOS will allow us to really analyze 311 information. For example, we’ll be able to compare response times for different service requests, look at service requests by geographic area, and basically determine where the City needs to be improving. It’s going to be a very powerful tool, and will help us set goals for improvement. It will also give us concrete numbers to show residents whether the City is improving. Right now, staff is working with the Council to figure out exactly what types of reports we’ll want to run, and how to build the program.

The other agenda item was on our citywide trail system. I’m a big fan of hike and bike trails. My husband and I are out of the Katy Trail all the time, and I can’t wait for it to link up with the Old Trinity Trail.

We’ve got a master plan for our trail system, unlike most cities. We’ve also got more completed trail miles (about 85) than most cities. The goal is to triple that in a decade, which will complete our master plan. It’ll cost more than $100 million, but in addition to city money we’ll also seek grants and private funds.

Oak Lawn Triangle

I met with members of the Oak Lawn Committee today to discuss the construction of the Oak Lawn Triangle. The OLC has raised over $200k in private funds to design and build an entry monument to Oak Lawn at the corner of Oak Lawn at Cedar Springs. The OLC held a design contest, and the winning entry combines architectural elements from Oak Lawn.

There are a number of City issues that need to be addressed to support the creation of the Triangle, so I’ll be working with the OLC to get this project completed. It’s going to be a great entryway to Oak Lawn.

Budget Townhall Meeting

I had my first townhall budget meeting tonight (jointly with Pauline Medrano) to explain the proposed budget and get feedback.

I sent out 12,000 invitations, and about thirty people or so showed up. We also had someone from just about every City department there to answer questions.

The City staff gave the canned presentation that they present for all townhall meetings for councilmembers. It’s essentially the same presentation staff presented to the City Council last Monday, the first time we got to see the budget.

I don’t think the City’s presentation really explains the budget in a helpful way for residents, so I’ve decided to do my own presentation. Residents can’t give valuable feedback on a budget that they don’t really understand.

I still have some work to do on my presentation, but I hope to have it ready for my second of three townhall meetings, next Thursday.

Council Briefing: Charter Amendments

After talking with residents, my colleagues, and members of the gay and lesbian community over the past couple of weeks, I decided not to propose that we change our City Charter to protect city employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Our Charter currently only protects city employees from discrimination based on race, sex, political affiliation, and religion. A couple of weeks ago, I proposed to my colleagues that we consider adding sexual orientation to this list. By and large, the response I got from the other councilmembers was very positive.

However, like most things in life, timing is everything. Also on the November ballot will be the proposed State of Texas constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Members of the GLBT community were concerned that folks who would come out to vote against gay marriage would also vote against the non-discrimination Charter language. If the proposed non-discrimination Charter amendment failed here in Dallas, it would be a blow to the GLBT community and might have legal ramifications for the non-discrimination ordinance already in place. So I tabled the matter for an upcoming Charter amendment.

Council Briefing: Homeless Assistance Center

The City Council was briefed again on the location for the homeless assistance center. All the councilmembers left City Hall in three vans and visited the St. Louis site (which is the first choice of Mr. Dunning’s Homeless Task Force), and the Blue Bell site. At the request of the new councilmembers, we also visited the Industrial site.

I had seen the St. Louis site before, but going out and visiting all the sites, one after another, was very helpful. A number of business leaders are concerned that putting the center at the St. Louis site will hurt businesses and revitalization. The Blue Bell site is not easily accessible from Downtown (it’s across I-30 and hard to get to on foot). Same for the Industrial site, which is far from current homeless services (though the services could arguably move), and right in the middle of the Trinity Park.

When we got back to City Hall, one thing we all agreed on was the need to make single-room occupancy units (“SROs”) part of the bond package. We are NOT going to “fix” the homeless problem by building an intake center, and we would be wrong to try to sell it as such. It’s not a shelter, and it won’t house the 6000 homeless in Dallas. What it will do is direct the homeless to helpful resources (mental health, drug rehab, job training, etc.). In addition to the center, we need SROs to help some of the homeless back on their feet and back into society. Cities that have dealt successfully with the homeless problem also incorporate SROs.

Next week, we’ll discuss the size of the bond package to put before the voters in the November election.