The Dallas City Council Has Closed a Gaping and Stupid Campaign Finance Loophole

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City of Dallas and PhotoFunia.com
It's no surprise that the Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to fix a loophole in the city's code that allowed elected officials to take unlimited funds for an officeholder account, then use that money on their campaigns. It's a surprise it did it before May's council election, preempting months of potential loophole exploitation.

It all started when mayoral challenger Marcos Ronquillo called on Mayor Mike Rawlings to give back over $90,000 in contributions Ronquillo claimed made use of the loophole. Since the city allowed unlimited donations to so-called officeholder accounts, and since state law allows that money to be used in campaigns, the contributions were technically legal. But they were still fishy, Ronquillo said.

See also: Ronquillo Calls Out Rawlings On Fat-Cat Contributors. Me, Too.

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Dallas City Council Guts Already Ineffective Ethics Complaint System

Categories: City Hall

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Mark Graham
Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill thinks we shovel horse manure. We prefer to thinking of it as "quoting," and sometimes that's the same thing.
Before getting into what actually happened Wednesday, we will note that council members basically never get rung up on city ethics charges. Complaints get filed, are briefly annoying and then just sort of fade off into the ether.

Still, Vonciel Jones Hill and much of the rest of the council took the opportunity to make it much harder to file a complaint, much less have one stick. A Hill-proposed amendment to ethics reporting rules requires that anyone submitting a report have personal knowledge of every event referenced in the complaint. A complaint can't be based on information obtained by the person filing the complaint; he or she must have seen or participated in it first hand.

Hill said the current system allowed people to "go pick up a copy of the Dallas Observer and gallop off" to file a "horse manure" filled ethics complaint.

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Dallas Cops and Firefighters Get Same-Sex Marriage Benefits

Categories: City Hall

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Dallas Police Department
The sam-sex spouses of Dallas uniformed employees are now eligible for survivor benefits. The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System Board granted the benefits, effective immediately, Tuesday. The move follows a February 18 vote by the City Council to give same-sex spouses of civilian employees pension benefits.

The board's vote comes after a month's long argument over extending the benefits, one that was effectively ended by an opinion issued by Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst on Friday. In it, he told the DPFP board that it would likely lose a lawsuit brought against it by a member claiming his or her right to equal protection was being violated.

"It is my opinion that a court would find that federal law requires the DPFP plan to provide joint and survivor benefits to spouses of members regardless of the gender of the member and his or her spouse," he said.

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Ronquillo Makes It Clear, Dallas Mayor's Race Is a Referendum On the Trinity Toll Road

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Marcos Ronquillo for Mayor
Marcos Ronquillo
So the news here is pretty simple. The East Kessler Nighborhood Association in Oak Cliff scheduled a mayoral candidates forum for Tuesday. Challenger Marcos Ronquillo is going to be there. Until late last week, so Mayor Mike Rawlings, as far as everyone knew.

Then, on Friday, Rawlings made it clear that he wasn't going to show up. He informed the neighborhood association that he had a prior engagement. The timing of the notice buoyed the notion that "Rawlings is too chicken to debate the toll road." Rawlings told the DMN that he simply wasn't going to participate in a debate before the mayoral filing deadline, which comes on Friday. He is willing to talk about the toll road, he says, in the context of the campaign's other issues.

See also: Mayor Mike Rawlings Is Refusing to Debate the Trinity Toll Road, and That's Weird

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Dallas Report Finds That "Urbanos" Like Soccer, Energy Drinks and Furniture

Categories: City Hall

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Who lives in Dallas? No, not not you, suburbs. We mean big D, little A, double L, A, S, the actual city, a curious place with some expensive, high-class entertainment areas and homes but then also a lot of poverty and some Detroit-like patches.

City officials decided to investigate that question, and the result is a report published last week, Neighborhood Plus. Buried in its jargon-laden slides are loads of charts about how Dallas is hollowing out the middle class and median incomes are dropping like a stone. But we knew that already. What's new here are some major discoveries that City Hall has made about the Dallas' population. The four "dominant groups" who live here, listed in the image above, are Young Diverse Families, Urban Loving Millennials, Dallas Baby Boomers and Hardworking Households. Their defining characteristics are fascinating.

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The Best Dallas Twitter Account You're Not Following: @fauxmayormike's Greatest Hits

Categories: City Hall

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@fauxmayormike via Twitter
Somehow, @fauxmayormike, Unfair Park's favorite local, civic-minded parody Twitter account, only has 46 followers. This is a grave injustice, as @fauxmayormike is one of the rare parody Twitter accounts that is actually funny. Here's some of what you've missed to this point:

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The Texas Horse Park Is Almost Open, Is Still an Awful Idea

Categories: City Hall

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Eric Nicholson
A ribbon-cutting for a sculpture.
The sky over the Texas Horse Park on Thursday morning was clear and blue, unblemished by even a wisp of cloud; weather would not be dampening the morning's ribbon-cutting celebration, which has been nearly two decades in the making. On the ground, the forecast was equally sunny. All the gathered dignitaries -- the mayor, a third of the City Council, philanthropists, city staffers, various hangers on -- were enthusiastic horse park supporters. The horse park's various critics -- people whose land was taken, who think the facility too costly, who have been screwed over by Wayne Kirk, whose nonprofit the city selected to operate the horse park -- were nowhere to be seen. There was no one to "rain on our horse park parade" like they did a year ago, the last time there was a big public discussion of the horse park. As such, the onanistic flood of acclaim and self-praise was free to flow unstaunched.

"Leaders have vision," declared Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill, Dallas' perennial champion of rhetorical onanism. "We close our eyes. We look up at the sky and we see a dream. When I came on the council in 2007 I looked at this spot . I saw dirt -- but I saw a dream. I saw a place where we could have horses, where we could ride, where we could have trail rides and we could have all of the other things that we do with and around horses."

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Dallas Extends Marriage Benefits to LGBTQ Employees

Categories: City Hall

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Fry1989
A spouse is a spouse, regardless of genitalia, as far as Dallas' city code is concerned now. The City Council voted Wednesday morning to change its definition of spouse, clearing the way for same-sex spouses of civilian city employees to receive survivor pension benefits.

Gay city workers legally married in states that allow same-sex marriages now fall under the same set of pension rules as straight married couples. The council's decision comes after City Attorney Warren Ernst issued an opinion -- appropriately, on Valentine's Day -- that said the city's retirement system needed to include same-sex spouses to guarantee compliance with federal pension laws.

Sheffie Kadane, who's repeatedly voiced his religion-based objections to providing survivor benefits to LGBTQ city employees, spoke out again Wednesday.

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Can Trinity Toll Road Hatred Help Progressive Dallas Pols Build a Coalition of Sanity?

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Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston -- if they're going to join forces, they'll need better T-shirts than that.
Don't call what's being built here a "slate." In Dallas politics, "slate" is a bad word, thanks to decades of domination by the old guard Citizens Council that still leave a bitter taste, and lingering memories of the battle to put power into independent single-member council districts. But with six council seats up for grabs this May - and more interest than usual in the races because this election could finally drive a stake in the Trinity toll road's heart - incumbent Philip Kingston sees a chance to bring something new to the council table: real, honest-to-God open debate about new ideas beyond toll roads.

It only sort of looks like slate-building.

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Dallas Council Candidate Sam Merten Faces Ethics Complaint Over $10k from Mayor

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Sam Merten for District 9 via Facebook
Last week, we reported District 9 City Council candidate Sam Merten's response to allegations that a $10,000 payment he received from Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings in May 2014 was improper. Merten told Unfair Park that the $10k was payment for work he'd done on behalf of the DISD home rule petition effort.

"[After the Dallas school district's home rule commission was convened] the mayor decided to, basically, pay me for all the work I'd done on the home rule initiative because that was not a city of Dallas initiative, but something that he'd asked me to participate in," Merten said.

Monday, an official ethics complaint was filed against Merten at City Hall. The complaint seems to follow the logic of many of those on social media who've complained about the payment. Merten was a salaried, exempt city employee, so it would have been impossible for him to be off the clock.

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