Oakley, Garcia pleased by turnout by constituents, other council members
Residents seeking information about the City Council’s strategic plan turned out in unexpectedly large numbers at the community meeting this week hosted by council members Ed Oakley and Dr. Elba Garcia, both representing Oak Cliff districts.
Oakley, who helped bring in dozens of extra chairs to the auditorium at Methodist Dallas Medical Center, said he was elated to see so many people attending.
Several hundred showed up, and many had to stand in the rear of the auditorium to hear city officials detail their plans for the city.
“It is a very successful turnout,” Oakley said. “Dr. Garcia and I have never had this kind of turnout before.”
The event, the first public meeting to be held after the city’s annual planning retreat last week, also attracted several council members from other districts and other local and state elected officials.
Oakley kicked off the meeting with a video presenting proposed development in the city. The Dallas Citizens Council video, which presented prominent community leaders discussing the development of downtown Dallas, the new cultural arts center and the Trinity River Corridor development project, drew applause.
Oakley said the video provided an impressive overview of progress in Dallas that has so far escaped the attention of most residents.
City Manager Mary Suhm, whom Oakley called the “best city manager in the country,” called the video a “hard act to follow” before she outlined the city’s five key focus areas of public safety, economic development, neighborhood quality of life, city staff accountability and the Trinity River Corridor development project.
Suhm said a new customer service plan would be unveiled to municipal employees on Jan. 31 in a citywide meeting. The way city employees interact with residents will be improved, she said.
“We’re going to do that differently,” Suhm said. “We’re going to make sure everybody is treated the same way they would want themselves and their family to be treated.”
Assistant City Manager Charles Daniels, who oversees public safety, praised Chief of Police David Kunkle for his success in reducing crime.
“He has done a tremendous job in reducing the overall crime rate,” Daniels said. “We still have too much crime, but he’s working on that.”
Crime statistics show Kunkle fell one percentage short in 2005 of his goal to reduce murders by 20 percent and made it halfway to reducing overall crime by 10 percent.
Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who oversees economic development, said the city staff is committed to redeveloping downtown and all of the neighborhoods around it and stopping the drain of businesses and jobs to the suburbs. Plans are underway to make Dallas an inland port from shipments overseas, he said.
“If should employ thousands of people if we are successful with that,” Evans said.
Evans said plans are underway to redevelop as many of the city’s transit centers into mixed-use retail projects as possible. Mockingbird Station is an example of how successful the developments can be, he said.
Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez, who oversees sanitation, said the city would upgrade its recycling program to rival that of other cities. The city will make it easier for residents by providing blue recycling carts, he said.
“It’s been slow, but I think we are finally beginning to pick up steam,” Miguez said.
Assistant City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, who oversees staff accountability, said city services would be improved by enhancing training and assessments of employees. Each employee will be given a performance plan each year and held accountable to it, he said.
Gonzales urged people in the audience to apply for city jobs.
“We want the best and the brightest working for our organization,” Gonzalez said.
Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, who oversees customer service, said all employees would be required to sign customer service pledges when the new plan is presented on Jan. 31. A committee of 90 city employees will be working on a training and recognition project.
Jordan, who is also in charge of the Trinity River Corridor project, said the development will provide flood protection, environmental management, recreation and economic development. It will include the clean up of illegal dumping in the Great Trinity Forest, she said.
After the presentation by the city manager’s staff, Suhm said her staff plans to provide the same information to other groups that request it.
“We think it is very important you understand what we are doing,” Suhm said.
Oakley told the audience to provide their council members with information with what they would like to see a new bond packaged proposed for 2006 include. It is expected to amount to at least $1 billion.
“If we don’t know about your problems, we can’t fix them,” Oakley said.
Several members of the audience praised the city staff for the presentation.
Roger Wedell, former president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, called it a “good job of showing what is going on.” Improvements to customer service was one of the most exciting elements, he said.
“It indicates they have taken it seriously,” Wedell said “It’s going to take a couple of years to change that culture, and then we will know if it is successful.”
J.L. Forke, who is a real estate agent with David Griffin Co., said he found the meeting informative. He lives in the Knox-Henderson area, but sells real estate in Oak Cliff.
“I actually learned quite a bit,” Forke said. “It looks like they are doing a good job of putting this together.”
Stan Aten called the meeting “impressive.”
“It’s good to see something good is going on in the City of Dallas,” Aten said. “It’s good to see city staff are now recognizing that the city employees are accountable to the citizens.”
Aten said he is unsure if the city staff will be able to carry out all of its plans for the development of the Trinity River Corridor project because of the cost involved. The toll road may never be realized, he said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of this stuff,” said Aten, who noted he has seen more happening in Oak during the last year than he had seen in the past 20 years. “Some of the stuff I think is totally beyond belief.”
Suhm acknowledged some residents are unsure about how effective the Trinity River Cooridor project will be on flood control.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Suhm said. “When projects like this take a long time people worry and their confidence level diminishes somewhat.
“It is first and foremost a flood protection project, and it is the most important flood protection project we can do,” she continued.
“We’ve been looking at this since the 1960s so I’m confident where we are headed is the right direction,” the city manager said.
City Council member Angela Hunt, who represents the Oak Lawn area and East Dallas, said she is planning on holding a similar meeting for constituents with council member Pauline Medrano, whose district also includes parts of Oak Lawn.
“We’re all talking about doing something similar in other parts of the city,” Hunt said. “I thought it was just great.”
For more information about the Trinity River Corridor project see www.trinityrivercorridor.org.
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 27, 2006.