City of Dallas Releases Ethics Reform Plan

Recommendations from Ethics Reform Czar appointed by Mayor Eric Johnson

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A Dallas ethics reform plan was released Monday in the wake of several recent corruption cases.

Former City Council Member Dwaine Caraway went to prison after pleading guilty in 2018 to selling his City Council votes in the Dallas County Schools scandal.

In June, Developer Ruel Hamilton was convicted of paying bribes to Caraway and to deceased city council member Carolyn Davis over affordable housing business at city hall.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson made ethics reform a priority when he was elected in 2019. He appointed Dallas Attorney Tim Powers to be Ethics Reform Czar. Powers assembled a task force that reviewed existing city codes and ethics policies from other cities.

Johnson said the task force work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic but is still very important.

He said some people in the housing development community are afraid of doing business with the City of Dallas after the recent scandals.

“They want to do business honestly and they'd like to know that we have a city government that's equally committed to that. And I think if we implement this report that Mr. Powers has put together, his task force has put together, we'll be sending a very strong message. that those days are over,” Johnson said.

The main suggestion is the creation of an inspector general to oversee ethics complaints and enforcement in city government.

“We believe that any cost that's associated with it will be well worth the expense,” Powers said.

Johnson said the proposals would simplify the existing ethics code and strengthen enforcement.

Dallas City Council Committees will now review the recommendations.

Here is a link to the complete report.

The task force members were:

  • Elizabeth B. Gibson, Toyota Motor North America, Inc.
  • Daniel J. Micciche, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP and Dallas ISD Board of Trustees
  • Professor Anna Offit, SMU Dedman School of Law
  • Professor Thomas P. Perkins, Jr., UNT Dallas College of Law, a former Dallas City Attorney
  • Rabbi Debra J. Robbins, Temple Emanu-El

Here is a list of the task force’s recommendations by focus area:

  1. Complaint Handling, Enforcement, and Related Processes 
  • Recommendation #1: Establish Independent OIG under the City Attorney’s office.
  • Recommendation #2: Streamline/consolidate the complaint process and provide greater protection against the risk of baseless reputational harm by reconfiguring complaint form.
  • Recommendation #3: Allow and encourage issuance of advisory opinions by the OIG.
  • Recommendation #4: Permit the settlement of cases, with EAC approval, to facilitate the efficient resolution of cases by agreement of the parties.
  1. Culture of Excellence/Compliance 
  • Recommendation #1: Strengthen current training program for all City Officials and City employees.
  • Recommendation #2: Demonstrate mastery of online ethics training by City Officials.
  • Recommendation #3: Incorporate an anti-discrimination provision into the Ethics Code.
  • Recommendation #4: Incorporate ethics concepts into Values Ambassador Program.
  • Recommendation #5: Analyze and Improve Effectiveness of Ethics @ Work e-mails.
  1. Conflicts of Interest
  • Recommendation #1: Simplify conflict of interest provisions in the Ethics Code.
  • Recommendation #2: Establish a clear chain of command for reporting violations of the Ethics Code.
  • Recommendation #3: Update the Ethics Code provisions to err toward disclosure and recusal, if necessary. 
  • Recommendation #4: Establish a clear standard or test to determine whether a conflict of interest
  1. Gifts, Lobbying, and Reporting
  • Recommendation #1: Revise Ethics Code to streamline and clarify gift and travel reporting requirements.
  • Recommendation #2: Clarify recipient of gift or expenditure
  • Recommendation #3: Convert paper reporting system to online system with searchable public database. 
  • Recommendation #4: Clarify vague and/or unclear lobbying provisions in Ethics Code.
  • Recommendation #5: Establish $300 limit on permissible value of gifts.
  • Recommendation #6: Enhance the functionality of the online lobbyist database.
  1. Campaign Finance
  • Recommendation #1: Create online searchable electronic database to increase transparency. 
  • Recommendation #2: Establish 18 as the minimum age for donors.
  • Recommendation #3: Extend the jurisdictional reach of the Ethics Code to ensure that it covers actions of all persons in connection with election and campaign activities.
  • Recommendation #4: Expressly authorize a “Cop on the Beat.”
  • Recommendation #5: Increase the frequency of campaign finance reporting.
  • Recommendation #6: Provide comprehensive campaign-finance training for candidates and staff.
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