City Commission Again Rejects Restructure of Parks Dept.

Dallas City Hall | Image by travelpixpro/Getty Images

During the City of Dallas Charter Review Commission meeting on Tuesday, members — for the second time this month — defeated an effort to restructure the Dallas Park and Recreation Board.

More than 30 Dallas residents signed up to comment at the meeting, most of whom expressed opposition to proposed amendment 103.

Amendment 103 would give the Dallas City Council the authority to appoint the director of the Park and Recreation Department. Under the existing structure, the director is appointed by the Park Board. Commissioners Marshall Mills (District 13) and Adam Medrano (District 6), who submitted the amendment, wrote in their proposal that the change would “increase transparency and accountability.”

Proposed amendment 121, submitted by Park and Recreation Board Members Scott Goldstein (District 10) and Tim Dickey (District 6), would require the Park and Recreation Department director to submit its annual budget to the city council instead of the city manager, as is currently the practice.

Many of the public comments echoed the sentiments expressed by Arun Agarwal, the president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board.

“They say, ‘Please don’t fix what is not broken.’ But I am saying, more important, don’t break what is working well,” Agarwal said.

Wayne Smith, who said he has spent 25 years working for organizations in close association with the Park and Recreation Department, noted that he does not know of any other city department that is more efficient than the Park Department. He added that the process for hiring the department director has been a success.

“To me, the proposal that we’re talking about tonight is a solution looking for a problem, and I can’t find anyone to tell me what the problem is,” Smith said.

Park Board Member Goldstein also spoke during the public comments section to express his opposition to Amendment 103.

“Thank you for your unanimous vote earlier this month against amendments to undo Dallas Parks’ independence,” Goldstein told commissioners at the March 26 meeting. “Much has been said in recent weeks about how Amendment 103 would shatter the secret sauce that has made our parks department a success.

“We urge you to carefully consider the implications of this amendment and the overwhelming opposition from former parks directors, current and former park board and city council members, and, most importantly, constituents from all over the city.”

“The grass is greener in parks,” Park Board Member Calvert Collins-Bratton (District 13) said. “We are a team, and we support our director. Sure, we respectfully disagree at times, but we don’t have to deal with the politics.

“We’re aligned on the goals of parks, trails, recreation, and amenities. We spend hours without the toxicity and the divisiveness that often exists in council.”

Fair Park CEO Brian Luallen also offered his opinion on how the Park Board and Park and Recreation Department function.

“My role allows me to work very closely not only with Park and Recreation staff but also with the Park Board, also with the city council, also with the city manager,” he said. “And it’s rare that I would step out and speak out for bureaucracy. But the reality is we have a status quo that is working extremely well. It is an efficient system.”

Following the public comment portion of the meeting, the individuals who submitted the proposed amendments were allowed to speak.

“I appreciate all the passion in this audience,” Mills said. “… In my opinion — now more than ever — I believe it is important to ensure transparency [and]  accountability for the mayor, the city council, the city manager, and all directors of the various departments.”

“… But the purpose of my co-sponsorship of Amendment 103 with Commissioner Medrano was and is to have an open discussion regarding the accountability, the efficiency, and the transparency of the Parks and Recreation Department.”

“When a department has a budget over $114 million and is potentially receiving another $345 million in bond proceeds, I think it’s prudent that the current structure be discussed and reviewed, especially since this structure has been in place for more than a century,” Mills said.

However, when put to a vote, the commissioners ultimately listened to the constituents, voting 12-3 against including amendment 103 in its recommendations to the city council.

Goldstein again addressed the commissioners, this time about his proposed amendment 121, but he noted that he and his fellow Park Board Member Tim Dickey had a change of viewpoint since they first proposed the amendment.

“When Park Board member Tim Dickey and I first submitted this amendment several months ago … our intention was to strengthen Park’s independence by putting the budget process directly through the Park Board and city council,” Goldstein said. “We had no idea at that time how much energy we’d be spending over the next few months defending against what we see as unnecessary bad amendments to undo [the] parks amendment.

“The argument that many of the Park’s supporters here tonight and many of the commission members a couple of weeks ago have made is that the current system works and we should leave it alone. And Mr. Dickey and I agree.

“So we think it would be disingenuous of us to continue to push this amendment, and we ask that this one be excluded from consideration and we keep the status quo for the parks governance in Dallas,” Goldstein said.

The commissioners agreed, voting to exclude the proposed amendment from its recommendations to the city council.

The Charter Review Commission is charged with reviewing proposed amendments to the City’s charter every 10 years before recommending them for or excluding them from the city council’s consideration.

This year, the commission’s work must be completed and reported to the council by May 21. Council members must then decide whether to “adopt, modify, or disregard the Commission’s recommended amendments and/or propose its own,” according to the City’s website.

Support our non-profit journalism

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Continue reading on the app
Expand article