Citing “local control” and “fiscal responsibility,” eight Dallas City Council members took another $10 million out of the proposed police overtime budget—bringing the total to nearly double last year’s amount.

Defund” means “to withdraw funding from.”

Last week, Dallas Councilmember Adam Bazaldua—who spearheaded last year’s defunding effort—successfully withdrew $3.4 million from the more than $22 million proposed for police overtime in the proposed budget for the next fiscal year. It’s forecast that more than $34 million will have been spent by the end of the current fiscal year.

By a vote of 8-7 on Thursday, Mayor Pro Tem Chad West successfully moved to withdraw an additional $10 million to a separate reserve account for police overtime. Supportive council members denied this was defunding the police and stated that they support the police.

Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich said the money could only be used for Dallas Police Department overtime and would be released after a request to the appropriate committee.

Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn, who opposed West’s amendment, got the Public Safety Committee designated to be where the briefing about overtime “imbalances” would occur, and where DPD Chief Eddie Garcia can ask to restore the funds.

Councilmember Omar Narvaez added a trigger for the committee to hold the hearing after the DPD overtime audit requested by Mayor Eric Johnson is released; the city auditor expects the audit in late October or early November. Johnson opposed West’s amendment.

Local Control

West stated the first intent for his amendment. “It gives us as council more flexibility in the future if there are budget problems based on COVID or anything else, and I think that’s particularly important given the restrictions that the state has now imposed on municipalities.”

Mendelsohn disputed, saying this gives “flexibility” as DPD’s overall budget is increasing. “[In our] current year, we’re at $525 million, approximately. This next fiscal year, we’re talking about $567 million, but our forecast by our city manager for Fiscal Year ’22 is $594 million,” she said.

Other council members confirmed this was about “local control,” the phrase used by other local officials statewide to mandate masks, in rebellion against a ban from Gov. Greg Abbott.

“This is an issue about local control and the assault on local control at the state level,” Councilmember Jaynie Schultz said.

“This feels very political, and I won’t be supporting this,” Mendelsohn said.

“I think the only thing political was HB 1900,” Bazaldua shot back. “It’s about budgeting and making sure that we continue to keep the control at a local level with our local budgets instead of being strong armed and bullied by those in Austin in order to score political points.”

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata took exception to using police funding as a political football in a fight with Abbott. “In other words, they are playing partisan politics with the safety and lives of the citizens they serve.”

Dallas citizen Ashlyn Furte told Texas Scorecard the phrase “local control” generates feelings of a “complete loss of trust in my local politicians.”

They are using taxpayer dollars to break the law in the case of the [Dallas ISD] mask mandate and now playing budget games to defund the police.

The Law

House Bill 1900, which became law September 1, limits the taxation and annexation powers of cities the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD) defunded their police departments. The law also restricts rate hikes of city-owned utilities, and the cities are required to increase funding to their public retirement system. The bill passed in response to Austin and Dallas defunding police departments last year.

The law says a city has defunded if spending towards police is lower than the prior year’s budget, which the CJD would determine. Cities that don’t cut police spending at a higher percentage than cuts to the overall budget, or receive approval from the CJD to make cuts, aren’t considered to be defunding.

Fiscal Responsibility

West said “fiscal responsibility” was the second intent of his amendment. “The No. 1 thing I hear about in my district is fiscal responsibility,” he said. When he voted for defunding police overtime last year, he alleged it was being “abused.”

“If we want to have a discussion about fiscal responsibility, I welcome that from my colleagues,” Mendelsohn replied. “It’s cutting staff and programs instead of the enormous growth that we’re seeing in this year’s budget.”

The proposed budget increases spending by 8 percent from last year, and it would hike the city’s property tax bill for the average homeowner by 4.5 percent compared to last year, and more than 72 percent from 2013.

Public Safety

Garcia was adamant that DPD will need the overtime money. According to Reich, since 2013 Dallas has regularly had to spend more on overtime than budgeted.

“If you look at our history with overtime, I’ll be coming back within four to five months to Public Safety to request to appropriate [the money],” Garcia said.

Councilmembers Carolyn Arnold and Tennell Atkins—both supported last year’s defund effort—shared citizens’ concerns about public safety in their districts.

“We get constant calls and requests for more police officers,” Arnold said. “When I did a survey … [the] No. 1 issue was police and [having] more present on the street,” Atkins added.

Every African American member of council voted against West’s amendment. The “no” votes were Adam McGough, Mendelsohn, Arnold, Casey Thomas, Johnson, Paula Blackmon, and Atkins. Council members who voted for West’s amendment were Bazaldua, West, Gay Willis, Jaime Resendez, Schultz, Jesse Moreno, Narvaez, and Paul Ridley.

“I opposed this budget maneuver because I believe it is unnecessary and because I support our police chief’s request for overtime funding to implement his violent crime reduction plan,” Johnson told Texas Scorecard.

Mata considered Thursday’s vote a “slap in the face” to DPD officers, especially with implementing Garcia’s crime reduction plan. “We have achieved decisive results in a very short time and have done so under the constant issues that COVID and this DA and judges have put on us.”

Dallas City Council‘s final vote on the budget will be on September 22.

Robert Montoya

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