DALLAS — The Dallas City Council approved changes to its rules on Sept. 18, including removing from decorum standards a requirement that councilors act “in manner appropriate to the dignity of their office" outside council meetings.
That change was the subject of discussions at the council’s administrative subcommittee meetings in May and July, where councilors discussed whether they should be required to refrain from personal attacks against other councilors on social media.
Discussion of decorum rules began after council members expressed concern over discovering City Manager Ron Foggin had applied for a position in another city through a newspaper story, and not from Mayor Brian Dalton and other councilors who knew because they were asked for references.
A special meeting was called in January to discuss the matter and establish rules about what information should be shared.
Before that meeting, a discussion started on Facebook among councilors and residents about what should be done in response.
A conversation on Councilor Jackie Lawson’s Facebook page involving other councilors, though not a quorum, from Jan. 4 called for Mayor Brian Dalton’s resignation “for dereliction of duties” related to knowledge of Foggin’s job application. The post and comments on the post were emailed to the I-O.
“I am beyond being patient and gracious any more ... with the mayor manipulating the outcomes of his pet projects and the power trip he is wielding. Now more than ever he needs to be removed,” the post read.
Though no council members have publicly accused a specific councilor of violating council decorum rules, concern over the potential for less-than-civil discourse online was the source of the debate.
“I’m talking about people getting on Facebook and saying this city councilor is a bunch of crap and don’t listen to them,” said Councilor Ken Woods Jr. in a subcommittee meeting in May. “They are doing stuff like that.”
Some councilors felt that the rules should hold councilors to same level of decorum required in council meetings at all times, including while using social media. Others felt that requirement is too restrictive. The committee recommended not including social media and removing a requirement to maintain the decorum standards outside meetings on a split vote.
On Sept. 18, the council vote was 6-2 in favor of the changes. Lawson was absent.
“I’m going to be voting no on this,” said Councilor Kelly Gabliks. “I really liked what (Councilor) Jennie (Rummell) said in our subcommittee meeting and something very similar that (Councilor) Ken (Woods Jr.) said and that is: We are always city councilors and I think we should be held to a higher standard.”
She said she doesn’t have a problem with disagreements and expression of them, but believes it should be considered crossing a line when personal attacks are used.
Other councilors said the rule wasn’t necessary because no councilors have engaged in personal attacks.
“I’m probably the most outspoken councilor there is and I am probably the councilor that a lot of this got started by because I do share with the community what is going on on social media,” said Councilor Micky Garus. “I want to know a specific example of when that has happened because I’ve never seen that. I’ve never engaged in that.”
Garus asked for other councilors to point to an example, but none was provided.
Woods joined Gabliks in voting no on the changes.
Councilor Jim Fairchild said he voted for the changes because he had not witnessed councilors using personal attacks.
“To attack one of us on the internet … it’s a bad practice and really harmful to the community,” said Dalton after the vote. “Micky is right: We don’t normally do that and hopefully we won’t start.”