Council Appoints Tolbert Interim City Manager

Kim Tolbert
Kim Tolbert | Image by Kimberly Bizor Tolbert/Twitter

As expected, Dallas City Council members appointed Kim Tolbert interim city manager on Tuesday — less than a week after T.C. Broadnax submitted his resignation.

But her selection was not unanimous.

“I’m uncomfortable with the time we have taken to process this very important position, as it’s been mentioned by others,” Paul Ridley (District 14) said. “We needed an opportunity to consider all potential candidates, and I don’t think we’ve had the time to do that. As a result, I will be voting ‘no’ on this motion.”

Tolbert is one of two deputy city managers. The other is Jon Fortune. Three assistant city managers — Majed Al-Ghafry, Liz Cedillo-Pereira, and Robert Perez — also work under Broadnax. It’s not clear whether any of them received consideration to become interim city manager.

“Actually, we shouldn’t even be here today,” Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) said. “I’m concerned about a rush to name an interim. There are other internal and external candidates that we haven’t even considered. I’m very uncomfortable with the irregular way this is being handled.”

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Council members voted 12-2 to appoint Tolbert following a two-hour executive session — a little more than 24 hours after they and members of the Ad Hoc Administrative Affairs Committee met to discuss naming an interim city manager and the search for a permanent successor to Broadnax.

“We have some big shoes to fill in my eyes, and that’s my opinion,” Adam Bazaldua (District 7) said. “I believe the direction the city is headed is a positive one. I believe in the spirit of what the interim should be. I believe that Kimberly is the best choice for that. In my experience working with her, she knows the city inside and out, knows the departments inside and out, the institutional knowledge of this city and the inner workings of this city as an organization.”

Tolbert’s salary, effective June 3 — Broadnax’s last day as city manager — is $367,683.

“I do hope that we realize that the public needs to see their governing body working toward solutions,” Bazaldua said. “I heard many conversations or comments about this being something that is rushed. I don’t believe it’s rushed at all. In fact, there’s never a good time to make hard decisions. The No.1 priority is to continue providing quality of life and the exemplary service to the residents of the city of Dallas.”

Omar Narvaez (District 6) agreed.

“I support Kimberly Tolbert for this interim position,” he said. “She started with this city as an intern 30 years ago, and she has worked across this entire city … giving her heart and her mind and her soul in the spirit of excellence. She believes in Dallas. Dallas should believe in Kimberly Tolbert — that she can get us through the opening that we’re about to have. This is not a rush to permanency. I want to make sure the public understands that.”

Some members of the public weren’t so sure that the council’s decision wasn’t rushed.

“Please, please, please try to figure this out,” Yolanda Williams said during the open mic period. “Please don’t start playing politics. Everyone has the right to throw their name in there. That’s why people are frustrated. It’s the process. I have a lot of respect for Ms. Tolbert. We ask that y’all work it out, get together, do what you have to do. We’re watching.”

Amy Robbins, CDO of local business organization MCBA, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’m here on behalf of our members to express concern,” she said. “A vacancy does not constitute an emergency but an opportunity. We urge you to take the opportunity seriously. It’s no secret that many Dallas residents are not happy about the direction the city has been going over the last seven years.”

She described “failed” city services under Broadnax’s leadership — the same issues that have been reported by The Dallas Express and other publications over the last few years.

But another public speaker, Harrison Blair, offered his support for Tolbert.

“We did not call for this vote, but we do ask that if there is a vote to be taken today, that you support our Deputy City Manager Kimberly Tolbert,” he said. “It’s not just about how the council feels or how the mayor feels. It’s really about what’s going to happen to our top staff.”

Blair is president and CEO of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce.

As reported by The Dallas Express, Blair’s organization was among a number of left-leaning groups that planned to push for Tolbert’s appointment. Tolbert has proven to be a proponent of left-wing initiatives herself, promoting race-based causes and “diversity, equity, inclusion” measures.

“We’re also here for the long haul,” he said. “We want to see what happens with the selection of our new city manager. Kim Tolbert didn’t ask us to be here. She didn’t want us to be here. Hear us, what we say as a coalition: We want Kim Tolbert.”

Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) agreed.

“We are in transition, and we need stability,” she said. “We’re going to entertain a thoughtful process, but I can tell you from the last week … what I see are the same people. They’re working. They’re collaborating. They’re serving the public. We need to give them that stability.”

Calling the process to replace Broadnax “challenging,” Carolyn King Arnold (District 4) also expressed support for Tolbert.

“We have a multibillion-dollar portfolio [and] all 15 of us … have to take care of that business,” she said. “At the end of all this, what our community simply wants is to make sure that water is running, the police are working, their fires can be put out, the dogs can be put up, the homeless can be taken care of. That’s just a few things. Staff is now in a position they feel a little more comfortable. I am very proud to be a part of the 15. We are a dream machine.”

After Jaynie Schultz (District 11) also used the word “challenging” to describe Broadnax’s resignation and finding his successor before June, and calling the process “difficult,” Atkins provided some insight into how council members arrived at their decision to appoint Tolbert interim city manager.

“We want to make sure the public understands that we might not get along all the time, but we have worked together. In the last four or five days, we have talked to each other constantly. You put us in this seat. It’s not no back-door politicking. Everybody was there [at Monday’s meeting]. Every council member had the opportunity to talk. Anybody thinking it’s a back-door deal, it was not a back-door deal.”

The council agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was posted before the agenda for the Ad Hoc Administrative Affairs Committee meeting on Monday. On Tuesday’s agenda, Tolbert was listed as the interim city manager for whom council members would vote to appoint.

Under Texas law, council members may deliberate personnel decisions, including the hiring and firing of city managers and other council-appointed executives, in closed session. However, it is a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act to deliberate those decisions outside of legally posted meetings, including via email, phone calls, text messages, social media postings, in-person meetings, and other forms of communication that may constitute a quorum.

Also on Tuesday, council members in a 14-0 vote delegated back to the Ad Hoc Administrative Affairs Committee the deliberation of setting timelines for finding Broadnax’s successor through a search firm or consultant. Committee and council members said on Monday that this process could take several months to a year to complete.

A separate agenda item regarding performance evaluations for City Attorney Tammy L. Palamino, City Secretary Billierae Johnson, and City Auditor Mark Swann was also delegated to the committee.

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