Council Briefing: Proposed Removal of D’Angelo Lee

Today we considered whether to remove Councilmember Don Hill’s appointee to the City Plan Commission, D’Angelo Lee.

There was a lengthy discussion and debate. Those supporting Mr. Lee’s removal (including myself) argued that Mr. Lee’s conduct on the Plan Commission violated Dallas’ Code of Ethics. Other councilmembers were concerned that Mr. Lee was being tried in the press, that he was innocent until proven guilty in the FBI investigation, and that this matter should have gone first to the Ethics Commission.

I supported Mr. Lee’s removal for several reasons.

First, l strongly believe that we at City Hall must keep our own house in order and hold ourselves to the highest ethical standard. My support for Mr. Lee’s removal is not based on the fact that he is being investigated by the FBI. That is a separate matter that will be dealt with on the federal level. The City Council’s responsibility is to enforce our Code of Ethics. Facts have come to light recently that Mr. Lee violated our Code of Ethics by accepting money from, and working for, a non-profit that was a direct beneficiary of a zoning case he then voted on. The facts are not in dispute. The only question is whether Mr. Lee’s actions violate our Code of Ethics. Our Code of Ethics prohibits a city official from taking any official action on a matter affecting the economic interest of his employer or client. In my opinion, Mr. Lee’s actions violate our Ethics Code and we have a responsibility to enforce it.

Second, as to the argument that this matter should have first gone before the Ethics Commission: Our Charter (Ch. XXIV, Sec. 17) states that the City Council may remove board and commission members “for any cause deemed by the city council sufficient for their removal in the interest of the public.” The Ethics Commission may investigate ethics violations, but the City Council also has the power, and responsibility, to remove board and commission members when it’s deemed in the public interest.

Third, our Charter provides due process to the removed commissioner. If requested within ten days, the commissioner may have a public hearing to respond to the City Council.

ACTION: The Mayor moved to remove Mr. Lee from the Plan Commission. FAILED 9-6 (AH voting to remove). Councilmember Oakley moved to delay the issue for three weeks. PASSED 9-6 (AH voting not to delay)

Public Safety Committee: Verified Burglar Alarms

Today Police Chief Kunkle and Larry Davis, Chair of the Commission of Productivity and Innovation, briefed the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on a proposal to require verified responses to burglar alarms.

In 2004, the DPD received about 62,000 burglar alarm calls. Of those, 97% were false alarms (60,100). Responding to these false alarms took approximately 47,000 police officer hours, which equals about 41 full-time police officers at a cost of approximately $3.485 million in police time. This takes our officers away from responding to real crimes in our city.

The proposal is to require alarm companies to respond first to their burglar alarms, then contact the police only after verifying that an actual crime occurring. The city would still respond immediately to burglar alarms that are the result of someone pressing a panic button. Residential alarms would no longer require a permit fee. Commercial alarms would still pay a permit fee.

This verified response system has been successful in other cities across the country, including Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

I am very supportive of this proposal. We don’t have enough officers on the street, and this will free up over 41 officers.

ACTION: Committee voted to hold a public hearing on October 12 before the full City Council. Between now and then, the City will work with the alarm industry to develop a successful transition.

Economic Development Committee: Kiosk Ad Program

At the Aug. 10, 2005 City Council meeting, I moved to defer consideration of the proposed Kiosk Advertising Program to ensure that the kiosks are pedestrian-friendly. The Council decided to send the matter back to the Economic Development Committee and then revisit the matter at the Aug. 24 City Council meeting.

We discussed the issue at the Economic Development Committee meeting today. Since last Wednesday, City staff has met with the proposed vendor, Viacom, and they have come up with a good compromise that addresses my concerns.

On the two advertising sides of the kiosk, Viacom will put additional verbiage to indicate that the kiosks have maps and public information on the other side. This will not affect the amount of money that Viacom is paying the City.

This compromise will make the kiosks more helpful to pedestrians and not just huge cylindrical billboards that take up valuable sidewalk space.

I also spoke with Scott Reynolds from Reynolds Outdoor (the company that is responsible for the private kiosks in Downtown), and they will also be placing verbiage on their kiosks to indicate that maps and information are located on the kiosk. I appreciate Reynolds Outdoor taking this step to further improve the kiosks for our Downtown pedestrians.

I am very pleased with the result of the City staff’s efforts with Viacom, and appreciate their hard work.

ACTION: The Committee moved to present the program to the Council on August 24, 2005.

Graffiti Paint Out in East Dallas

Over 40 volunteers turned out today to help rid East Dallas of graffiti. Swiss Avenue resident Jeff Bryan organized the paint-out to help us take back our community from vandalism. Graffiti is not just a nuisance. It lowers our property values, it’s unsightly, it makes it less likely that businesses will want to relocate in our area, and there is a direct correlation with crime. I will be working with Jeff to develop a pilot program in our area to clean up graffiti, which, if successful, I would like to see us take city-wide.

We were able to clean up about 6 sites — buildings, fences, a community basketball court — that had all been hard hit by taggers and gang graffiti. We painted most of the sites, but we also had a company called Pro-Chem volunteer their expertise and products to chemically remove graffiti from a community church’s concrete basketball court. Check out the pictures.

Residents from East Dallas came out in force, as well as city employees including Kathy Davis (Code Inspection Director), Gary Middleton (Code Inspection), several police officers, and other city staff. Many thanks for making this event a success.

Jeff would like to see the clean-up effort on a monthly basis, so stay tuned for our next paint out!

Proposed City Program for Parolees in Dallas

NBC-5 ran a story about a proposed city initiative for parolees. The initiative would help parolees find work and housing. Unfortunately, the story also stated that the plan “would open housing for paroled convicts.” THAT IS SIMPLY WRONG.

There are NO plans at the City to create housing for parolees in Dallas. I have received several emails from Oak Lawn residents concerned that the City is proposing to place a disproportionate number of parolees in the area, and I just wanted to assure everyone that isn’t the case.

The proposal on the table is to have a database of apartments that accept parolees, as well as a database of employers that will hire parolees. We’ll have a community prosecutor and two social workers working with new parolees to find housing and jobs. Unfortunately, the State of Texas sends Dallas 600 parolees each month. Instead of just letting them off the bus to be either homeless or jobless (and possibly commit more crimes), the City is proposing to help them find jobs and housing and get them back into productive society.

We’ve already seen intervention with parolees work. Since October 2003, community prosecutors have been giving new parolees a single, hour-long presentation on the penalties associated with possessing a gun while on parole. As a direct result, gun possession crimes among parolees has gone down by about 35%. This benefits all of us by reducing crime. The new proposal will allow us to address both the homelessness issue as well as the recidivism issue.

As for parolee housing, District 14 residents can be CERTAIN that I will make sure this housing database does not disproportionately promote parolee relocation to any one part of our city.

Council Vote: Uptown Public Improvement District

Today the city council considered whether to approve the renewal of the Uptown Public Improvement District for another seven years.

The Uptown PID was created in 1993 and is one of five PIDs in Dallas. PIDs are created through a petition process by property owners. The property owners pay an additional tax on their property, and the extra taxes are used within the district to go above and beyond existing City services.

Uptown’s PID has been very successful, and the funds have been used to hire off-duty police officers, beautification efforts, McKinney Avenue reconstruction, and the trolley.

My congratulations and thanks to Uptown PID Executive Director Tracy Curts for a job well done.

ACTION: I moved to approve (passed unanimously)

Council Vote: HUD grant to Dallas Black Dance Theater

Today the city council considered whether to accept a $120K HUD grant to Dallas Black Dance Theater for renovations to their new home at the Moreland YMCA in the Arts District.

Dallas Black Dance Theater is the city’s oldest dance troupe, and it has received numerous awards and is nationally renown. Ann Williams founded DBDT in 1976 to provide dance opportunities for minorities. Today, DBDT offers those opportunities to everyone.

The historically Black Moorland YMCA building will be a permanent home for the company’s rehearsal studios, training classrooms and administrative offices.

ACTION: I moved to approve (passed unanimously)