Dallas City Council chose a new vice chair for the city’s parks and recreation board based on “diversity” and “equity” in spite of concerns about the appointee’s reportedly poor attendance at board meetings.
Priscilla Rice, appointed to the Dallas Park and Recreation Board in May 2022, was voted in as vice chair during Wednesday’s city council briefing. Because there were three nominees — the other two being Scott Goldstein and Estanislao J.R. Huerta — two rounds of voting were required.
After Huerta failed to receive enough votes in the first round, Rice was officially approved in the second round of voting. She received votes from eight council members: Paul Ridley, Adam Bazaldua, Paula Blackmon, Omar Narvaez, Carolyn King Arnold, Jaime Resendez, Tennell Atkins, and Zarin D. Gracey.
Rice was nominated by Council Members Resendez, Bazaldua, and Narvaez. All three cited “diversity, equity, and inclusion” as key factors contributing to their decision.
“As we consider the three nominees for park board vice president, I, along with council members Narvaez and Bazaldua, strongly recommend Ms. Priscilla Rice,” said Resendez. “Ms. Rice is a Hispanic female who has lived in Dallas for 28 years.”
“In a city whose population is over 42% Hispanic and growing, it’s critical that we create opportunities for involvement,” he continued. “Ms. Rice has committed to engaging the community in general and the Hispanic community specifically.”
Resendez said the City of Dallas needs both more Hispanic and more female members on its boards and commissions.
“Voting for Ms. Rice as president of the park board is an opportunity for us to not only elect a qualified, committed, and engaged community and board member but to close the equity gap in leadership at the City,” he said.
Council Member Bazaldua echoed these points, saying that “representation at all levels of our government is extremely important.” He added that “diversity is beyond just gender and ethnicity but also geographic boundaries of our city.”
Bazaldua said City commissions cannot be led exclusively by people from northern Dallas but must also include people from southern Dallas, and Rice fits that bill. Council Member Narvaez added that Rice lives in Pleasant Grove and has a “commitment to diversity and inclusion and equity.”
“We as a council said that we would pay attention to diversity and inclusion,” he said. “Let’s put somebody into this role that is part of diversity.”
Council Member Blackmon also voiced support for Rice. She acknowledged that some people had concerns about her attendance record but said she did not think it would be an issue moving forward.
“I know there [have been] comments about attendance. I know that she will be there,” Blackmon said. “When you put people in a leadership role, I do feel confident they will step in, and they will be that leader, and they will be there and be present and participate.”
Council Member Cara Mendelsohn also made note of a “rumor” about Rice’s allegedly poor attendance and asked for an attendance record to be provided to council members before the vote.
City Secretary Billierae Johnson said that information could not be provided in time but could be sent to council members after the meeting concluded.
These records were also obtained by The Dallas Express.
According to the attendance sheets, Rice has been absent from two of the 26 board meetings since her appointment in 2022. However, she has also arrived late to two meetings, left three meetings early, and attended two other meetings virtually rather than in person.
Park board member Maria Hasbany told The Dallas Express that concerns about Rice’s attendance in regard to her serving as vice chair of the board are “accurate” but noted that Rice attends meetings virtually because she is a single mother.
“It would be important for the Vice Chair to be able to physically attend board meetings or other engagements/events on behalf of the Park Department,” Hasbany said, adding that her “issue” with Rice’s selection pertains more to the appointment process.
“I believe that the selection of the vice chair should be conducted by the Park Board instead of Council, as we are in a much better position to be able to identify the most qualified person,” she said.
The Dallas Express also contacted Rice for comment but received no response by press time.