By Dave Sorter
Dallas’ trails and tribulations topped the issues discussed during the Dallas City Council candidate forum Monday, April 15 at the Aaron Family JCC’s Zale Auditorium.
The Jewish Federation of Grater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council organized the event, and JCRC chair Shirley Davidoff served as moderator.
The Northaven hike/bike Trail and the bond money spent on the city’s trail system dominated the discussion between District 11 candidates Lee Kleinman and Ori Raphael during the last half of the two-hour forum.
“I helped get the Northaven Trail to the edge of the JCC,” said Kleinman, a member of the Dallas Parks Board for five years before resigning to run for city council. “The trail system is important. Why not be able to walk to get a cup of coffee. And that not only takes a car off the road, it also means one less parking space is taken up.”
Responded Raphael: “Trails are nice, and there are a lot of private dollars in the Northaven Trail. But the latest bond package had $22.2 million for trails and only $22.1 million for alleys. But you can’t get to the trail if the sidewalks are crumbling and if the streets aren’t any good.”
Kleinman said he was proud of trail project and noted that money for trails was added to the city’s 2012 bond package at residents’ request.
“I’m very proud of the project,” he said. “Citizens voted on it directly in the bond election. And our district got alley money but didn’t get any trail money. Ann Margolin’s district (District 13) got $1.7 million for trails, to expand the Northaven Trail. Trail money was not originally in the bond package, but residents put in in (input) forms and it got in.”
To Raphael, the trails are simply a symptom of a greater ill.
“Your money is being wasted,” he said, mentioning a parking lot at Valley View Park that had been approved in a previous bond package, but was never built and had to go back before voters. “City Hall insiders are making deals. We say the joke is on us. There are ways in which we don’t spend so much money.”
The spending debate spread to the issues of libraries.
“I grew up next to Fretz Park,” Raphael said, adding he spent many an hour in the library there as a youngster. But instead of building new libraries, why don’t we improve the ones we have? We have this beautiful central library downtown, but the city passed a rule that wouldn’t allow interns to touch a book. Why is the city passing these rules? How about private companies? They’re sponsoring libraries in the DISD.”
Kleinman said he was a big supporter of the library system and mentioned the budget cuts libraries suffered in 2008.
“The issue is how many hours do we keep them open,” he said. “It’s important to keep them open for after-school programs. Technology is becoming an important part of libraries. We have to make sure people who don’t have computer access can get it. We have land at Forest (Lane) and the (Dallas North) Tollway to build a new library. Hopefully on the next bond, we can get the money to build it.”
Asked what they would do in their first 100 days after being elected, Kleinman said he would make sure he got on the transportation and economic development committees. Raphael said his first move would be to call for an up-or-down vote on a ban on texting while driving and advocating for the city to develop a 3-1-1 app so people can report potholes and code violations via smartphone.
Raphael also said he would make sure constituents could contact him any time with such problems, and he would personally work with the appropriate city department to get the issue fixed.
The first half of the evening featured a lively encounter among District 13 candidates Leland Burk, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Jacob King and Richard Sheridan.
Burk said he was running as the candidate with the most business experience, as well as someone who has a strong history and legacy of community service. Gates focused on her record of service and said she has managerial experience through working with non-profit budgets.
King, a high school student, believes Dallas should be looking 45 years into the future and that as a young man, he would be able to focus on what his generation will need. Sheridan, a perennial candidate, acknowledged he is controversial but believes Dallas is a highly corrupt city.
“I’ve been working on behalf of community organizers for many years,” Burk said, mentioning he is on the UT-Southwestern Medical Center Foundation board to go along with his years as a real estate and oil and gas industry executive. “I feel so strongly about this city, and this is an enormous opportunity to bring my experience to the city. I think I am the most experienced person in this race.”
Gates mentioned her nursing experience.
“As a nurse, I’ve made critical decisions all my adult life,” she said. “I’m a proud wife, mother, nurse and fiscally responsible member of five boards. I bring my background in the community as a neighborhood advocate. I’ve spent 20 years bringing people together.”
Said King: “People my age and younger have the most to lose. We have to fix what government does wrong, and boy, do they do a lot wrong. They are mortgaging my future and those of untold others. There’s a certain youthful vigor that only young people can possess, and I don’t think the city of Dallas has that.”
Sheridan said the first things that need to be done are to fire City Manager Mary Suhm and City Attorney Tom Perkins, though the latter announced he will retire in August, and develop an ethics code.
“(The late New York) Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia did two things: He made New York City more efficient and he made the city an honest city,” Sheridan said. “What our city needs is an ethics code, and we need to monitor it and report it.”
On the issues:
• Burk said two-third of the city’s budget goes to public safety, and that needs to be maintained. Gates said public safety is the No. 1 issue for her, along with quality-of-life items such as parks, arts and culture; streets; and spending without waste. King said budget cuts can be made in government operations, debt service and cultural affairs. Sheridan said education must be addressed.
• Burk and Gates would like to build the new libraries for which land was purchased. King said money that would go to new libraries is better used to fund more pressing needs, like new reservoirs to get more water into the city, though he does not favor any more library cuts. Sheridan said Mayor Mike Rawlings is being hypocritical for saying he wants to improve education but wanting to continue to reduce library hours.
• King said the city should be open to gas-well leases on park land not open to the public. Sheridan said permission to conduct the hydraulic fracturing method of gas extraction (fracking) should be in the hands of the Texas Railroad Commission and not cities. Burk said he was opposed to drilling anywhere in Dallas, and Gates said she’d look at drilling on a case-by-case basis, but not on park land or in neighborhoods.
Early voting for the May 11 election will take place Monday, April 29-Tuesday, May 7 at various locations in the city. Election Day polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at precinct polling places.