Here’s what we have done in two years at Dallas City Hall

The people of Dallas have demonstrated immeasurable grit, determination, and resilience.

Mayor Eric Johnson
Jul 30 · 17 min read

The following was adapted from my email newsletter. To sign up, visit mayorofdallas.org.

Over the last two years, Dallas has been tested like never before.

Violent crime increases, an EF-3 tornado, a global pandemic, civil unrest, and devastating winter storms challenged this city.

And, of course, all of it challenged me, personally.

But I relish challenges. I am still, at heart, a kid from a big family with little money in West Dallas and Oak Cliff who grew up wanting to make this city a better place for everyone. That remains the goal every single day, in spite of any obstacles.

Dallas has done amazingly well during the last two years considering everything the city and its people have been up against. The people of Dallas have demonstrated immeasurable grit, determination, and resilience.

This is a city that works to repair its faults and to overcome its problems. It’s a city that strives to be the best version of itself. It’s a city for everyone.

This job has been a blessing. And the next two years present the opportunity for Dallas to reach its full potential.

But before the city council recess ends next week and discussions about the future begin, it’s important to take some time to look back at what has been accomplished.

As you will see, the past two years have been busy. Through the work of boards and commissions, task forces, committees, the full city council, community organizations, business leaders, and city staff — and with your support — Dallas has weathered the major challenges and has begun laying the groundwork for a better future for all of its residents.

Public safety

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The city’s violent crime numbers began moving dramatically in the wrong direction during the 2019 campaign. The work to reverse these trends began immediately, and the focus has been on public safety ever since then. Public safety is and will continue to be the top priority. Progress is being made, and hopefully the next budget will include more funding for public safety programs and police officers.

Fighting violent crime. Demanded the creation of a violent crime reduction plan amid continued increases in violent crime. That plan has since been overhauled by the current police chief, and the crime numbers have been improving in the first few months since its implementation.

Building safer communities. Created the Task Force on Safe Communities to develop crime reduction strategies without the use of law enforcement interventions. The Task Force recommended lighting improvements, blight remediation, violence interruption programs, and social and emotional curriculum in schools. Won $4.5 million in city funding for the Task Force’s recommendations, which are currently being implemented. Raised private money to help supplement the Task Force’s efforts. Asked Tax Increment Financing District boards to use their available revenue to provide additional funding for the Task Force’s recommendations.

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Paying competitive police and fire salaries. The 2019 budget, which passed by a 15–0 vote for the first time since 2014, included significant pay increases for police officers and firefighters. The budget also included a mechanism to pay market-rate police and fire salaries to ensure that first responders do not leave the city for better pay at other area agencies.

Combating domestic violence. Reengaged the Domestic Violence Task Force with a directive to find solutions that could reverse the increases in family violence-related aggravated assaults.

Shoring up the pension. Created the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System study group to develop long-term solutions for the troubled fund before the 2023 legislative session.

Expanding RIGHT Care. Supported a major expansion of the city program that sends mental health professionals to handle mental health crises. The expansion added four new teams and new clinical resources for assessment and follow-up case management.

Increasing police efficiency. Supported KPMG’s recommendations to increase efficiency in the police department by hiring civilians to do administrative work that allows officers to return to the streets. The plans are being implemented.

Budgeting responsibly. Fought against the 25% cut to police overtime amid a violent crime increase. Also called for an audit on police overtime use after allegations that the funds had not been spent responsibly.

Dealing with civil unrest. Declared a state of disaster amid riots and looting, allowing the city manager to use additional tools to restore order. Called for reviews of police strategies and tactics during the peaceful George Floyd demonstrations. That included initiating a public input meeting and a formal after-action analysis report.

Demanding accountability and results. Requested a monthly report on the progress being made on implementation of the city’s top public safety priorities — and made the report available publicly. Successfully advocated for more public engagement in the city manager’s police chief search. Also supported the Community Police Oversight Board’s push for additional resources.

Partnerships with other agencies. Worked with the governor’s office to provide additional state resources for the city’s crime-fighting efforts. Encouraged cooperative neighborhood efforts to support public safety, such as Downtown Dallas Inc.’s summer operations plan. Won Dallas ISD’s support for expanding a P-TECH program to help students pursue careers in law enforcement.

COVID-19 response and recovery

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In late February and early March 2020, the warnings began that it was just a matter of time until COVID-19 spread to Dallas. Some have speculated that with virtually no testing available and with the possibility of asymptomatic transmission, the virus may have already been spreading in the community by then. With little guidance from the federal government, decisions had to be made quickly. Leaders of businesses and institutions came to City Hall for preparation meetings. In the days that followed, the decisions were gut-wrenching, and the science was unclear at best. But action was necessary to slow the virus, keep the public informed, assist the most vulnerable (with limited resources), help struggling small businesses, and eventually, start a massive vaccination effort.

Early public health action. Canceled the 2020 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and immediately implemented public health regulations to save lives. Instituted virtual city council and board and commission meetings. Allowed restaurants to stay open for carry-out, delivery, and drive-through and later allowed parklets to expand outdoor dining options. Required COVID-19 testing centers to report daily test numbers to the city. Worked with hospitals to coordinate requests for supplies and personnel from the state and federal government. Advocated for additional resources and action from the state, including testing capacity increases and statewide regulations to avoid a patchwork of confusing local restrictions. Coordinated PPE donations to the city’s police officers, firefighters, and medical professionals. Created two COVID-19 ad hoc city council committees to allow city councilmembers to help shape policies in direct response to the pandemic.

Vaccination program. As the city’s emergency management director, partnered with Dallas County, the city’s public health authority, to administer COVID-19 vaccines at city-owned Fair Park. Advocated for a direct allocation of vaccines to the city from the state. Distributed more than 80,000 vaccine doses at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and The Potter’s House mega-hubs. Partnered with Methodist Health Systems to expand the city’s vaccination efforts. Partnered with Uber and Project Unity to provide rides to vaccination sites. Created the Neighborhood Vaccine Initiative to partner with neighborhood groups and schools to distribute private vaccine allocations at small neighborhood events, especially in southern Dallas. Ordered data-based city registration assistance efforts to help hard-to-reach populations get access to the vaccine. Co-sponsored a vaccine raffle with The Dallas Foundation to give out dozens of gifts, including a $1,500 Visa gift card and tickets to amazing events and attractions in Dallas.

Testing program. Pushed for and helped create a robust COVID-19 testing regime with the help of FEMA testing sites. Also advocated successfully for several extensions of federal drive-through sites.

Evictions delays. Passed an emergency ordinance to help delay the evictions process during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping tenants who were facing economic hardships.

Rental and mortgage assistance. Created a $14 million program to aid those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding for up to 12 months of assistance went to residents at or below 80% of the Area Median Family Income. The program has helped hundreds of Dallas families stay in their homes.

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Supporting small businesses. Created the Small Business Continuity Fund to help small businesses affected by COVID-19 that might have a difficult time obtaining credit or assistance through other programs, such as those run through the federal government. As of June, the Fund had distributed $5.6 million in grants to 539 businesses and $1 million in loans to 32 businesses. About 44% of the businesses were located in low-to-moderate income census tracts. Additionally, of the total amount awarded, almost 95% of the funds went to businesses with annual revenue under $1 million.

Responding to economic needs. Asked Richard Fisher, the former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas president and CEO, and Fred Perpall, the CEO of The Beck Group, to lead a private task force to help with the local economic response to COVID-19. Their effort, Dallas Forward, distributed PPE and provided expert coaching, financial assistance (with the help of the Revive Dallas Fund), and resources to hundreds of small businesses in the city.

Putting Dallas businesses first. To help stimulate the local economy amid COVID-19’s devastation, crafted a new procurement policy to give greater preference to businesses that are located in the city of Dallas or that employ a significant number of Dallas-based employees.

Ensuring equity in the response. Advocated for Dallas County to begin reporting demographic data to show the effect of the virus on various Dallas communities. Appointed a COVID-19 Health and Healthcare Access Czar to make recommendations for improvements, disseminate information, and work with community groups to expand testing access.

Providing transparency on COVID-19. Required hospitals to report daily capacity numbers and reported them publicly. Created a daily COVID-19 newsletter to give nightly updates on pandemic response efforts.

Community programs. Activated the Disaster Relief Fund, which distributed $275,000 to local organizations’ pandemic relief programs. Partnered with faith leaders and Borden Dairy to create the Milk Initiative, which distributed 54,000 gallons of milk and 230,000 pounds of food from the North Texas Food Bank.

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Using the bully pulpit. Recorded public service announcements with the Dallas Mavericks organization and others to encourage COVID-19 safety protocols and vaccinations. Spoke regularly through national and local media about the public’s expectations and the need to manage the virus. Publicly extolled the virtues of masking up in public places. Implemented a mask mandate inside city buildings. Changed official city portrait to encourage the use of masks.

Coordinating community support. Created and promoted “Thank You Thursdays” to show gratitude for healthcare workers and first responders. Helped coordinate donations from corporations such as Uber and the Dallas Mavericks to first responders and healthcare workers.

Winter storm response

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In February 2021, Dallas, like the rest of Texas, was hit hard by Winter Storm Uri and the associated power outages. Little warning was provided as to the magnitude of the disaster, which caused significant damage to homes and businesses throughout the city. The city had no control over the ERCOT power grid, but had to act to respond and recover. And with the community’s help, it did.

Raising money, helping communities. Raised money for the disaster relief fund and distributed more than $1.3 million in grants to 66 local organizations working on winter storm relief in Dallas. The organizations included those helping people with temporary housing, food, domestic violence services, and education.

Advocating for federal help. Requested a federal disaster declaration to provide individual FEMA assistance to those affected by the winter storms. The president granted the declaration.

Responding to the crisis fallout. Coordinated assistance with community organizations and constituents in need, including The Family Place domestic violence shelter. Assisted bottled-water distribution efforts across the city. Coordinated with state officials to provide additional supplies and support to families in need.

Calling for conservation. Asked downtown buildings to shut off exterior lights. Asked the Dallas Stars to postpone games at the American Airlines Center to save electricity. Called on residents and businesses to conserve power to ensure the stability of state-controlled electric grid.

Solving major problems

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Dallas has long had issues with inequities. The digital divide exacerbates those existing inequities. The property tax rate is the highest among the state’s major cities. Homelessness has grown, particularly among African American men. Streets have been degrading for years. And families in Dallas have to deal with myriad other challenges every day. But city government, at its best, can help solve problems and facilitate private sector solutions. That has been the goal, even during the worst of the pandemic.

Helping to prevent chronic homelessness. Elevated importance of addressing homelessness through the creation of the Housing and Homelessness Solutions Committee. Allocated funding for the purchase of hotel properties to serve as temporary housing. Passed the inclement weather sheltering ordinance to allow churches and nonprofits to help people during extreme weather. Helped to shelter people at hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Announced the Dallas Real-Time Rapid Rehousing Strategy to leverage $70 million from various sources to help rehouse thousands of people who are experiencing homelessness in the region.

Providing more affordable housing. Supported the creation of a Public Facilities Corporation to allow the city to develop affordable housing. Also backed private projects with affordable housing components.

Expanding internet access. Funded 3,000 WiFi hotspots at Dallas libraries and converted library parking lots into hot spots. Set aside $40 million in funds to partner with DISD to expand broadband access in the city.

Cutting the tax rate. Fought back a proposed increase to the city’s property tax rate and voted to cut the rate for two consecutive years. Expanded the homeowners exemption for seniors and disabled residents to provide relief from rising property tax appraisals from county appraisal districts.

Strategizing for the Legislature. As the chairman of the city council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Legislative Affairs, developed the city’s 2021 Legislative Agenda in consultation with the council, which voted to approve it.

Advocating for Dallas on the national stage. Elected to the Advisory Board of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Also serving as Vice Chair for Aviation for the organization. Asked members of Congress and the White House to support assistance for local governments, including direct allocations of COVID-19 relief funding to cities and increased infrastructure funding.

Fighting for better elections. Demanded better performance from Dallas County Elections after multiple city polling places were offline on Election Day in May. Led the effort to save taxpayer money by withholding additional payment to the county based on the lackluster performance.

Improving traffic infrastructure. Won preliminary approval from the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Regional Transportation Council (RTC) to fund 44 new traffic signals in the city. Half helped replace signals in tornado-affected areas in northern Dallas and the other half were needed in southern Dallas.

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Connecting Dallas. Unanimously passed the city’s new comprehensive transportation plan to prioritize mobility infrastructure projects. The plan included Vision Zero, a program to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero by 2030.

Assisting young families. Assigned the Government Performance and Financial Management Committee to examine whether the city can offer paid parental leave to city employees. Encouraged businesses to implement their own policies to help families.

Building for the future

The work of building for the future began immediately after inauguration and never truly stopped, even when the world did because of the pandemic. Yes, some of the agenda was sidetracked because of the need to respond swiftly to COVID-19, but the work of the last two years has put Dallas in a better position to compete for the next two decades and beyond.

Pushing for equitable economic development. Supported the creation of the city’s new comprehensive economic development policy, which includes an emphasis on southern Dallas. Pushed for the creation of a new Economic Development Corporation to help market the city, especially southern Dallas, and guide future development. Created the Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which made recommendations that were included in the comprehensive economic development policy. Supported economic development deals for grocery stores and other businesses in historically underinvested parts of the city.

Creating jobs for young people. Created Dallas Works, a summer jobs program for Dallas youth. In its first year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the program helped provide jobs and training to 465 young people. Expanded the program in its second year and partnered with private businesses, nonprofits, and city departments to employ young people.

Teen All-Access Pass. Launched the Park and Recreation Department’s Teen All Access Pass program to provide free access to Dallas museums and attractions over the summer to the city’s young people. Thousands of passes have been given out so far.

Reforming VisitDallas. Significantly increased funding for the arts through the Hotel Occupancy Tax as part of a restructured deal with VisitDallas. Led the effort to change the governance of the convention and visitors bureau organization to give the city more control of the board and to provide more financial accountability.

Taking the international stage. Formed an international advisory council and began meeting with foreign diplomats about opening trade offices in Dallas. Publicly advocated for an office of subnational diplomacy in the U.S. State Department to help cities and states (the idea was recently introduced as the bipartisan City and State Diplomacy Act in the U.S. House of Representatives). Created a COVID-19 relief fund for the City of Jaipur in India and raised more than $1 million worth of PPE and other supplies.

Progress, finally, on Hensley Field. Worked with the White House and reached an agreement with the U.S. Navy to remediate contaminated land to facilitate future development at Hensley Field, a 700-acre former Naval Air Station along the waterfront in southern Dallas. Movement on the project had been stalled for decades. Approved funding for a master plan to guide future development, which will create jobs and expand the city’s tax base.

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Moving Fair Park into the future. Supported the passage of the Fair Park master plan and a state bill to help fund future Fair Park renovations. Hosted the annual State of the City address at the Hall of State to highlight the $14.7 million restoration of the historic building. Supported restorations and renovations of the Coliseum, Music Hall, Aquarium Annex, and African American Museum.

Expanding parks and trails. Strongly advocated for the Dallas parks and trail system. During the last two years, the city has completed 10 additional miles of trails for more than $14 million. Broke ground on a new bridge over Central Expressway to further extend the Northaven Trail. Opened two new downtown parks (Pacific Plaza and West End Square) with two more on the way. The city has also opened the new state-of-the-art Singing Hills Recreation Center and renovated the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center and Bachman Recreation Center. Two neighborhood aquatic centers (Harry Stone and Exline Park) and the expansion of Bahama Beach were also completed over the last two years.

Planning for sustainability and a safer environment. Won a $600,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to help revitalize areas of South Dallas. Won the Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for water conservation. Created the first-ever standalone city council committee devoted to the environment, which crafted the city’s first-ever Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP). The plan, which passed unanimously and had broad support from the business community, listed 97 actions the city could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the city more resilient to climate change. Implementation has begun.

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Pushing for more trees. Passed the Urban Forest Master Plan to strategically guide the city’s efforts to increase the tree canopy throughout Dallas. The plan was developed by the Environment & Sustainability Committee in partnership with the Texas Trees Foundation.

Backing bike lanes. Advocated for increased city funding for bike lanes after the city manager’s proposal to significantly cut multimodal infrastructure projects.

Cleaning up Shingle Mountain. Authorized an agreement to clean up the “Shingle Mountain” dumping ground, located on private property in southern Dallas. The city also acquired the property after a city council vote to authorize it.

Caring for veterans. Created a new city commission dedicated to advising the city on veterans issues. Appointed combat veteran and former state Rep. Allen Vaught as the chair. Supported an effort to house 100 homeless veterans in 100 days.

Developing the workforce of tomorrow. Created the Workforce, Education, and Equity Committee to help advance workforce issues at the city level. Partnered with Dallas College to create a study of the city’s workforce and offer recommendations to help improve families’ economic standing. That report is due later this year.

Community and culture

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Not everything in this role is about agenda items, policymaking, and zoning cases. Dallas is a patchwork of neighborhoods, businesses, and people — a vibrant, diverse, and evolving city. That means there are opportunities to use the bully pulpit to market the city and to highlight and champion the various people, causes, and organizations that make Dallas great.

Fighting discrimination and promoting inclusivity. Co-hosted a panel conversation about race and anti-Semitism with the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. Supported a resolution to fly an LGBT pride flag at city buildings during the month of June. Proclaimed “Stop Asian Hate Day” in Dallas.

Helping the ecosystem. Proclaimed Lights Out Nights to encourage energy conservation and safe bird migration in Dallas. Worked with downtown buildings to reduce outdoor lighting during critical migratory periods.

Renaming streets. Supported the renaming of Nowitzki Way and Botham Jean Boulevard, which were backed by the community.

Providing summer programming. Continued the SMART Summer reading program during the pandemic. More than 5,500 participants have completed more than 9,000 online self-directed activities so far in 2021. Coordinated the annual Back to School Fair to help the city’s children learn, grow, and be ready for the academic year.

Hosting dignitaries of all political backgrounds. Helped host First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, then-Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, members of the Texas congressional delegation, King Oyo of the Tooro Kingdom in Uganda, Roberto Velasco Álvarez, Mexico’s Director General and Acting Under Secretary for North America, and other dignitaries during visits to Dallas.

Building a partnership with SMU. Fostered a growing relationship with SMU, its faculty, its students, and its athletics department. Partnered with then-SMU Quarterback Shane Buechele on a fundraising effort to provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. Reached an agreement with SMU to borrow a storage freezer for COVID-19 vaccines. Spoke at SMU’s December 2019 commencement ceremony. Facilitated a licensing agreement that allowed, for a fee, the incorporation of the City of Dallas logo on SMU merchandise.

Honoring survivors. Awarded Keys to the City of Dallas to living Holocaust survivors in Dallas during the grand opening of the new Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum in downtown Dallas.

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That’s not everything that happened over the last two years. But all of it was work that helped drive Dallas forward. And none of it would be possible without you. So, thank you all — sincerely.

And thank you in advance for what is to come over the next two years. It will be a crucial time for Dallas. The city has hard work ahead. Necessary work.

But working together, we will get Back to Basics and Build for the Future to provide residents with more safety, better opportunities, and stronger communities.

Stay engaged, stay in touch, and keep looking out for one another.

Office of Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

Office of Mayor Eric Johnson

Office of Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

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Mayor Eric Johnson

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Official account of Eric Johnson, the 60th mayor of Dallas, Texas.

Office of Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson

News, speeches, statements, and other information from the Office of Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson