Charter Commission To Hear Park Restructuring Proposals

Dallas City Hall
Dallas City Hall | Image by f11photo/Shutterstock

The effort to restructure Dallas’ Park and Recreation Department after more than a century of it operating autonomously remains alive after two Charter Review Commission members filed a proposed amendment that would give the Dallas City Council some authority over the entity.

The move comes less than a month after the 15-member commission unanimously rejected a pair of amendments that would have put the department under the city manager’s direction. This time, Adam Medrano, appointed by Council Member Omar Narvaez (District 6), and Marshall Mills, appointed by Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13), have proposed the director of the Park and Recreation Department be appointed by the Dallas City Council.

An upcoming meeting of the Charter Review Commission is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26.

Under the current structure, the director is appointed by the Park Board. In their proposed Amendment 103, Mills and Medrano wrote the change would “increase transparency and accountability.” But the same logic was used by Chris Luna, a former Dallas City Council member, and activist Dominique Alexander, president and CEO of Next Generation Action Network, when they argued for restructuring earlier this month.

In that meeting, more than a dozen people spoke in opposition to any changes that would increase bureaucracy at Dallas City Hall, including Dallas attorney and former Park Board president Bobby Abtahi.

“I challenge you to read the press this building has gotten the last few years and tell me: Would you like the park department to be more like permitting?” Abtahi said. “Would you like it to be more like 911 response times? Would you like it to be like the streets? Would you like it to be more like the loose dogs in South Dallas? If you want to strengthen the City’s park department, make it more independent — not less independent.”

Following the development of City Park in Dallas, the park system was created in 1876. Just after the turn of the century, the Dallas City Council formed the Board of Park Commissioners to oversee management and budgetary issues related to the acquisition of Fair Park in 1904. Over the next 11 years, the park system expanded to a dozen parks spanning nearly 250 acres before Foster Jacoby was hired as the City’s first superintendent of parks in 1920.

Charter revisions in 1927 and 1930 created an independent park board to manage a system that had increased to 32 parks spanning more than 3,773 acres. Today, the City’s park system covers almost 21,000 acres and includes more than 400 parks and 180 miles of trails.

Among other proposed amendments are four that would adjust the salaries for Dallas’ mayor and council members.

One of those, filed by Commissioner Stuart Campbell (District 7), would raise council members’ salaries from $60,000 to $125,000 and the mayor’s pay from $60,000 to $140,000. Another, filed by Alexander, would set salaries for council members and the mayor at $100,000. Philip Kingston, a former Dallas City Council member, proposed in his amendment that the figure should be $125,000.

Commissioner P. Michael Jung (District 9) filed a proposed amendment that would “tie compensation of the Dallas City Council to the median household income of the Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington metropolitan area as determined from time to time, and to tie compensation of the mayor to 135% of that amount.”

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