City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who has run Dallas for more than five years under its council-manager system, prides himself on maintaining a low profile and staying out of the news.
As the headings of his weekly memos to the City Council proclaim, he’s busy “Taking care of business” and putting “Service First.”
But the results increasingly aren’t there on the items that matter most to his bosses.
That’s how I’m reading Friday’s news that the City Council will “discuss and evaluate the performance and employment” of Broadnax in an executive session Wednesday.
In addition, a specially called council meeting will begin after its regular briefing to consider “taking appropriate action related to the performance of the city manager including discipline or removal.”
Many of you likely don’t even know the name T.C. Broadnax or have the slightest clue as to why his job should matter to your daily life. But his performance has everything to do with how safe you are in Dallas, how lousy our streets are and what the chances are that you can afford to live here.
Think of Broadnax as the city’s CEO and the Council as his board of directors — with the power to fire him.
That’s why, like every city manager, Broadnax is most skilled at counting to eight — the number of elected representatives of the 15-member Council whose backing he needs to keep his job.
Given Friday’s developments, that support seems to be dwindling.
The relationship between Broadnax and Mayor Eric Johnson has been awful almost from the start. But in recent months, similar breakdowns have occurred between the city manager and other council members.
Maybe it’s just his low-key style, but Broadnax comes across as treating every problem like a small-stakes issue that is best handled in public by simply assuring his bosses that work is ongoing.
The tipping point undoubtedly has been the unmitigated disaster that is the city’s permitting office.
Dallas is built on commerce, yet it can’t get simple paperwork out the door in a timely manner — all as our neighboring North Texas boomtowns run circles around us in the economic development game.
Responsibility for the development services department, like all the day-to-day operations in the city, squarely rests with Broadnax. Yet for almost two years, he and his team have been unable to fix things. An exasperated Johnson finally appointed Council member Paula Blackmon in February to get to the bottom of what’s wrong.
In a May briefing to Council — which Blackmon and her task force co-chair Macey Davis forced on Broadnax — staff maintained that things are much improved.
That’s not the facts that stakeholders continue to share — nor did Broadnax and team offer any metrics to council for measuring progress. Just the promise that in nine months or so “things will be great or in perfect order,” according to assistant city manager Majed Al-Ghafry.
Most troubling was that Broadnax said elected officials, the media and the development community had overblown the whole issue.
His defensive message shifted only slightly in a subsequent meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board and newsroom staffers when he said the permitting process had “not improved enough to quell people’s concerns.”
Broadnax’s failure — or refusal — to acknowledge that indeed the city has a crisis in its permitting operation has led some council members to begin questioning his response to other problems, say poor garbage pickup or 911 call center mistakes.
Does he believe those are real deals — or just more distorted PR from the media or residents?
When Broadnax arrived in February 2017, I wrote with the highest of hopes that he was the first outsider hired in forever to preside over Dallas’ 3,000 employees and then $3 billion-plus operating budget.
The situation at 1500 Marilla was in need of an overhaul, not a tuneup, and Broadnax came in promising that he would rid city government of the kind of tangled bureaucracy that leads to paralysis.
Even in those early days, I cautioned that our new top boss must not let himself get trapped inside City Hall’s vast, self-validating echo chamber if he expected to create a more nimble system to ensure basic services for everyone.
The first year or so went well. Broadnax laid the right foundation, making staffing changes that showed he’d figured out who were the chair warmers and who were the change agents. He crafted an excellent $1 billion bond package aimed at repairing roads and adding parks.
However, in 2017, he also hired Police Chief U. Renee Hall, whose stormy three-year tenure was marked by too many instances of Broadnax unequivocally backing her while crime grew in the city.
Only after Johnson stepped in and demanded Hall produce a plan for fighting violent crime did we get results that eventually led to her departure and the hiring of Chief Eddie Garcia.
Whenever I’ve sat down with Broadnax these last five years, he’s been open and generous with his time. The last time was after I broke the news that Blackmon and Davis were taking on the permitting problem.
Broadnax gave me hell for 10 minutes or so about my assessment of the problem but then, like always, he went on offense about all the things he feels are going well and deserving of attention at City Hall.
That’s the confounding part of this story. Broadnax genuinely believes he and City Hall are doing a good job and making progress on behalf of Dallas residents.
His reality is different from what I hear on the streets — whether about difficulties getting permits for construction, worries about young teens dying in gun violence at city parks or the massive number of homeless individuals sitting in the 100-degree heat from the downtown library to Ferris Plaza on Young Street this week.
When residents look for solutions to these high-profile problems, they don’t contact Broadnax. They call their council member. After too many calls, the chances are that they vote for someone else when elections roll around.
It’s no wonder that council members want to look more carefully at the performance of the city’s top boss.
I get it that systems and bureaucracy aren’t built to change. But given that elected officials will be held accountable, so should Broadnax.