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Debate Sharpens as City Budget Approval Nears

Government

Dallas City COuncil Members Meet | Image by City of Dallas

In a recent Dallas City Council meeting, members debated the proposed budget and amendments as the final vote approached.

City council members will consider the proposed budget’s adoption on September 21, but in a meeting on September 7, the council voted on several changes.

Perhaps the most contentious amendment was the item proposed by Councilmembers Chad West and Carolyn King Arnold, which sought to divert nearly $345,000 from the Office of Inspector General to hire four more community prosecutors.

The inspector general office was first formed in 2021 due to the efforts of Mayor Eric Johnson. Bret Bevers assumed the role of inspector general in February of this year, as reported by The Dallas Express.

As inspector general, Bevers’ responsibility includes investigating government corruption, misappropriation of city funds, and potential waste of taxpayer dollars.

In the initial proposed budget for the financial year 2022–2023, the newly established office was slated to receive $1.7 million to increase the number of employees to 16. This would add four investigators, one research analyst, and an in-house assistant city attorney.

However, West, Arnold, and others suggested that the inspector general’s office should not be expanded and the funds would be better used to increase the capabilities of the city attorney’s office.

Councilmember Jaynie Schultz claimed that cutting the inspector general office’s budget had nothing to do with “defunding investigations” but instead was concerned with helping the city attorney’s office.

“Community prosecution … is overwhelmed and working tirelessly to enforce the regulations and policies we’ve enacted,” she claimed.

Councilman Paul Ridley grilled Inspector General Bevers about whether or not the current workload demanded an increase in the staffing and insisted that the community prosecutors demanded priority.

“I support this amendment because I think we need to allocate for the current needs rather than the speculative, potential future needs,” Ridley said.

Bevers defended the expansion in anticipation of increased investigations saying, “The request for additional people is based upon what we’ve seen come in, what I believe we need now, and what I believe to some degree we are going to need in the future.”

“It would be irresponsible,” he continued, “for me to ask for something that I needed a couple of months ago when I know what’s going to happen. … The complaints are going to increase.”

Ridley has recently been the focus of ethics investigations and narrowly avoided being found to have lied to the city council in a 3-2 vote by the ethics advisory committee.

Mayor Johnson voiced strong opposition to the amendment.

“I don’t believe that we need to take money out of this particular source,” he declared, then clarified, “our new office of Inspector General, which is supposed to be investigating public corruption and abuse and waste of taxpayer dollars — to pay for this community prosecution use.”

Johnson suggested that the amendment improperly sought to force the council to choose between increased prosecution of citizens who might violate city codes and prosecuting potentially corrupt government officials.

“It’s a source that I find offensive to take money from given what this city has been through with public corruption and where I do not want to see it ever go again,” Johnson explained. “Because it’s damage to the city that we can’t tolerate. It undermines everything else we do.”

“Out of a $4 billion budget, that’s what we’ve come up with? To defund the office of the inspector general. … I do not support that,” he concluded.

Councilman Adam Bazaldua suggested a compromise where the $345,000 from the inspector general’s office would still be reallocated for city prosecutors, but it would be replaced with money from the pension stabilization fund.

After extensive additional discussion, Bazaldua’s version of the amendment was accepted by a majority vote. The council debated for nearly two hours whether to take away from the inspector general’s office or fully fund the anti-corruption initiative.

Other approved budgetary amendments included increased funding for Vickery Park Library, the office of planning and urban design, and additional code compliance efforts.

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