As a local charity was helping citizens in need during the February winter blackouts, the office of Dallas Councilmember Omar Narvaez—one of the 11 who voted for the police overtime cut—was busy questioning if the charity had the proper permit. One of the charity’s board members is now challenging Narvaez’ re-election bid in the May 1 election.

Sources recently provided Texas Scorecard with a series of emails that appeared to show that on February 20, the week of the Texas winter blackouts, Laura Cadena, a staff member for Dallas City Councilmember Omar Narvaez, initiated city government action against local charity Hunger Busters, which was providing food, clothing, and other help to citizens in need.

After a complete investigation, Texas Scorecard can now confirm these emails as authentic, having received a duplicate from Latame Phillips, Hunger Busters’ vice president of development.

Hunger Busters is a Dallas-area charity that provides “a much-needed third meal of the day to food-insecure children in the Dallas Independent School District (DISD).” Their website says they provide “350,000 meals to 11 DISD schools and 6 after-school programs.”

Phillips recalled that the Thursday night of the blackouts, Hunger Busters and other charities received multiple calls for help.

“I had already gotten maybe 300 or 400 messages on Facebook saying, ‘Hey, are you guys going to be giving out food? We don’t have anything,’” Phillips said. Hunger Busters joined forces with other charities and contacted the Dallas Police Department.

“I reached out to DPD myself, told them what we were planning on doing and that I expected to be a little bit bigger than what’s normal, and without hesitation, they offered to help control traffic for us,” Phillips said. “They did a blast and a post on their Facebook page letting [people] know we would be passing out food and water and help people out with their bills and all that good stuff.”

Phillips said the event was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but they had to start at 9:15 because of how long the line was getting. He described the gratitude of those who came for help.

“It was a thankful exasperation,” he said. “Just the fact that they went somewhere and they were able to get hats, and gloves, and food, and milk, and bread, and fresh vegetables … get information on how to get their utility bills paid.”

“I probably heard ‘God bless you’ enough to take care of me for the rest of my life,” he continued. “Even people from the community walked over from their homes and began to volunteer with us.”

Phillips said the police were a great help.

“DPD got there at about 8:30 in the morning,” he continued. “They talked to me about how they would help out and assist with traffic because we started having a line at maybe 7:00 in the morning.”

They set up cones and put on their vests, and they were a godsend, essentially.

DPD replied to a press inquiry from Texas Scorecard, which confirmed Phillips’ account.

“On February 20, 2021, days after the winter storm, officers were at 3116 Sylvan Avenue to assist with distributing approximately 3,000 boxes of food. As a result of an overwhelming response, the decision was made to cone off one small side street to prevent a massive traffic jam and allow the waiting line to flow smoothly,” Dallas Police Sergeant Tramese Jones stated. “Residents were allowed to bypass the cones. According to the supervisor on scene, Hunger Busters did not receive any citation(s) related to this event.”

Those very cones were mentioned by Cadena in the email she sent to the Dallas Department of Public Works when she claimed Narvaez’ office received a complaint from “a constituent” about traffic caused by the event.

“Passing out water isn’t political,” a community organizer who volunteered told Texas Scorecard, adding that any council member or city representative would have been welcomed to come help. The organizer went on to say the only complaint came from a business owner on Trinity Groves, who complained of the long line of people; the police responded by dispatching a unit to direct traffic.

“Does this nonprofit have the proper permitting for these types of distributions? Did it pay to have the streets closed?” Cadena asked.

On February 22, Public Works Asst. Director Ali Hatefi sent an email to Hunger Busters CEO Trey Hoobler, saying “proper permits” were required to close city streets.

“Hunger Busters did not block any streets,” Phillips emailed in response. “We simply opened our doors not knowing the need to assist would be thousands of citizens.”

Phillips called DPD Sergeant Eddie Reyes after hearing from the city.

“[Reyes] was upset about it because he said, essentially, if DPD is here, we don’t [need] a permit or things like that … because they’re the ones who made the decision to block traffic and redirect things.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. On March 2, the Dallas Office of Special Events contacted Hunger Busters about a food giveaway the charity was doing in La Bajada, wanting to “get a full understanding of what your group is doing, specifically days & times as well as the duration of your food giveaway, in order to determine if a permit is needed for this particular location.”

Phillips said Dallas’ action has not deterred him.

“I just don’t think that you should have to go get a permit and permission to do good,” he said. “Jesus was asked, ‘Should you heal on the Sabbath?’ and, essentially, he said the same thing. He was like, ‘I have to get permission to do good on the Sabbath?’”

Texas Scorecard asked Phillips how he felt about city government engaging the way they did while Hunger Busters was helping people in need.

“I was disappointed,” he replied, adding they received praise from former Congressman Robert Francis O’Rourke and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “You would think that in a time where the city wasn’t prepared to take care of its citizens, and a couple of nonprofits got together and did everything that we could to just put a band-aid on a gaping hole, you would think that they would offer support versus try to figure out what we did wrong.”

Phillips confirmed that one of Narvaez’ challengers in the May 1 election—former Councilmember Monica Alonzo—is a board member of Hunger Busters. “I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not,” he said. “I just know that she was there that day, but not one time did I hear or see her campaign.”

Phillips added that Alonzo volunteered for more than eight hours, and Councilmembers Tennell Atkins and Casey Thomas also volunteered at other locations.

“I mean, we still had citizens without water, we had citizens without electricity, we had citizens that their electricity came back on and all their food was spoiled, all those things … and if it was something that a councilman did to try to prevent it, they’re not qualified to serve us,” Phillips said.

Councilmember Narvaez’ office did not respond to a press inquiry about this before publication.

Early voting for the May 1 local elections in North Texas is ongoing and runs through April 27. Citizens may find all the candidates for District 6 on the city’s website.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.