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Immigrants may become eligible to serve on more Dallas boards and commissions

Sculptures adorn the fountain outside city hall Wednesday, Aug 16, 2023, in Dallas.
Yfat Yossifor
The Dallas Charter Review previously approved an amendment that would expand eligibility to more Dallas boards and commissions regardless of citizenship. Tuesday's vote changed that first proposal slightly — restricting Civil Service Board candidates to citizens and authorized residents who also live in Dallas.

Immigrants may become eligible to serve on more City of Dallas boards and commissions.

That’s after the Dallas Charter Review Commission voted on Tuesday to approve a proposed amendment that would change the word “citizen” in the charter to “resident” or “people” in some cases.

That includes who technically can speak at public meetings and who is legally eligible to benefit from city services such as fire protection.

Commissioners said Tuesday evening that some of the potential changes to the charter seem fairly self-explanatory.

“I think we can all probably agree that it would be a waste of Dallas fire’s time to ask for people’s citizenship status as their house is burning down,” District 1 Commissioner David De la Fuente said during the meeting.

Currently, the charter tasks Dallas Fire Rescue to take all measures to protect “citizens.” The commission seemed to agree that this was one area where the language change seemed reasonable.

But De la Fuente also said during the meeting that he realized the political climate Dallas voters will be in when it comes time to head to the polls.

“I don’t think the public is going to go for it the way it is written and the way we have discussed some of the issues,” De la Fuente said. “Its very personally disappointing for me, but I think I need to accept reality on this.”

De la Fuente amended the proposal to require that candidates for some boards and commissions — like those that oversee who gets business contracts — be open to “citizens and authorized residents of the United States” who are also residents of Dallas.

“The problem I am trying to solve is a political problem, it’s not a policy problem, it’s not a legal problem,” De la Fuente said. “It’s just admitting that I think where the median voter in Dallas is right now, is one that views citizens and authorized residents as worthy of service on [the Civil Service Board] and in performance of letting of contracts.”

That means the eligibility for roles De la Fuente described would be open to green card holders and those with work visas.

The amendment changes a previous proposal submitted by District 7 Commissioner Stuart Campbell. That amendment — which was approved in early February by the commission — opened eligibility for more taxpaying residents to serve on different city-appointed bodies.

During that early February meeting, commissioners narrowly voted to approve the amendment.

The proposal, would allow Dallas "residents" to serve on the Redistricting Commission, the City Plan Commission, the Civil Service Board and the Park and Recreation Board.

Currently, the city charter only allows for “citizens or registered voters” to serve on those four boards and commissions.

“This amendment has nothing to do with what’s going on in [Washington D.C.]…it has nothing to do with what’s going on at the border right now,” Campbell said during an early February commission meeting. “But it has everything to do with I think he way people should be treated fairly, justly and with morality if they’re residents of the city of Dallas.”

Campbell said all taxpaying residents should have an equal shot at being able to influence municipal government.

“And to deprive someone the right to serve their community on a board or commission but also to demand they pay taxes is just absurd, injustice and illogical.” Campbell said.

Even though that measure passed the charter commission and is moving on for the city council to discuss — it almost didn’t make it.

District 3 Commissioner Lisa LeMaster was one of the first to voice opposition against the amendment when it came up in February.

“For some it’s a moral issue, I get it. But I have one overriding concern,” LeMaster said. “It’s a political problem…I think this issue could draw people to vote against everything that we propose, because it will draw MAGA voters.”

LeMaster argued that with a divisive presidential election on the horizon, it may be better to wait to place this on a future ballot.

“I think it’s a worthy thing to keep discussing and finetune. But I think to do it this year is crazy,” LeMaster said. “I get the moral issue. But I am saying trouble, trouble in River City, if we put this on the ballot in November 2024.”

The proposal comes after a similar measure was placed on a 2021 ballot for Dallas voters to decide on. That initiative failed with 65% of people who showed up voting against it.

And 70% of respondents to a recent charter review poll, said they wouldn’t support changing the charter so that all residents can serve on boards and commission regardless of citizenship.

The amended language will be included in the commission’s final recommendation to the city council. Dallas voters will have the final say in what changes in the city charter.

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.