Dallas City Council could create new office to investigate unethical behavior

The city of Dallas is working to overhaul its ethics policy starting with creating a new office.

A new inspector general would have the power to investigate council members, staff and entities doing business with the city. 

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson set out to reform the city's ethics policy months after he was elected in 2019. 

Two years later, the Dallas City Council is set to vote on a big change that would make it easier for complaints to be investigated while at the same time protecting council members from unfounded accusations. 

Dallas is all too familiar with what happens when unethical behavior goes unchecked.

Just last month, a developer of low-income housing in Dallas was sentenced to eight years in prison for bribing two former city council members.

Two years ago, Mayor Pro-Tem Dwaine Caraway was sentenced for taking nearly a half-million dollars in bribes to help a company get a lucrative school bus camera contract.

RELATED: Ex-Dallas Councilman Dwaine Caraway sentenced to 56 months in prison

While corruption has sometimes flourished under the radar, Councilwoman Paula Blackmon said many councilmembers have also had to publicly face accusations later determined to be unfounded. 

"I've had an ethics complaint. I think most of us have. They are political football," she said.

That's why the city council is considering creating an inspector general division.

Kristin Scholer explained to council members why she thinks the city's current process is broken. Her ethics complaint was dismissed last month. 

"I was no match for the complainant’s attorney, who was a former city council member," she said.

Scholer filed an ethics complaint against Councilman Paul Ridley after she accused him of lying to kick her off a city commission. 

In the end, the ethics advisory commission voted 3-2 to dismiss the complaint. But Scholer says the process to file a complaint took her 60 hours — time many people may not have. 

"I have advantages, a grad degree, a career in gathering data," she said. "I would not be surprised if legit complaints go unheard because people give up."

Under the proposed reform, ethics complaints would be easier to file and could even be made anonymously. 

But complaints would only become public if the inspector general determines they have merit, raising concern about transparency. The powerful inspector general would be hired by the city attorney

Councilman Omar Narvaez argued that is a conflict itself.

"At the end of the day, one of our employees will be the one hiring the inspector general, which means there is no independence," he said.

Narvaez suggested the city manager, attorney, secretary and auditor all appoint people to hire the inspector general to create greater independence from the people the inspector may investigate 

The Dallas City Council is set to vote on the initial ethics reforms next Wednesday.