Angela Hunt: To change city hall, start by asking the right questions

13.11.26-Angela-Hunt-Headshot-DFulgencio-0024-2In nine months, we’ll enjoy our biennial rite of electing representatives to the esteemed legislature of Dallas City Hall. It might make your head hurt to think we’ll be hearing about city council elections for three-quarters of a year, but don’t worry. The races themselves won’t heat up until the spring, so until then, our lawns won’t be littered with yard signs, and our mailboxes won’t be overflowing with political mailers. We’ve got a few months’ respite.

So if the inundation of political campaigns isn’t imminent, why do we need to start paying attention now? Because early fall represents that narrow window of time when people mulling over the possibility of running for city council typically decide whether to take the plunge into the rough-and-tumble world of local politics.

People who have been on the fence about running will either go all in or decide their family and career are more important than a job paying $37,500 a year for the honor of beating their head against a wall every Wednesday. It is a difficult decision and not one entered into lightly. My hope, my prayer for Dallas, is that we get some exceptional candidates running for Dallas City Council in 2015. Because it’s going to be an important year.

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If we want to get a sense of whether a candidate will really work to transform city hall, it’s the controversial issues that tell the tale.

Next May, we have a real opportunity to transform Dallas City Hall. Of the 14 council districts, there will be six open seats, two of which are in East Dallas and Lake Highlands (Districts 9 and 10, currently represented by Councilmembers Sheffie Kadane and Jerry Allen, respectively). Six new councilmembers can turn the tide. They can shake up the Dallas City Council and push city hall toward a more neighborhood-oriented, transparent, accountable way of doing business.

If you’re tired of reading about muck-ups at city hall — from fracking to Uber to horse parks to toll roads — then now is the time to pay attention. Because if we stand any chance of changing the way city hall is run, we’ve got to have the right candidates. And just as importantly, we’ve got to ask them the right questions.

By way of contrast, here are the wrong questions:

Will you support putting more money toward libraries/parks/my pet project?

Do you agree that 311/animal services/that lady at the city who won’t return my call needs to be more responsive?

Will you work to fix our streets/street lights/that pothole at the corner of Palo Pinto and Alderson?

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Will you hold the line on property taxes/sales taxes/income taxes?

Not surprisingly, the answers will be yes, yes, yes and yes, in that order. These aren’t dumb or unimportant questions; they just aren’t the right questions. They won’t tell us a blessed thing about whether a particular candidate is going to be a change agent or just another chair warmer. It’s easy to “fight” for more police, lower taxes and better streets. (Show me the candidate whose slogan is, “Vote Jones for fewer police, higher taxes and more potholes!”) But if we want to get a sense of whether a candidate will really work to transform city hall, it’s the controversial issues that tell the tale.

So I propose a single question for city council candidates to separate the wheat from the chaff: Do you support the Trinity Toll Road? It’s not that this is an obsession of mine (it is), it’s that this issue so clearly illuminates a potential councilmember’s values and vision for our city. Either they love the toll road and think everything is going swimmingly at Dallas City Hall, or they see the toll road for the boondoggle that it is and want to take our city in a new direction.

If their answer begins with anything other than “no,” don’t think for a second that they’ll be anything other than yes-men once they get elected, bobbing their heads in unison with the mayor and the Dallas Citizens Council.

But if their answer is an unequivocal “no” (and they get extra points if their response begins with an expletive), then they are worth considering. Just make sure to get their answer in writing, preferably in blood.

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  • Pingback: Angela Hunt: To change city hall, start by asking the right questions - Rubber Bracelets()

  • I read them all, now. It looks like a whole lotta hoopla about nuthin. I’m pretty confident now that it ain’t goin’ nowhere.

  • stuart

    The votes were in 1998 and 2007. Yes, it really has been that long!

  • Sanders, here’s a link to the many stories we’ve written about the Tollroad over the years:

  • I’ve heard that before, and I vote in every election, but for the life of me I don’t recall any previous toll road votes over the last 4 or 5 years.
    Do you have any archived stories that could remind me (and others) of how those campaigns went?

  • Sanders, thanks for the comment. And don’t forget that we’ve already voted on the Tollroad twice – when it was first approved and later when Angela and others solicited enough signatures for another vote. It passed, barely, both times. I would be surprised if the politicians would agree to have another vote, but stranger things have happened Downtown…

  • I think that making ANY election about a single issue is a huge mistake.
    There’s a more immediate problem with the city’s infostructure. City Hall, the police department and the school district have all been victims of corrupt politicians using inept and crooked vendors to update their systems. As a result, the IT systems in all three are a complete mess. Someone’s gotta fix that.
    As far as a tollway is concerned, I’m personally against it. But, that’s big enough of a project that it should be left up to the taxpayers to decide if they want it or not. So the only answer I want to hear from candidates isn’t that they’re for or against it, but rather that they would put it up for a vote.

  • Pingback: Your Basic Primer to Understanding the Trinity Toll Road | The Dallas Whisperer()

  • Robert Curry

    The toll road issue is a bell weather starting point. The bigger issue is how to change our system of governance to avoid this stupidity in the future.

  • lakewoodhobo

    THANK YOU. The toll road is the “catch-all” question for council candidates and I cannot stress enough the importance of our local media in asking this question. Advocate, the DMN, D Mag, Observer, et al, need to make this THE issue.