It’s time for bold ethics reform at Dallas City Hall

New recommendations would give much-needed teeth to the ethics code while also making the city’s rules clearer, more comprehensive, and more comprehendible.

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

It’s no secret that these are times of growing distrust.

Too many people have lost or are losing their faith in institutions, their faith in government, and their faith in each other.

At Dallas City Hall over the years, the actions of a few have sadly sowed the seeds of that distrust on a local level. There have been too many clear instances of corruption that have undermined efforts to build a safer, stronger city. There have been far too many questions about how business gets done at City Hall without anyone being able to provide the public with clear answers. And there have also been numerous specious complaints that cast doubt on city officials’ work while wasting precious time and public resources.

It’s clear that the city’s ethics code doesn’t work as well as it should. City staff knows it. The city council knows it. And the public knows it.

I promised after taking office to reform the ethics code and to work to root out corruption at City Hall. The people of Dallas deserve nothing less.

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A task force led by highly respected Dallas attorney Tim Powers has been hard at work on these issues. The group examined shortcomings in the current ethics code and in the city’s existing training. They talked to experts and academics. They looked at national best practices, other cities’ ethics codes, federal corruption cases, and the most recent city election cycle. And now, they have returned a report that is thorough, thoughtful, and substantive.

Their recommendations would give much-needed teeth to the ethics code while also making the city’s rules clearer, more comprehensive, and more comprehendible. Their proposal, which you can read for yourself here, is simultaneously bold and realistic.

As The Dallas Morning News wrote in the Sunday paper, this is “a proposal that deserves the strongest consideration. It is a serious and sober assessment of the shortcomings of the city’s current ethics processes. And it makes clear and strong recommendations for the adoption of best practices to address those problems.”

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The centerpiece of the proposal is the creation of the Office of Inspector General to investigate potential ethics violations, proactively monitor compliance, and serve as a resource for city employees and city officials. Currently, no such position exists, and the onus is generally on the public to complain about potential ethics violations — and to prosecute them before the city’s Ethics Advisory Commission.

The task force also made recommendations to clarify confusing provisions of the code, to improve the city’s ethics training, to facilitate a culture of compliance, to establish better campaign finance standards, and to streamline ethics processes.

The task force did great work. Ethics reform is never easy. Less ambitious efforts have faced daunting challenges on the way to passage. Some may have an interest in preserving the status quo. And the public can sometimes lose interest; ethics reform doesn’t seem to touch people’s daily lives as much as other vital city issues such as public safety, sanitation, or potholes.

But ethical behavior is the foundation of everything that happens at Dallas City Hall. That means this reform effort is of the utmost importance, and it must be a top priority of this city council. For the city government to operate effectively, we must work to build back the trust that some in the past had carelessly and selfishly eroded.

Now is the time to act. Now is the time to lead on ethics reform. Now is the time to show the people of this great city that their best interests are our only interest.

In the midst of the cynicism that has come to define these times, Dallas can and should be a shining example of good government that works. The city council must seize this opportunity to do right by the people of Dallas.

Stay tuned for more updates on this critical issue. And be good to yourselves and to each other.

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Mayor Eric Johnson

Mayor Eric Johnson

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