A Dallas City Council member has asked the chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Administrative Affairs to consider recording executive sessions.

“During my tenure, I have occasionally wished to review facts shared by staff from previous executive sessions and there are currently no records of these meetings,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) wrote in a June 13 memo to Council Member Tennell Atkins (District 8). “For instance, the purchase of the 7800 Stemmons building was briefed entirely in closed session. My recollection of certain facts differs from current staff statements, but I have no way to verify what was shared.”

Mendelsohn is vice chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Administrative Affairs.

Officials with the City of Dallas and the Dallas Economic Development Corporation (EDC) are still investigating why City employees were allowed to work at the new permitting office at 7800 N. Stemmons Fwy before it received the necessary certificates of occupancy.

In May, the EDC was asked to provide “third-party expertise to develop a go-forward strategy for the City-owned property,” and the EDC board approved an agreement on deliverables for $100,000 in taxpayer spending.

However, the $100,000 agreement between the entities required board approval.

That decision followed an inquiry by the Ad Hoc Committee on General Investigating and Ethics on May 2, when Mendelsohn, who chairs the committee, grilled Andrew Espinoza, the director of the Development Services Department (DSD), about what he knew and when he knew it regarding nearly 70 employees who moved into office space at the Stemmons location from the Oak Cliff Municipal Center.

In a May 17 memo to Mayor Eric Johnson and council members, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry provided background on the acquisition of DSD’s new home and the costs related to it “as a follow-up to address the additional information requested” by the Ad Hoc Committee on General Investigating and Ethics two weeks earlier.

“The City Council approved the purchase of the Stemmons Building on August 10, 2022, and the City took possession on September 23, 2022,” according to the memo. “After several different inspections … including assessment by a third-party consultant, the Office of Bond and Construction Management (BCM) began the renovations of floors 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9. As renovation continued, the scope of work expanded when existing tenants vacated their suites in the building, when their leases expired.”

A temporary certificate of occupancy was issued on December 19, 2023, and DSD staff began moving to the fifth floor. Fire inspections were conducted the following February and April.

“[A]s an outcome of the April 3, 2024, inspections, a fire system issue was identified as a safety concern,” the memo reads. “With the approval of Dallas Fire-Rescue (DFR) and in accordance with the City of Dallas standard practice, a Fire Watch was immediately established on April 3, 2024, as a remediation of the identified safety concern.”

Employees were sent back to Oak Cliff six days later “until final improvements at the Stemmons Building were completed” — a scenario Mendelsohn called ironic on May 2, considering the same officials responsible for issuing permits could not satisfy the requirements for one of its own properties.

In her memo, Mendelsohn said it would be helpful to have audio recordings of executive sessions, particularly when they involve “sensitive issues.”

“My understanding is there was a prior practice to record executive sessions years ago and include a limited record retention,” she wrote. “Of course, the audio recordings would only be available to city councilmembers and could also allow councilmembers not in attendance to be brought up to speed on sensitive issues.”

The Texas Open Meetings Act allows the Dallas City Council to record executive sessions and retain the recordings for two years. While it is not required to record them, it must maintain certified agendas of the executive sessions.

Atkins did not return a message seeking comment on Mendelsohn’s request. The Dallas Express emailed City Secretary Bilierae Johnson’s office to explain the City’s policy regarding the audio recording of executive sessions, but no response was received by press time.

For its part, DSD has struggled with permit backlogs, turnaround times, and various inefficiencies under former City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who sat at the helm of the City for roughly seven years and only recently left to take over the City of Austin’s operations, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.