Never before have the misdirected priorities of the Dallas City council been more apparent than they are now. The City council is considering spending approximately $500,000 for the expansion and remodeling of its offices while cutting the library funds the same amount — $500,000. Private offices for each of the City council members means 12 branches of the library will be converted to reading rooms. 17 employees will be fired and all back issues of periodicals will be removed from the branches.
It is easy to understand the benefits of a good public library. They are clear. What might not be so apparent is the folly of spending a half-million dollars for the comfort of the City Council.
In the mid-1970s, Dallas was a city that worked. Even though it had just gone through a recession, the city’s priorities were in order. Police, fire, streets, parks and libraries were fully funded. Our elected public officials such as Mayor Robert Folsom, Lucy Patterson, Pedro Aquirre, Willie Cothrum and the late George Allen, Richard Smith and Juanita Craft were perfectly willing to serve with shared offices and a minimal staff. Never was it so easy to meet with a City council member. The reception room was truly that. Without a private office, many of the meetings with citizens and City Council members were held in the foyer or the reception room. It was easy to say “hello,” ask a question or offer a suggestion. Actually, suggestions and community involvement were wanted. Comings and goings of the City Council were quite visible.
At the new City Hall, there are currently private offices, an expanded staff of administrative aides, secretaries and receptionists. This new arrangement has isolated the council members from the public on one hand and given them greater staffs to promote their political careers on the other. Instead of their collaborating with the citizens, we see the outpouring of political letters expounding their personal philosophy.
When the city worked, the City Council members were receptive to good ideas and fresh approaches. This was the era when corporations were moving into Dallas instead of abandoning Dallas. This was an era when the inner city was being rejuvenated instead of having people fleeing from it. When the City Council shared offices, the streets were paved, the police were funded, the parks flourished and the libraries grew, along with the tax base. Now instead of a receptive City Council, we have a heavy-handed City Council. Mass mailings flow from their offices letting us know what they are doing and why they are wonderful. This is the same City Council that says, “Don’t worry about 14-1 becoming a ward system,” yet its very first expenditure after 14-1 is to embellish its organizational fiefdom.
The budget process should be simple and straightforward. First, fund the most important services of the city. Once the police, firefighting, streets, parks and libraries have been funded, divide up the rest of the revenue. Then let the City Council work with the citizens to find solutions for remaining needs. If Dallas has any chance, the City Council needs to stop thinking about its individual self-serving interests and start thinking about the future of Dallas.