Mayor Tom Leppert told a town hall meeting last night that he was committed to doing everything necessary to help the Dallas Independent School District succeed, but avoided directly discussing his initiative to take over the district.
We sent our Austin Kilgore to the town hall meeting at Harold Lang middle school. After the jump, his report:
Leppert, speaking to a packed auditorium, was never questioned by members of the audience on his plan, which was first reported Sunday in The Dallas Morning News. According to the report, Leppert asked state Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, to sponsor the necessary legislation to give Dallas’ mayor control over the district.
“Let me be very clear. I will do everything I can to make sure the Dallas independent school system is successful,” Leppert said in his address. “This debate, this discussion has nothing to do with me…Discussions should never be about adults, they should be about the kids.”
Later in the evening, Leppert declined to discuss the specifics of his discussions with West, his proposed legal structure for the arrangement or when he might be willing to discuss the issue further, referring all questions to a statement previously released by his chief of staff over the weekend.
“What I have said kids are important and we want to support a strong public school system and I’ll do whatever I can,” Leppert said. “We came out with that statement, and I think that statement is the best way to communicate what are the issues and what we think is the best way to communicate on it.”
For at least one member of the audience, the plan seemed like a power grab by the mayor.
“His plan to try to take over DISD sounds like what Laura Miller was trying to pass to make the mayor a strong mayor,” White Rock Hills resident Jay Smith said, referring to the former Dallas mayor’s proposal to implement a strong mayor model at city hall, a bid that failed in a May 2005 referendum.
Leppert also made his pitch for a convention center hotel, telling the audience of nearly 400 that it was a calculated risk, but an investment in the city’s future.
While Leppert may have avoided questions from the public on his plans for the school district, he couldn’t avoid hecklers who were heard shouting “It is a risk,” and “No it’s not” in reference to the hotel being an investment in the city’s future.
Leppert said the hotel is necessary to end the city’s subsidies for the convention center, and that hotel revenue would fund the project. Later, during a breakout session on economic development, residents voiced their concerns to assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez.
“I really feel we were sold a bill of goods when the city said ‘Hey, we need a convention center,’ but then all of a sudden, ‘Oh we forgot to tell you, we need a hotel to go with it,’” said John Jay Myers, a resident of District 7 who earlier this week, announced his intention to run against incumbent councilwoman Carolyn Davis.
The town hall meeting was attended by many leaders of Dallas’ African American community, including Davis, and fellow council members Vonciel Jones Hill from District 5, and Dwaine Caraway, who represents District 4 and serves as deputy mayor pro tem. Willis Johnson, who is widely considered one of Leppert’s closest advisors on South Dallas and a personality on KKDA-AM Radio and CEO of a telecommunications company, and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price were also on hand.