Angela Hunt: In the search for a new city manager, give neighborhood groups a voice

Selecting Dallas’ next city manager is the most important decision the city council members will make while in office. In our “weak mayor/strong city manager” system, the city manager calls the shots, recommending how to spend the city’s $2.5 billion annual budget, allocating resources to our streets, parks, libraries, police, fire and code compliance departments as well as setting the priorities of city staff.

Given the direct impact our city manager has on our neighborhoods’ day-to-day quality of life — and how critical strong neighborhoods are to our tax base — you would think Dallas neighborhoods would have a significant voice in the selection of our city’s next CEO. You would be wrong.

The search firm responsible for vetting city manager candidates needs to understand the issues that matter most to the people who live and breathe Dallas, who want Dallas to be a great city to live in, not just to visit or to do business in.

So far, the search firm hired by the city to find our next city manager has not met with a single neighborhood group. Not one. But they have found time to meet with the Dallas Citizens Council. And the Dallas Regional Chamber. And the Real Estate Council. And other business groups.

Don’t get me wrong. The consultants should reach out to Dallas business leaders. Our business community plays an important role in the economic health of our city, so it’s reasonable for the consultants to want that perspective on the city manager search. The problem lies in seeking counsel only from the business community. Its perspective is important, but limited.

The fact is, many in the business community don’t experience Dallas in the same way you and I do. Many of them don’t reside in our city. They don’t depend on trash pickup from the City of Dallas, and they don’t call our 311 system when they have a problem. They aren’t visiting our neighborhood parks or worrying about how quickly the Dallas Police Department will get to their homes in an emergency. Their business life may be here, but they haven’t made their lives here. It’s an investment of a different order, and the people who have made Dallas their home deserve at least an equal voice in the conversation about our next city manager.

The search firm responsible for vetting city manager candidates needs to understand the issues that matter most to the people who live and breathe Dallas, who want Dallas to be a great city to live in, not just to visit or to do business in, and who want City Hall to be more responsive to residents. That means engaging with Dallas neighborhoods.

Luckily, several pro-neighborhood council members, including Philip Kingston, Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano and Sandy Greyson, have demanded that the consultants reach out to us. The search firm can streamline the process by meeting with umbrella organizations such as the Dallas Homeowners League, the North Dallas Neighborhood Alliance, the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League and others that represent neighborhood interests.

But if the consultants wait until the end of the process to seek neighborhood input, my guess is that — like many city-sponsored meetings — the “neighborhood involvement” portion will just be window-dressing, and the real decisions will have already been made.

But let’s be optimistic, shall we? Let’s imagine the search firm does meet with neighborhood groups, and the neighborhood groups say, “Here are the questions we want you to ask the city manager candidates.” And suppose the consultants actually pose those questions to the candidates, with the last one being:

“Quick! You have to choose between building an expensive designer boondoggle and fixing crumbling neighborhood streets. Who is the first person you call to help you make that decision?”

That last one will tell the tale.


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