In a first for the Dallas City Council, an existing board member or commission who refused to resign was fired from the city’s service. And our neighborhood was at the center of the battle.
At the council meeting on August 25, the new councilor of District 14 Paul Ridley triggered a never-before-used provision in the city charter and called on the entire council to remove neighbor Kristin Scholer as a representative of District 14 on the redistribution commission.
As requested by the City Charter, the councilors held a hearing at Scholer’s request, heard charges against them brought up only by Ridley, and voted 10-5 to remove them from the volunteer service.
The dynamics of last Wednesday’s action are complex and worrying. Any other board and commission appointments made by council members expire on October 1, creating an uncomfortable situation when changing a seat on the council in a May election or a runoff in June. A new councilor will have to wait several months to replace the previous councilor’s appointments with a new team of neighborhood volunteers.
This is the situation Ridley faced after defeating incumbent David Blewett in a June 5 runoff election. Sworn in on June 14th, the new sheriff in town worked to assemble his team. Ridley says he sent notes to all Blewett officers asking them to voluntarily resign before their term ends on October 1.
But there is one exception.
Every 10 years, coinciding with the US census, the city of Dallas reviews the existing council boundaries and considers making changes to accommodate the changing city population. The work is carried out by the Redistribution Commission, a 15-person body consisting of an appointment of each council member and the mayor.
The Redistribution Commission conducts public hearings on possible changes to the council boundaries and submits a report to the mayor who submits it to the council for review and approval. The current members of the redistribution commission were appointed as early as 2021; In contrast to all other commissions, their term of office does not end until the work of the redistribution commission has been completed and the report has been submitted to the mayor.
And there is the catch.
The neighborhood resident Kristin Scholer was the appointment of former council member Blewett to the Redistricting Commission. Scholer has lived in Belmont Addition for seven years, volunteered for her neighborhood association, served on the Dallas Arts District’s Master Connect Plan Committee, earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from Texas State University, and had a career in data and technology Analytics. . She is Associate Vice President of Data Science and Insights for the marketing technology company Ansira. As part of her work, she routinely navigates through census data and mapping software.
She also volunteered for Blewett’s Council campaign in 2019.
Scholer was unanimously recognized as a member of the Redistribution Commission on April 28th. To date, the commission has not met.
In a normal universe, Scholer would be considered a model commissioner. Well educated, enthusiastic, a heart for service.
But the council’s shoe is not a normal universe.
The City Charter provision used by Ridley has a unique property. A board member or commissioner who is removed from office by the council has the right to bring a case to a public hearing called by the mayor at the request of the commissioner. Scholer made use of this option, and a public hearing was held for anyone who could vote for or against Ridley’s motion to remove her from a commission that was still on its way.
The statute provides that a board member or commission member can be removed “for any reason deemed sufficient by the city council in the public interest”. The language also states that the commissioner must hear “public charges”. The word “indictment” seems ominous, but that’s what the Charter says. That word, its use during the meeting, and the type of defendants Ridley spoke to seemed to make the hearing more personal for Scholer, whether intended or not.
Before Scholer spoke, Ridley complied with the requirement to make his “charges” public. Ridley could have simply said that a councilor deserves to be named his own team. But he went on.
First, he said Scholer was “not representative of District 14 because of a mandate from voters for new leadership.” Second, he said Scholer “did not respond to multiple attempts to communicate with her about her background, qualifications and aptitude”. Third, he said Scholer had “an inadequate leadership history in District 14”.
Scholer began the public hearing by responding to Ridley’s allegations. She spoke of her experiences in the neighborhood and raised the allegation of “lack of communication”. Scholer said she just received an email from Ridley and chose not to reply, referring to the rule that reassignment officers cannot talk to councilors about “the work of the commission,” suggesting a non-partisan role as commissioner without political pressure closes.
Scholer told the council that her “no response” to a resignation motion was actually a reaction she did not intend to resign.
Finally, Scholer stressed her background in data and analytics, saying her analysis could offer a “different perspective than other commissioners”. Her deep analytical experience could be “influential” and “a fundamental element in informing commissioners about the makeup of the neighborhood”.
Four people spoke on their behalf. A colleague from the Alumni Foundation in the state of Texas, two employees from their work at Ansira and former council member Dave Blewett shared their desire and qualifications to serve the city. No spokespeople supported Ridley’s charges. Ridley later said spokesmen to support his case were “unnecessary”.
The council members debated the decision for 50 minutes.
In the eyes of some council members, Scholer hurt their case by not responding to Ridley’s correspondence. District 6 Adam Bazaldua said her non-response to Ridley was “problematic” and “problematic in itself”. He addressed the discrepancy between Scholer’s (one email) and Ridley’s (multiple attempts) description of the communication. Bazaldua said someone was “dishonest” and had “no reason not to believe Mr. Ridley”. Ouch.
Other council members expressed concern about the dismissal of a well-qualified candidate who is about to run less than four months after a unanimous approval vote, saying it is hard enough to encourage citizen engagement in boards and commissions without the threat of public “indictments” “Because of poor communication and lack of guidance.
District 10 Councilor Adam McGough said he could “determine no reason for the removal.” District 9 councilor Paula Blackmon called it “a slippery slope” as anyone’s appointment is jeopardized if you could round up eight council votes. Cara Mendelsohn, City Councilor for District 12, called it “embarrassing” for the city and for Scholer, who “clearly met the requirements” and “has the courage to stand up and defend himself”.
Ridley didn’t give in during the debate. He raised his voice a little as he emphasized the “multiple attempts at communication” and the “unique circumstances” of beating an incumbent whose term of office did not expire on October 1st like any other official. There is “no more important commission” than the Redistricting Commission, Ridley told his fellow councilors, and Scholer’s appointment several months before his defeat by Blewett was “premature”. He repeatedly used the word “mandate” to describe his 22-point stabbing win to “make a change”.
Ridley’s motion to dismiss Scholers was accepted at 10: 5. McGough, Blackmon, Thomas, Mendelsohn and Mayor Eric Johnson voted against their dismissal.
“I’m not angry or bitter about being voted out of office as a new election officer, I absolutely respect the city council’s decision,” said Scholer after the council meeting. “I expected this unprecedented event to end like this, and if I resigned I wanted to do it to stand up for myself.
“What I feel offended is being viewed as dishonest in front of the city council for Councilor Ridley claiming he called and left a voicemail that I never received. Since his first communication with me was an invitation to step down, I don’t see any change of heart with him and would like to contact me again to find out more about my background and to consider filling me as a redistribution commission. The story just doesn’t make sense. “
Ridley says he intends to appoint Norma Minnis to Scholer’s vacant place on the Redistricting Commission. Minnis has been a neighborhood activist since the late 1970s.
There is a significant contrast between Minnis and Scholer. Minnis has over 40 years of neighborhood affairs experience. Scholer is part of a new group of leaders with experience in data and analytics. One of them is a local legend that helps lay the foundation for the neighborhood voices in the town hall. One represents an energetic new generation interested in technology that makes Dallas work better.
The Dallas City Charter was approved by the city’s voters. Voters who approved the City Charter with this provision saw it through the same lens as Blackmon and McGough. They wanted to set a high bar for dismissing a board member or committee member. The member must be charged and the removal must be done in the “public interest”.
Was it in our interest to remove Scholer?
It is in our interest to remove a commissioner if the member misses 90% of the commission’s meetings. It is in our interest to remove a commissioner if the member accepts a bribe. There are reasons to dismiss an appointee, but do Ridley’s counts pass the test?
It is understandable that a councilor would want to make their own appointments from their district. Scholer’s appointment by Blewett was uncomfortable for Ridley.
Is that enough?
Sam Gillespie is a freelance writer and longtime neighborhood resident who has served on several city commissions. The opinions expressed are those of Gillespie; Advocate Media and its staff have no opinion on this or any other civic issue other than our intent to provide our readers with the information necessary to make informed decisions that will improve our neighborhoods.
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