Dallas Ethics Changes Draw Fire From Mayoral Candidates

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Wednesday, May 4, 2011  |  Updated 7:59 PM CDT
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Council members re-examined the ethics vote today in a public meeting.

Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com

Council members re-examined the ethics vote today in a public meeting.

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Dallas city leaders held a public meeting Wednesday on controversial changes to the city's ethics rules -- after the rules were already passed.

Some candidates for Dallas mayor are wrangling over the changes, which were approved without discussion at an April 13 meeting.

On Wednesday, the City Council was in the odd position of attending the first public briefing on changes they had already approved.

The changes added candidates for office to the city's campaign finance restrictions.

Councilman Ron Natinksy, who is running for mayor, said the move strengthens the ordinance.

But fellow mayoral candidate, former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, said candidates have no authority to do city business with contributors like officer holders have.

"I'm certainly willing as a candidate to be subject to the same ethics rules that the candidates are," he said. "But there is a difference, because those guys are actually voting on issues now."

The changes also reduce the time limit on contributions from an entity doing business with the city to 30 days after the business is complete instead of 60 days.

And more people connected with the entity doing business with the city are now permitted to make contributions.

Mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings said the city ethics code has been weakened.

"All I have to do is give my money to you, and you give it to City Hall," he said. "But the bigger issue is transparency. This was done without public discussion."

Interim Mayor Dwaine Caraway scheduled Wednesday's briefing after several council members said they did not realize what they had done when approving the item, which was included along with dozens of routine matters on the April 13 consent agenda.

"They shouldn’t have done that," mayoral candidate Edward Opka said. "I mean, how can it be that you say you didn’t know what you were voting on?"

"Clearly there are problems with this ethics proposal that was snuck through," Councilwoman Angela Hunt said.

Caraway said the measure did not "sneak" through. He said it was publicly posted and that any member was free to pull the item for additional attention and public discussion if he or she had chosen to do so.

Natinsky said he knew what he was voting on when the matter was approved and that the city attorney had recommended the changes in a confidential executive session with council members on October 20.

"I've always supported tightening our ethics, and I've stood by also the transparency issues," he said. "We've put everything up on the Web -- all the reporting, who gives money to who. All of that is very, very transparent."

Several members questioning the decision now say they did not attend the October executive session and should have paid more attention before the April 13 vote.

Caraway said at Wednesday’s public briefing that he would put the ethics changes back on a future agenda for a new vote.

It leaves the issue open for candidate attacks, just days before the May 14 Dallas City elections.

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