Dallas city council members meet remotely for weekly public meeting

The Dallas City Council debated if the COVID-19 pandemic should delay business as usual for certain city hall contracts.

Dallas city council members took two different paths when it came to approving contracts on Wednesday. They delayed a vote to create a Transportation Leadership Academy, but moved ahead with expanding the Latino Cultural Center.

While they were in their homes, Dallas city councilmembers were connected through their computers to a room behind the horseshoe at city hall.

Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman made the motion to discuss if the city should be spending money on things that aren't essential at a time when the city has a hiring freeze as it deals with COVID-19.

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Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the contracts would not be on the agenda if the city did not consider them necessary.

The first contract considered was a three-year $211,000 contract to partner with UT- Arlington and DART to create a Transportation Leadership Academy. Council members decided that item should be delayed.

“I pulled these items because we are operating under a declared disaster that will significantly impact our budget moving forward. We will have increases and reductions in tax collections and fees,” Kleinman said. “Essential services are fire, police, EMS, water and sanitation sewer. Items are pulled because they are not in these categories. Therefore, funds should not be obligated at this time.”

“There are many activities we will have to do in the leanest times,” Broadnax said. “And we will make decisions about what those are and where we need to skinny back.”

Councilmembers then took up a much larger expenditure: $3.1 million for a theater for the Latino Cultural Center. But the expense was already approved by voters 14 years ago. It was previously delayed because of the financial crisis in 2008.

“These are construction jobs ready to go,” said Dallas City Councilman Omar Narvaez. “We know there are construction workers in need of work.” 

The theater contract will be paid for with bond money that cannot be used for other purposes.

COVID-19 is also prompting other changes at Dallas City Hall.

Broadnax sent out a memo that effective at noon Wednesday, he is directing all directors to send non-essential city employees home. He said this will provide added protection to ensure physical distancing and safety.