12/08/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/08/2021 18:36
DALLAS - The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the ethics reform package that was initially proposed by Mayor Eric Johnson and his Ethics Reform Task Force.
After releasing the proposed reforms in late September, Mayor Johnson declared it a top priority of the City Council and requested its passage before the end of the calendar year. He asked City Councilmember Paula Blackmon to help refine the task force's proposals and principles into a workable policy. Blackmon worked with the mayor, Ad Hoc Committee on General Investigating and Ethics Committee Chair Cara Mendelsohn, city councilmembers, and the city attorney's office to gather input and feedback on the proposals.
The overhaul of the ethics code, which Mayor Johnson called "historic" and "monumental," expands the Ethics Advisory Commission to 15 members; creates a personal benefit recusal; tightens and clarifies the gift policy; prohibits a person from lobbying a councilmember on a public subsidy matter; restructures, simplifies, and streamlines portions of the code, including the disclosure processes; and creates and funds the city's first-ever Inspector General Division.
The city attorney will hire an inspector general to lead the new division. The inspector general will essentially act as a prosecutor. The division will monitor city officials' compliance with the ethics code, initiate and conduct investigations, throw out vexatious complaints, and prosecute cases that they believe have merit before a five-member panel of the Ethics Advisory Commission. The inspector general will also have the ability to issue advisory opinions at the request of city officials.
In addition, the Inspector General Division will include a chief integrity officer, who will lead the development of a mandatory ethics training program.
The City Council's vote allocated up to $197,558 to start the office. Some ethics and compliance positions scattered throughout city departments and offices will also be reallocated and consolidated within the Inspector General Division.
"This was perhaps the most important vote we have taken during my tenure as mayor," said Mayor Johnson. "Ethical behavior is the foundation of everything else we do at City Hall. We cannot be a great city without a strong and clear ethics code and without a culture of ethical excellence at City Hall. By creating an Inspector General Division, creating clearer boundaries, and instilling a culture of ethics, we are sending an unmistakable message to the people of Dallas that their best interests are our only interests."
Mayor Johnson introduced the ethics reform proposal days after the City Council completed its work on the $4.3 billion Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget.
The mayor had previously vowed, during his inauguration speech in 2019, to address ethics reform at Dallas City Hall, including by adding more robust enforcement. At the time, a federal corruption investigation involving multiple city government officials had resulted in numerous indictments and convictions.
To move the reform proposal forward, Chairwoman Mendelsohn called four committee meetings on the reform proposal, and the full City Council was briefed on the proposal at its Dec. 1 meeting.
Mayor Johnson on Wednesday thanked both Councilmember Blackmon and Chairwoman Mendelsohn for their work on the proposal.
Councilmember Blackmon made the motion along with additional amendments to institute a biannual review of the ordinance and a requirement that six of the 15 Ethics Advisory Commission members have special qualifications.
"This is an important step in rebuilding trust in our local government and making our ethics code accessible and transparent to the public," Councilmember Blackmon said.
"I am thankful Mayor Johnson prioritized ethics reform, and I appreciate the work of the task force, committee, and all council members to pass the policy and ordinance," Chairwoman Mendelsohn said. "Dallas residents deserve a city government with the highest ethical standards and conduct by staff, elected officials, and partner organizations. It's a day to celebrate a big step forward for Dallas!"