Council and city staff shake-up is exactly what we need

The year of our Lord 2017 will go down in the record books as the “Year of Great and Miraculous Change” in the City of Dallas.

You think I’m overselling this, but look: Dallas is changing, and fast. A decade ago, few would have predicted our city would be undergoing such a rapid transformation today. But 2017 has been pretty remarkable, and the last six months alone have given us every reason in the world to be incredibly optimistic about our city’s future.

This year, three significant, structural transformations have taken place in Dallas, each of which will have long-term, positive effects for at least a generation and likely more.

The first was February’s hiring of T.C. Broadnax as Dallas’ city manager. To say he’s cleaning house at 1500 Marilla is apt only if you typically clean your home with a bulldozer and firehose. Broadnax is dismantling City Hall piece by piece, and building it back with an impressive roster of folks he’s pulled from across the country. He’s brought in a new team of assistant city managers and department heads, and they’re helping him transform our city government.

To appreciate how truly revolutionary this is, you need to understand that previous city managers had steadfastly refused to make dramatic changes. They spent a lot of time rearranging deck chairs. When someone mucked up, they weren’t tossed out but moved around, often with upward mobility.

Seeing dramatic, quick change from Broadnax is refreshing. And it’s going to reap dividends in the coming years as his new processes and new organizational structures take hold.

May and June saw even more transformation, in what historians will one day call “The Year Things in Dallas Got Real.” Our biennial rite of City Council elections was quite the firestorm this time around, forcing incumbents to dance for their dinner to keep their jobs. After all was said and done, after all the votes were counted and the run-offs run, four incumbents lost their seats.

Beating incumbents is unheard of in Dallas. (Councilmember Scott Griggs has made a pastime of it, beating two incumbents, but he’s the exception, not the rule.) No, it’s a tough row to hoe, beating an incumbent in our city.

But beaten they were. Well, most of them. Philip Kingston easily kept his District 14 council seat, despite the incredible amount of money the Dallas Citizens Council spent trying to oust him. But others, like Erik Wilson, Carolyn King Arnold, Monica Alonzo and Tiffinni Young, weren’t so lucky. They were defeated by former councilmembers Tennell Atkins and Dwaine Caraway, along with newcomers Omar Narvaez and Kevin Felder.

The interesting thing here is that the old moneyed establishment supported all four incumbents. With all their old money. Lots and lots of old, old money. But the incumbents still lost, and that’s the refreshing part. New voices and new ideas won out.

In fact, it was one of the new council’s first official acts that laid the groundwork for what I think will be one of the most significant changes for our city. In late June, the council voted on a new contingent to represent Dallas on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board. DART has been heading down the wrong path for years, prioritizing inefficient transportation policies to the detriment of Dallas proper. The new council replaced four of Dallas’ eight board members, knocking off those who had voted against Dallas’ best interests. The new DART board is poised to reshape our transit policies at a critical time.

Are these Berlin-Wall-falling level changes? Maybe not, but for Dallas they’re big. Huge. And I’m still going to call 2017 “The Year Lots of Really Big and Transformational Things Happened in Dallas.” It’s a good year. A great year. And we’ve still got five months to go.