After years of past scandals, the Dallas City Council Wednesday approved a new ethics code.
It was the result of September recommendations from a task force appointed by current Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson.
“Ethical questions and federal investigations have cast a cloud that’s hung over this building for far too long,” Johnson said.
Officials said the new code rewrites and simplifies existing Dallas ethics rules and adds an officer of Inspector General that will investigate complaints and dispose of frivolous matters. Nearly $200,000 has been set aside to set up the new office and hire staff.
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The existing ethics review board considers complaints but has no power to investigate. The current board will be expanded with members appointed by each city council member.
Council Member Paula Blackmon led the City Council review of the task force recommendations. A review every two years is included in the new plan.
“If there’s some additions, if there’s strikes we need to do, let’s have that discussion. And let’s create something that brings integrity and transparency back to city hall,” Blackmon said.
Recent scandals include former Councilman Dwaine Caraway convicted of taking bribes in the Dallas County Schools bus stop-arm camera program and deceased Council Member Carolyn Davis who pleaded guilty to taking bribes from developer Ruel Hamilton. Davis was killed in an automobile accident with an impaired driver before she was convicted.
Hamilton was convicted in June of paying bribes and sentenced in November to eight years in prison.
Dallas City Councilmember Adam McGough has never been accused of a crime but did attract ethical questions this year over his role as the video spokesman for a no-bid deal with a non-profit agency for the long-term lease of city property. E-mails records showed that McGough had discussed a paid position with the non-profit group but he denied he was planning to go through with that role. The deal was withdrawn from city consideration amid the controversy. Critics said it should have been put to competitive bidding.
McGough said he was transparent from the beginning about his support for the project that he said would have been good for the community.
McGough was part of the unanimous city council vote in favor of the new ethics rules.
“This vote today on ethics reform represents a sea change in the way this city does business. It’s a historic vote. It’s a monumental vote and it’s the right thing to do to restore the public’s trust,” Mayor Eric Johnson said. “We're sending a message and that message to the people of Dallas is that their best interests are our only interest.”
Council Member Cara Mendelsohn called four committee meetings since September to help craft the final version of the law approved Wednesday.
“This is the most important vote I've taken since I've been elected and it's also the easiest,” Mendelsohn said.
The existing Dallas Ethics Review Board will stay on the job until the Dallas Inspector General is hired and the expanded Ethics Review Board is appointed.