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Who runs the city when the mayor is away? A Dallas commission is considering who gets the gig

The City of Dallas seal near city hall Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023, in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor
The Dallas Charter Review Commission is looking at eliminating the positions of mayor pro tem and deputy mayor pro tem or letting the mayor pick who serves in them.

The Dallas Charter Review Commission is discussing either eliminating the city council positions that govern city proceedings when the mayor is absent — or letting the mayor choose their own council officers.

That issue was discussed during Tuesday’s Charter Review Commission meeting. While the officers fill in when the mayor is out of town — or incapacitated — currently, Dallas voters have no say in deciding who runs the government if that happens.

That’s because current city council members decide on who will fill the Mayor Pro Tem and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem positions. Usually a few days after inauguration day.

Different versions of the amendment were introduced by former District 14 Council Member Philip Kingston who wants the positions eliminated and current District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn — who is advocating for leaving the decision up to the sitting mayor.

Both City Hall insiders claimed that reasons including council infighting during the selection process, a lack of officer power and toxic caucuses formed along racial lines — known as the ‘Napoleon Rule’ — are their reasons for either letting the mayor choose “trusted allies” for the positions or to eliminate them altogether.

“For a better functioning city council, it would be helpful if the mayor had trusted allies in those positions that he or she could utilize with confidence,” Mendelsohn said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Mendelsohn said she was “horrified” to learn after first becoming a council member, that there were causes based on race and the informal “Neapolitan Rule” associated with the council positions.

“It’s just galling to see relationships harmed over offices that literally don’t mean anything,” Kingston said during the meeting.

Both Kingston and Mendelsohn also pointed to a scenario where the mayor leaves office before his or her term is finished.

“The issue that Mr. Kingston brings up about a mayor leaving early to run for another office and having a council member take that position is a real possibility,” Mendelsohn said. “And something that…I think there is a lot of speculation about, it doesn’t matter who the mayor is.”

But others on the commission said they don’t have the same narrative.

“I just want y’all to know that I wasn’t Deputy Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem because I am Hispanic,” Charter Review Commission Vice Chair and former Dallas City Council Member Adam Medrano said during the meeting. “I think I did it because I was a consensus builder, I was a leader…I do think these are important positions, I know that I ran probably half of the meeting when I was Mayor Pro Tem because our mayor was absent.”

Multiple petitions to recall Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson cite the mayor missing numerous hours of city council meetings.

Last October, a KERA investigation into elected official meeting attendance found that Johnson had missed over a hundred hours of city council meetings — not excused by the city secretary — since being elected in 2019.

But the charter commission decided to table the discussion about the issue until a future meeting. The debate over whether council positions are amended — or eliminated — continues.

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.