OPEN LETTER: Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson takes time making city appointments

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson


When we speak of transparency in government, mostly we mean the post-factum or contemporaneous disclosure of public information. We have in mind things like making recordings or livestreams of public meetings available on a government website or making text messages between government officials available to the public.

Informing the public about what government officials have already said or done is very important. Arguably, however, it is less important than what I have come to refer to as forward transparency. By forward transparency, I mean words or actions that inform the public of where a government official is going or is attempting to go in the future.

Forward transparency is rarer than post-factum or contemporaneous transparency in democratic systems, I believe, because forward transparency carries with it greater political risk for the government official. Essential to forward transparency, as I conceive of it, is both the willingness to be honest about one’s intentions as a government official and the courage to withstand the criticism one will undoubtedly face from those who do not share the vision and who will use the advance notice to try and stymie progress.

Despite the risk, I feel that, as mayor, it is important that I practice forward transparency whenever possible. Accordingly, here is something that I would like to share with my fellow Dallas residents just six weeks into the most important public leadership position I have ever held.

Dallas’ city charter and City Council rules of procedure give the mayo two very important powers: the power to appoint City Council members to, and name the chairs of, all City Council committees, and the power to name the chair of most, but not all, city boards and commissions. 

I met recently with former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, and he said one of the things he was most glad he did as mayor was to take his time in making appointments to key posts despite criticism that he was moving too slowly in getting his new administration off the ground. According to Bloomberg, taking his time in exercising his appointment power was well worth it, as it allowed him to assemble the very best team possible for the benefit of the people of New York. And his election to three consecutive terms as mayor of America’s largest city suggests Bloomberg was on to something.

When it comes to appointing council members to, and naming chairs of, City Council committees, I will take the time necessary to ensure we have the right people in the right positions. Members’ skills, experience and ability to work well with their colleagues will all factor into my decisions about committees, but the most important factor will always be the best interests of Dallas.

Similarly, with respect to city boards and commissions, I am going to cast a wide net and bring into city government the most talented residents I can find who share my commitment to subject matter mastery, hard work, honesty and civility, to serve as chairs. It is also my goal for our city’s boards and commissions to reflect the rich diversity of Dallas, and my chair appointments to these boards and commissions will reflect this diversity as well.

In a council-manager form of city government like ours, policymaking is the responsibility of the council and policy implementation is the responsibility of the city manager. If Dallas City Council is going to be more effective in discharging its responsibility, our committees are going to have to be led by the right individuals: people who are willing to dig deeply into both proposed and existing policies, programs, departments and contracts and ask the tough questions, but who will also respect the role of the city manager and not micromanage.

Most importantly, city council committee chairs need to be collaborative leaders who can advance sound legislation through their committees through genuine consensus-building. Getting the composition of our committees and their leadership right is solely my responsibility, and I will take the time necessary to discharge that responsibility to the best of my ability. The residents of Dallas deserve nothing less from their mayor, even one who has only been on the job for a short time.

Eric Johnson is the mayor of Dallas. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.