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What if Dallas City Council held a meeting and hardly anyone from the public came? It just happened

 Dallas city council members met to discuss goals and priorities for the city. The session was led by Jim Copple, an Obama era facilitator and co-founder of ACT NOW.
Nathan Collins
Dallas City Council members met to discuss goals and priorities for the city. The session was led by Jim Copple, an Obama-era facilitator and cofounder of ACT NOW.

What are the biggest issues facing the City of Dallas? The city has hired an Obama Administration-era facilitator to help city officials answer that question.

Dallas city council members and staff gathered on Wednesday to discuss the issue — guided by Jim Copple — at what was billed as a “vision alignment session.” But there weren't many members of the public present to appreciate the preliminary visions.

The session was not held at Dallas City Hall. The meeting was not available to stream online and only 16 chairs were set up along a wall in Thanks-Giving Hall in downtown, to accommodate spectators — four in all. The agenda was posted on the city secretary’s website but had not been linked to the city’s calendar — a routine practice for regularly scheduled meetings — until Wednesday.

KERA reached out to the city secretary and mayor’s office for an explanation. City Secretary Billie Rae Johnson said Wednesday’s gathering was a “special called meeting,” which falls under the Mayor’s Office. Mayor Eric Johnson did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, along with a few other council members.

Jim Copple is the facilitator brought in by the city to help council members vocalize what city goals should be. Copple served as the facilitator to former President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. He guided council members through a series of exercises — one that focused on figuring out what challenges city government faced.

But it was clear early in the meeting that not all in attendance were on board with the program.

“I don’t know how much longer we can come to these vision meetings and keep talking about a vision…when the city manager has already brought us a plan,” Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold said.

Arnold has been in Dallas city politics since she won her first election in 2015. She says that inequity in the city is well documented and now the question is whether other council members are ready to make that issue a priority.

“It’s not about whether you like it or not…we need to decide if we’re going to be serious about this vision and bringing folks up so we can all eat at a table with the same meal,” Arnold said.

She says that her district, District 4, has long been underserved — even likening it to the “stepchild” of the city. Arnold represents a large swath of residents living in southern Dallas and says that inequity in Dallas is well documented.

“But we continue to look over it because it is politically expedient at the time,” Arnold said.

The session was to conclude with definitive action steps provided by Copple. It is unclear whether the alignment results will be distributed or posted for the public to see.

Council members discussed the challenges of government bureaucracy and term limits — making it difficult for elected officials to be around long enough to effect change.

At the end of the day, equity for all communities in Dallas seemed to be the top priority.

“We are in a position that we can be the legacy council in terms of equity,” Arnold said.
“If we so choose to be that.”

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.