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Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson Talks Defunding Police, New City Budget And Chief Renee Hall's Announced Departure

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - On Friday, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson once again criticized the decision by a majority of council members to cut the Dallas Police Department's overtime budget by $7 million for the next fiscal year.

His comments came one day after Governor Greg Abbott accused the Dallas City Council of defunding the police.

When asked if he agreed with the Governor, Mayor Johnson said, "People can go back all they want to about the definition of that term. Here's what's important to the people of Dallas, here's what they need to understand.

Right now in our city budget that we're going to be voting on in two weeks, there's a cut to the police department overtime budget that was not recommended by our City Manager and not recommended by our Police Chief."

The council members who voted to cut Dallas PD's overtime budget this week, which is about a quarter of the overtime budget, said the department needed to become more efficient as outlined in the KPMG staffing study.

Some of that overtime money would go to hiring 50 civilians for the department to do administrative work, allowing some officers to get back into patrol, and increasing efforts to improve street-lighting in high crime areas.

That was a recommendation by the Mayor's Task Force On Safer Communities.

Most of the cut in overtime went to other non-public safety programs, including street repairs and bike lanes.

A majority of council members also rejected the Mayor's budget amendment to cut salaries at City Hall by $6 million, and instead put that money toward public safety.

Johnson said, "We can continue to make the city safer or try to make the city safe in the middle of violent crime uptick by funding our police at the level we should. And we can do other important priorities. But we have to be willing to have the discussion about government efficiency and bureaucracy. We have to."

The Mayor, serves on the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the refusal by the city to cut its budget won't help when they request funding from Congress and the State of Texas.

"It's going to become very difficult for us as a city to go to Austin in January, or go to Washington right now, what I'm being asked to do constantly by the United States Conference of Mayors and by our city, to ask other levels of government to give us money, but then tell the world we are unwilling to cut $1 from our payroll, $1 from our bureaucracy, $1 from the top paid earner, some of whom earn more than the President of the United States of America, many of whom actually earn more than their analogous positions at the state where they're serving 30 million people, not 1.4 million people. That's a hard case to make and we're going to be called out on that and I have a problem with it."

But council members said they didn't want to start cutting salaries for top administrators and civilian employees because they would be difficult to replace if they left.

Top administrators like City Manager T.C. Broadnax are under contract.

His salary is more than $400,000 a year.

Mayor Johnson said hundreds of citizens agree with him and that he hopes they will call their council members and urge them to change their minds about the police overtime cuts. "I'd entertain anyone's amendment in the next two weeks that would actually undo that $7 million cut. We'll see if anybody produces any but I'd be supportive."

As of now, he said he would vote against the budget again as he did earlier this week.

The final vote is set for September 23, and the new spending plan will begin October 1.

Broadnax had proposed a budget for DPD next year of more than $516 million.

The proposed general fund budget is more than $1.4 billion.

The property tax rate for now is 77.66 cents per $100 valuation, the same rate as last year, but could still drop if approved by council members.

Because property values rose before the pandemic, residents will still likely pay more in property taxes next year.

Earlier this week, the Mayor heard the news that would change the police department: Chief Renee Hall submitted her resignation and would stay on until the end of the year.

"I received the news of her resignation from the city manager at the same time the full council did shortly before it was announced publicly."

The Mayor said he hasn't spoken with Chief Hall since she submitted her resignation earlier this week.

He said that's because she doesn't report to him but directly to Broadnax.

Her decision comes after six council members said last month they lost confidence in her following her department's report into the use of tear gas on people peacefully protesting George Floyd's death on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge June 1.

It also comes as the city is experiencing an uptick in violent crime for the second consecutive year.

When asked if it was time for Chief Hall to leave DPD, Johnson said, "That's a question I couldn't possibly answer. We know it happened and I've said on this topic of, you know, how I feel about the leadership in general of our public safety, in our command staff. I've expressed over the year or so I've been mayor, some sort of displeasure with the direction things are going."

The Mayor said he is now looking forward to the city's process of hiring a new chief. "I think what we want is someone who believes in community policing, and who understands that the city wants to be the safest major city in the United States, and we're not there. We want someone who has experience with attacking violent crime and getting it down."

Asked if he would prefer to hire a new chief from within the department or at least someone who's from Texas, Mayor Johnson said, "I think it's too early for me to comment on that, because I really do think it would depend on the crop of candidates that came forward, how I would weigh local knowledge and experience versus national experience or best practices from being in a large, complex city. So it's a little early to say. I just know that there are advantages and disadvantages to both philosophies: Go local with someone who knows the terrain versus go with someone who's got experience running a very large, complex department. So I'd like to weigh that."

Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington are all looking for police chiefs, along with other major cities, including Seattle.

The Mayor said he hopes the council's decision to cut police overtime won't hurt the city competitively.

"We are sending a message to whatever chief that we're talking about hiring, that we're wanting to slash your overtime budget against your recommendation by 25%, and then we're behind on our hiring and we're not going to do some of the things we committed doing to doing last year with respect to compensation. Those are all things I'd be weighing if I were a police chief weighing jobs."


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