It was an action-packed week at Dallas City Hall with important votes on police oversight and paid sick leave. Meanwhile, Dallas' D.A. stood firm on his innovative new policy regarding low-level crime.
Here's what happened in city news this week:
New DA policies
District Attorney John Creuzot went to City Hall to answer questions about his reforms. In March, Creuzot announced his office will no longer prosecute first-time misdemeanor drug possession charges, with a few exceptions, such as drug free zones and possessing a deadly weapon at the time. And they will no longer prosecute criminal trespass and theft of personal items valued less than $750, unless the theft is for economic gain.
Creuzot's aim is to reduce mass incarceration, as part of a plan to overhaul the criminal justice system.
The Dallas City Council focused on enforcement of the theft of personal items and criminal trespass, a policy which has drawn a lot of reaction from people fearful that crime will increase.
Creuzot emphasized that police should still do their jobs. He said the open-air drug trade and other activities some council members described are still illegal and police should arrest if there is probable cause.
Paid sick leave
Amid debate in Texas Legislature over whether such rules should be banned statewide, the Dallas City Council passed a new ordinance on April 24 requiring employers in the city to offer paid sick leave to their employees.
The move follows similar measures passed in Austin and San Antonio, though the issue is already being challenged in the courts.
The rule, which the City Council approved in a 10-4 vote, requires one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Workers would be able to accrue up to 64 hours of paid sick leave each year. For employers with fewer than 15 workers, the amount would be capped at 48 hours, or six paid sick days.
Mayor Rawlings called it a political ploy timed just before city council elections. But, many residents spoke in support during public comments.
The Dallas City Council has expanded the powers of the independent panel that oversees city police and hears complaints about officer misconduct.
Council members voted unanimously to give the newly renamed Community Police Oversight Board a budget and staff of four to monitor complaints against officers.
The revamped oversight group will play a greater role in monitoring investigations of critical police incidents as well as conducting their own independent investigations. The council’s decision also creates a new Office of Community Police Oversight, which will be budgeted $500,000 annually to pay for three full-time employees.
The changes were supported by Police Chief Renee Hall, who will retain control over officer discipline, and applauded by activists, city leaders, and the board's current members.
A discussion on a theater lease focused on stage equity brought out quite the performance at city council's Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee meeting on April 22.
The city's Kalita Humphreys Theater campus has been leased to the Dallas Theater Center for a dollar a year since 1974, when they donated the playhouse to the city of Dallas. The Kalita campus includes the Heldt Annex used for black box theaters and rehearsals.
The Dallas Theater Center built the Kalita, which is famously Frank Lloyd Wright's only theater, in 1959. For the past eight years, DTC has been in a holdover lease with the city. The new lease agreement staff recommended Monday takes into consideration the Dallas Cultural Plan, which emphasizes broader access to the arts for emerging and minority groups.
The proposed lease requires DTC to develop a business plan and equitable access plan, as well as sharing access to equipment such as lighting, audio, and technical support. It also forces DTC to block off several weeks of the year for outside groups, building up to three months in five years.
Some council members asked why there was not a formal request for proposals for the operations of the 60-year-old theater. Also at issue: why strategic plans for the theater and surrounding grounds were never adopted when they were completed in 2010.
Some council members also questioned how minority groups were able to utilize the space. Councilman Omar Narvaez intently questioned Jennifer Scripps, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, which oversees all city theaters, on stage equity at the Kalita, the Latino Cultural Center, and other venues.
Jennifer Staubach Gates apologized for Narvaez's questions, saying, "It is not fair to make you the attack in this situation."
But Narvaez rebuffed her. "My colleague who apologized for me doesn't need to be doing that," he said. "I don't need to be whitesplained when I am sitting here at the council."
The Kalita lease is slated for a full council vote on June 12.