Councilwoman says she is more determined than ever to force vote on toll road
Dallas Councilwoman Angela Hunt’s promotion of a referendum on the Trinity River Corridor Project’s toll road has cost her a seat on the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau’s board of directors.
Mayor Laura Miller removed Hunt from the board on which the councilwoman served as vice-chair, saying her presence was “no longer an appropriate or productive fit.”
Hunt, who represents parts of Oak Lawn and East Dallas, said she learned of her removal on Friday, April 13, when she received her City Council briefing packet. It included a copy of a letter the mayor had written to the president of the DCVB ordering the change, she said.
“I was very surprised, and I was very disappointed,” Hunt said in an interview this week. “I’ve worked very hard as vice-chair over the past year to ensure that our Dallas Convention and Visitors bureau is successful in promoting Dallas as a premier destination.”
The mayor said in a statement that the councilwoman’s continued presence on the board was “inappropriate and awkward for the rest of the board, especially since Ms. Hunt is now meeting with business and civic organizations all over the city, urging them to sign her petitions to dismantle the project.”
The mayor described the Trinity River project as the “city’s No. 1 tourist and convention destination draw.”
“It is no longer an appropriate or productive fit, especially when there are 13 other council members who can represent the city and who wholeheartedly support the Trinity River project,” said Miller, who noted she had consulted with other City Council members before she made the decision. The mayor said she tried to call Hunt to inform her of the change before the packet arrived but was unable to reach the councilwoman.
Hunt, who supports the creation of lakes and parks in the Trinity River bottom but wants to rethink the toll road, announced the creation of www.trinityvote.com in a press conference last month. The councilwoman and a small group of supporters vowed to collect enough signatures on a petition to force a vote in November on the toll road portion of the project.
Volunteers will collect signatures from April 30 to June 30. They must collect at least 50,000 signatures to place the referendum on the ballot.
Hunt said her removal from the DCVB board has made her more determined than ever to force a vote on the toll road. She described the mayor’s removal of her as a punitive measure that was politically motivated, rather than one that was corrective in nature.
“I really didn’t buy that as an explanation, and here’s why,” Hunt said. “I don’t ever recall once discussing the Trinity River Project on the DCVB Board. We are very focused on promoting our city as a destination, and frankly right now part of the promotion is not the Trinity River because we haven’t developed the incredible parks and lakes that would be the centerpiece of that tourist attraction.
“As of yet, there is nothing to promote. There are other things in our city that we promote quite heavily.”
Hunt compared the mayor’s removal of her from the DCVB board to former Mayor Ron Kirk’s refusal to appoint Miller, when she was a councilwoman representing Oak Cliff, to boards and commissions because of her dissenting views.
“I think it underscores the fact that the referendum’s opponents will do whatever they can to silence those of us who believe the toll road issue should go back to the voters because of all the changes,” Hunt said. “I’ve gotten so many positive e-mails in the last several days from people who are disappointed in Mayor Miller’s actions. They really don’t like the heavy-handed nature that was apparent there in trying to silence a dissenting opinion.”
In response to Hunt’s criticism, Miller defended her decision and denied that it was punitive or that it could be compared to Kirk’s censorship of her.
“I’ve had plenty of opportunities over the past five years to use committee appointments to reward or punish, and I’ve never done it,” Miller said in an e-mail. “I don’t believe in it. In this case, the two council members I appoint to serve on the DCVB are there to make sure the council’s priorities are clearly articulated. Angela not only no longer supports the council’s number one tourism and convention project, she has accused me, the last mayor and dozens of current and former council members of purposely misleading and duping the public about it.
“She has every right as an elected official to say those things, but that doesn’t mean she should be vice-chair of our local tourism organization that books conventions based on that project happening exactly as planned. She and I will continue to work on other issues together.”
Hunt said that she would continue to “work very hard on the DCVB’s behalf,” even though she is no longer on the board. Nothing will deter her from working to ensure that the Trinity River project meets the city’s needs, she said.
“She can remove me from every board that I’m on and that will not slow me down an inch,” Hunt said. “This is too big, it’s too important and it will have too big of an impact on our city for something that minor to slow us down.
“What I’m trying to do is exactly the opposite of what the mayor states. In fact, I’m trying to get our lakes and parks built more quickly so we will have the premiere urban park destination in the country.”
Dallas voters approved a $246 million bond proposal in 1998 to develop the Trinity River Corridor into an urban park.
Critics of the current plan claim voters were tricked into approving the project with brochures that featured images of lakes, sailboats and promenades that are unrealistic to what is actually going to be developed. Supporters of the plan say the high-speed toll road is a necessary component, and without it the project will fall apart.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 20, 2007.