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City manager status quo or strong-mayor?

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Just over a decade ago, the federal courts ordered Dallas to create fourteen single-member city council districts in hopes of increasing minority representation at City Hall. That was the last major revision to the Dallas charter. Today, council members have little power over projects in their districts. That power rests with the city manager. And this is why some residents, like Mildred Pope, think it's time for a change.

Mildred Pope, Dallas resident: The idea that Dallas needs fixin' is long overdue. For many of us as citizens, the present form of governance is overwhelming and to say the least, quite frustrating.

Sprague: Mayor Laura Miller has proposed increasing the powers of her office and those of council members. But at last night's public hearing, some speakers, like Tom James, believed that would be expensive and bureaucratic.

Tom James, Dallas resident: Everywhere across the country that a strong mayor form of government exists, there is another layer created. No one person in the position of mayor can know all about streets, sanitation, water supply? Professional people have to be hired to do those jobs in a competent manner.

Sprague: But most of the objections to increasing the mayor's powers came from the African-American community and speakers like Albert Parker.

Albert Parker, Dallas resident: What this city's mayor is all about is just to put the city manager out of a job and the police chief out of a job under the disguise of a charter review.

Sprague: Parker's comments were echoed by Reverend Stephen Nash of the Mt. Tabor Baptist Church.

Rev. Stephen Nash, Dallas resident: In a city where the racial polarization was very evident in the last mayoral election, to the point that 87% of the black voting populace voted against the present mayor, I believe that any move from this present form of government would ignite an already-offended citizenry to disgust, to distrust, if not unto unrest.

Sprague: Some African-American leaders, like former City Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale, did come to the defense of Mayor Miller's proposal. Miller didn't make her case last night, but said council members would discuss it further at their meeting next week. Councilwoman Mary Poss said she'd support establishing a charter review commission, but she did not want it to overhaul the city's form of government.

Dallas Councilwoman Mary Poss: I think there is always some benefit in some good, healthy debate about any topic and certainly it's been 11 or 12 years since we've had that kind of debate here in Dallas on this issue. But I will also say that I am a very long way from an interest in changing from a council-manager form of government.

Sprague: And Dallas residents are a very long way from voting on any changes to the charter. The Council still has to approve the formation of a charter review commission. And any changes the commission makes can't go before the voters until September of next year. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.

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