DALLAS — The Dallas City Council voted to eliminate the Community Development Department, and its director, Jason Locke, on Dec. 20 as part of a restructuring of city departments.
Locke is on leave until Tuesday, when he will be laid off. He has worked for the city since 2008.
Interim City Manager Greg Ellis recommended the change, and said he realized during his first staff meeting that the city had too many department heads reporting to him.
In a memo to the council, Ellis said having more than six “direct reports,” or people reporting directly to him, could cause inefficiency.
“The way I’m proposing to do that is take some of the departments that are, in my opinion, should logically be in other areas and put then in those other areas,” Ellis said at the meeting Dec. 20. “What that entails, basically, is the elimination of the community development department.”
Community development previously included planning, the building department, facilities maintenance and the Dallas Aquatic Center.
“That would entail the loss of the community development director,” Ellis said. “I’m proposing that the council eliminate that department and reorganize as proposed.”
With the change, planning is a stand-alone department that includes the building division. The city is in the process of hiring a manager for planning.
Facilities maintenance will go to public works, and the Dallas Aquatic Center management will become part of the new parks and recreation department.
Parks and recreation will include park maintenance, the DAC and Recreation Coordinator Sheila Pierce. Eric Totten is the park and rec manager. The DAC supervisor position is vacant since the retirement of Tina Paul.
Ellis’ proposal has the police, fire, planning, public works, and financial services supervisors reporting to him. Ellis is the supervisor of the administration department, which contains human resources, library, parks and recreation and economic development.
“There’s still a lot of direct reports, but it does eliminate some,” he said.
Ellis, who started with the city on Dec. 8, said the possibility of new development projects is one of the reasons behind the swiftness of the change.
“Planning functions are currently part of community development’s responsibility,” Ellis wrote in his memo. “There is a high likelihood of transformative industrial and commercial development within the city beginning in the first or second month of 2018. Due to that fact alone, I believe this reorganization needs to happen immediately in order to eliminate project disruption at a later date.”
He identified those projects as Grocery Outlet on the commercial side and the industrial project as “Indigo,” estimated to be completed in 2020.
The council voted unanimously to make the changes.
Once the vote was taken, Councilor Kelly Gabliks suggested the council turn its attention to beginning the process of hiring a permanent city manager.
“I’m very happy that we have Greg, but I think that we need to immediately start looking for a new city manager,” she said. “It’s going to take us six to nine months, if we’re lucky.”
Councilors Jim Fairchild and Bill Hahn said the search process should start soon, but not until after the new year.
Councilors Micky Garus and Jackie Lawson said they didn’t want to rush into the process — and might be happy to have Ellis lead the city for up to two years.
“I think before we start the process we need to have several meetings, most likely, to talk amongst each other to decide exactly who it is, what it is we are looking for. And be willing to look at several different options, options that are outside of the box, that aren’t really the cookie-cutter mold of a city manager that we’ve previously always gone to,” Garus said.
He said the city should take advantage of Ellis’ willingness to stick around.
“Rushing into something is irresponsible,” Garus said.
Lawson said she would be willing to wait up to year to start looking for a replacement.
“I want to give him (Ellis) every opportunity for whatever ideas that he might have to free up all of our staff with new ideas and potential movement for our city that we need desperately,” she said.
Gabliks asked if the search process could be put on the agenda for the city’s next meeting.
“I really think we need to start this process, because I think it’s going to take a long time to get the right person to take this job,” she said.
Ellis recommended the council schedule a work session with a representative from Mid-Valley Council of Governments, which conducts city manager searches. He said he would try to have a COG representative at the Jan. 16 meeting.