Dallas Approves Ethics Rules With Lower Standard of Evidence | Dallas Observer

Dallas County

Dallas Approves New Ethics Rules

Dallas has enacted new guidelines on ethics complaints.
Dallas has enacted new guidelines on ethics complaints. Tyler Adams
The city of Dallas approved new ethics rules last week. The changes lower the evidentiary standards for ethics complaints and add a Class C misdemeanor offense for leaking confidential information. People who worked on a council member’s most recent election campaign would need to disclose that fact at any private or public city meetings under the changes. Additionally, all city officials and employees would need to disclose their business ties to entities that are involved in a vote or decision by the city.

During discussions about the new rules, the city’s inspector general, Bart Bevers, said there were several ethics complaints that he would have taken up if Dallas had stricter guidelines. A lot of the debate around the issue at Dallas City Council’s last agenda meeting centered on the idea that making it easier to raise ethics complaints against city employees and officials could be used to ruin people’s reputations.

Council members Chad West and Paul Ridley spoke out against lowering evidentiary standards for ethics complaints. “The standard of proof should be high if you’re going to bring a case against [elected and appointed officials] that’s going to put their reputation at stake,” West said. “I absolutely think they should be investigated. If there’s a problem, they should be punished or admonished accordingly. But the standard of proof should be a high one.”

But Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said he supported the change and that he believes residents would be proud to see it happen. "There are occasions where things come before this council where it's a unique opportunity to leave the whole city better than you found it, the types of things that people will still be talking about 25 years from now, 50 years from now," Johnson said. Amending Dallas' ethics code presents such an opportunity, he said. 

“I do not want to be involved in any office that gets into ticky tack violations." – Bart Bevers, Dallas Inspector General

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There have been some ethics complaints filed in the past against several current officials (including the mayor) that some would describe as frivolous. Some Council members said they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of these complaints, especially if these changes would make such complaints easier to substantiate.

But Bevers said he had no interest in getting into minor disputes. “I do not want to be involved in any office that gets into ticky tack violations,” he said. “That’s not why we’re here.” He gave an example of someone showing up 10 minutes late to work every single day. You could probably make an ethics complaint out of that, he said, but it’s not one he’d be interested in pursuing. He said something like this could just be handled by the employees’ boss instead.

Bevers said that in the first year on the job, his office received over 300 complaints, but the only complaint he and the ethics advisory commission have taken up, which will be the subject of a hearing next week, seems a little “ticky tack.” At the center of the complaint is a Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) employee who was allegedly involved in a road-rage incident with a resident.

Someone sent in a complaint by email saying they were traveling west on Bruton Road, crossing over S. Second Avenue where two lanes merge. The Observer obtained the complaint through an open records request but the name of the sender was redacted.

“A city of Dallas water truck began to merge in the lane at a fast speed,” the person wrote in their complaint. “I was immediately pushed over to the shoulder of the on ramp. At that time I was only a few feet away from going over the embankment.”

The person who wrote the complaint said they followed the truck and got its license plate and vehicle number

“I blew my horn at the driver to let him know that his actions were inappropriate, and he immediately flick me off with a middle finger as a sign of FUCK YOU,” the complaint said. “Also, use his point finger of his right hand at his temple as a sign of SHIT HEAD.”

The person said in their complaint that they felt the water utilities driver put theirs and their passengers’ lives at risk. “It is my prayer that every city employee goal is to provide customer service as well as be mindful of the citizens of Dallas that they serve,” the complaint said. The hearing on this complaint is set to take place on Monday and Thursday next week.

The new ethics rules took effect after the City Council approved them on June 14 and will apply to all future cases. Bevers told the City Council that none of the changes were meant to be frivolous and that they will ultimately be positive for Dallas.

“When people see that there’s consequences for actions, it will change their behavior, and that’s the importance of it,” Bevers said.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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