Dallas ethics reform task force releases recommendations

DALLAS (1080 KRLD)- A task force formed after Mayor Eric Johnson took office in 2019 has made its recommendations for ethics reform. Johnson named an "ethics reform czar" shortly after taking office.

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"Our city's ethics code doesn't work as well as it should," Johnson says.

Earlier in 2019, former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwayne Caraway was sentenced to 56 months in prison after pleading guilty to accepting $450,000 in bribes. Former Councilwoman Carolyn Davis pleaded guilty to taking bribes from a real estate developer when she served as chair of the Dallas City Council Housing Committee.

"It's no secret we live in times of growing distrust. Too many people have lost or are losing their faith in our institutions, their faith in our government and their faith in each other. At Dallas City Hall, over the years, the actions of a few have sadly sowed the seeds of that distrust here at the local level," Johnson says. "We've seen too many clear instances of corruption that have undermined our efforts to build a safer, stronger city. We've heard far too many questions about how business gets done in this city without being able to provide the public with clear answers."

Monday afternoon, the ethics reform task force announced 25 recommendations:

Complaint Handling, Enforcement, and Related Processes 
Recommendation #1: Establish Independent OIG under the City Attorney’s office.
Recommendation #2: Streamline/consolidate the complaint process and provide greater protection against the risk of baseless reputational harm by reconfiguring complaint form.
Recommendation #3: Allow and encourage issuance of advisory opinions by the OIG.
Recommendation #4: Permit the settlement of cases, with EAC approval, to facilitate the efficient resolution of cases by agreement of the parties.

Culture of Excellence/Compliance 
Recommendation #1: Strengthen current training program for all City Officials and City employees.
Recommendation #2: Demonstrate mastery of online ethics training by City Officials.
Recommendation #3: Incorporate an anti-discrimination provision into the Ethics Code.
Recommendation #4: Incorporate ethics concepts into Values Ambassador Program.
Recommendation #5: Analyze and Improve Effectiveness of Ethics @ Work e-mails.

Conflicts of Interest
Recommendation #1: Simplify conflict of interest provisions in the Ethics Code.
Recommendation #2: Establish a clear chain of command for reporting violations of the Ethics Code.
Recommendation #3: Update the Ethics Code provisions to err toward disclosure and recusal, if necessary.
Recommendation #4: Establish a clear standard or test to determine whether a conflict of interest

Gifts, Lobbying, and Reporting
Recommendation #1: Revise Ethics Code to streamline and clarify gift and travel reporting requirements.
Recommendation #2: Clarify recipient of gift or expenditure
Recommendation #3: Convert paper reporting system to online system with searchable public database.
Recommendation #4: Clarify vague and/or unclear lobbying provisions in Ethics Code.
Recommendation #5: Establish $300 limit on permissible value of gifts.
Recommendation #6: Enhance the functionality of the online lobbyist database.

Campaign Finance
Recommendation #1: Create online searchable electronic database to increase transparency.
Recommendation #2: Establish 18 as the minimum age for donors.
Recommendation #3: Extend the jurisdictional reach of the Ethics Code to ensure that it covers actions of all persons in connection with election and campaign activities.
Recommendation #4: Expressly authorize a “Cop on the Beat.”
Recommendation #5: Increase the frequency of campaign finance reporting.
Recommendation #6: Provide comprehensive campaign-finance training for candidates and staff.

Ethics Reform Czar Tim Powers says the recommendations followed consultation with 15 other cities that have similar committees "to consider their best practices."

"We also talked with leading ethics experts, academics and ethics compliance personnel throughout the country," Powers says.

Among recommendations is the creation of a database where members of the public could search local elected officials' campaign contributions, lobbying connections and gifts they have received. The committee also recommends creating an "Office of Inspector General" that would work with the city attorney's office.

Powers says the office would investigate complaints, but he believes it would also serve as a deterrent against corruption.

"Simply put, it's a matter of preventing corruption and conflicts before they arise," he says.

The recommendations will now go to city council committees for review and then to the full city council. Johnson says the cost of the database or other recommendations has not yet been calculated, but he believes the process will ultimately pay for itself.

"The benefit the city reaps from having the perception and reality be that it is a city that does not tolerate corruption actually makes us a better city to do business with, which has its own benefits," he says.

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