Charter Preamble Talks Derail Over Reparations Commentary

Dallas City Council Meeting | Image by City of Dallas
Dallas City Council Meeting | Image by City of Dallas

A proposal to add a preamble to the City Charter received majority support from Dallas City Council members last week during discussions that lasted more than seven hours.

“I was hearing from some residents during the Charter [Review] Commission process and asked why our City did not have a preamble and then was given several examples of other … large cities in the country that do, in fact, have a preamble similar to the Constitution of the United States that are unique to the circumstances,” Council Member Adam Bazaldua (District 7) said. “And this is more about just shoring up what our City stands for. That is the beginning of the governing document of what our body’s work is prioritizing.”

Bazaldua’s proposed amendment was one of 17 presented to the full council during the latter part of its meeting on Wednesday. Five were not deliberated because of council member absences, one was withdrawn, and nine were voted to “move forward” for formal votes. The others did not receive enough support to advance to the next round of discussions.

“I move to add a preamble to the City Charter that declares our city to be an equitable democracy, highlights our diversity and resiliency, [and] champions equity, community empowerment, and accessibility,” Bazaldua said. “[It] recognizes indigenous groups who inhabited our land. This land acknowledges our history and pledges to build a just and equitable city for all.”

The list of proposed amendments did not include the text of the proposed preamble, but it referenced health care, education, and other services that are not under the City’s purview. Bazaldua said that “edits” will be made to the document, including those recommended by other council members.

“A preamble is really a preliminary statement, like a purpose statement,” City Attorney Tammy Palomino said. “So, it’s not an enforceable statement.”

Although some council members voiced concerns over using language in the preamble that might confuse or mislead residents, they praised the idea. Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14) was not one of them.

“Well, my concern is that it seems to impose on the City obligations over which we have no authority, particularly education and transportation, which are the bailiwick of other entities that have their own elected officials,” he said. “So, I just think this uncomfortably broadens the scope of what the City is expected to provide in the form of services beyond our current authority and beyond our capabilities, frankly. So, I’m not supportive.”

Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) said the preamble “sets the tone for the Dallas we are and hope to become,” and Council Member Jaynie Schultz (District 11) called it “a great cause.” However, Council Member Carolyn King Arnold (District 4) went on a tangent about “enslaved Africans” and reparations.

“I want to make sure that we’re accurate on our … indigenous groups, and I want to spend just a little time weighing the statement as it relates to slavery — enslaved Africans, I should say,” Arnold said. “Well, it’s reparations, because if we keep on … I’ll connect reparations to it.”

Arnold seemed to be trying to distance the City of Dallas from being responsible for the payment of reparations. However, no other council member raised that possibility or even questioned why she made the reference.

“And, so, I want to make sure we’re not seeing ourselves up in the language for that,” Arnold said. “I don’t know if many of you know about reparations and what these extended arguments are … and so we don’t want anything to, you know, reach out into the history and then bring it into accountability for the City. You know, I taught government, so, in history, that’s probably where I’m coming from.”

Arnold didn’t stop there, and the commentary drew laughter from Council Member Omar Narvaez (District 6).

“Probably lost some of the ones who had, you know, the younger ones who took, you know, education and weren’t, you know, TEKS, the TEKS kind of precluded us from talking about reparations and history,” she said. “And what do they call it? The critical race theory. Okay, so that’s what I’m trying to get to: stay woke. So, that’s my concern.”

TEKS is the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum for subject areas in grades K-5.

A formal vote on the Charter Review Commission recommendations and council members’ amendments is set for June 26. Here is a breakdown of how the other proposals that received consideration fared on Wednesday:

The mayor shall designate one member as chair subject to confirmation by a majority of the city council (Ridley) — Favored.

Amend the City Charter to move the City’s general election date from May to November in odd-numbered years (Chad West) — Failed.

Create four-year, non-staggered terms for council members and limit the mayor and council members to two terms. These changes shall take effect after 2026 (West) — Favored.

Change in language related to newspaper notifications (Zarin Gracey, Arnold) — Favored.

Allow the mayor pro tem to call a council meeting to order once a quorum is present if the mayor is not in the room and deputy mayor pro tem if the mayor pro tem and mayor are not present, and city secretary if all three are not present (Bazaldua) — Favored.

Require the mayor to assign committees within 60 days of the date of inauguration. If the mayor fails to fulfill this obligation within 60 days, council members will continue to serve on their old committees, with a new council member serving in the place of someone who termed out or lost the election (Bazaldua)—Favored.

Require the Dallas City Council to ratify the mayor’s appointments to council committees (Bazaldua) — Favored.

Update and correct associate municipal judge to reflect current practice (Ridley) — Favored.

Allow for the chief of police to be under a contract (Mayor Eric Johnson) — Failed.

Amend the City Charter so that the term length for municipal and associate judges is the same as for council members (West) — Favored.

The Charter Review Commission votes every 10 years to include or exclude proposed amendments to the charter for council members’ consideration. The council must then decide whether to place any or all of them on the ballot — as modified or submitted — for voters to approve or disapprove. The recommended deadline for the council to approve amendments is June 26, and the date to order the election is August 14.

Election day is November 5.

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