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UPDATE: Dallas Mayor Rawlings Troubled By City Staff's Handling Of Uber Car Ordinance

Dallas City Council members went behind closed doors Wednesday to hear an independent investigation into how an ordinance cracking down on Uber, the app-based limo service, was rushed to a proposed vote.

The ordinance bypassed the council committee process and was presented for a vote after competitor Yellow Cab complained that the new transportation service was violating city regulations.

Following the closed-door meeting, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he didn’t hear of any legal or ethical violations regarding the independent investigation. Instead, he said a series of bad decisions were made. He's troubled by the way city staff handled the ordinance.

Rawlings says he’s deeply disappointed in Interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who wrote a memo earlier this week saying he had "made a mistake" when handling the ordinance over the summer. Rawlings also said Wednesday that the City Attorney’s office was also part of the problem, using a draft by attorneys for Yellow Cab to write the city's proposed Uber ordinance. (Uber could pose competition to Yellow Cab and other traditional taxi companies.)

“I did not hear of or discover any potential illegal or unethical activity or behavior that I believe should be investigated further,” Rawlings said after the closed-door meeting.

But expect future public council discussions regarding how to regulate Uber service, as well as the influence of lobbyists and lawyers at City Hall.

Former Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill conducted the investigation. His report blasts city staff, and Gonzalez in particular, for various missteps.

“Gonzalez should not have asked city attorneys to draft ordinances using Yellow Cab’s lawyers’ draft as the primary guide,” Hill's report states. “It creates the after-the-fact perception that one private company was getting too much influence within City Hall.”

Placing the Uber ordinance on the council agenda without any private or public briefings was “an overreach of the city manager’s job,” the report states. “Furthermore to put it on the consent agenda, assuming City Council might not want to discuss or debate, exacerbates that initial bad decision.”

Council member Philip Kingston described Gonzalez’s actions as “leadership failure.”

“I think the report is pretty clear that this was the result of not just a single incident of bad decision making, but a longstanding practice of the city manager’s office of going around the council, avoiding presenting policy issues to the council,” Kingston said.

This all comes as the council is looking for a new city manager. Council member Scott Griggs says that the Uber matter will be “one of the factors that everyone takes into consideration as we make that decision in the coming months.”

Earlier Wednesday, several council members, including Kingston, had objected to the private closed-door council session.

“The issue on which we’re receiving the report ... arose out of the lack of transparency," Kingston said before the meeting. "And, colleagues, if you vote on the record to go into executive session to receive this report, I believe you will also be voting against transparency. I don’t think this is going to look good.”

But Rawlings had cautioned that the report contains names and references to city employees and that discussion should be in closed session as a personnel matter. 

The investigative report was released after the closed-door session.

Here's part 1 of 2 of the Uber investigation:

Uber Investigation Part 1

Here's part 2 of 2 of the Uber investigation:

Uber Investigation Part 2

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.
Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.