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Nancy Weinberger
                             

03/13/03  Bad News!  Good News!  

Do you keep a radio going while you work?  I have a window office and can pick up AM stations during the day.  I usually keep my radio on KRLD, switching back and forth to WBAP.  That's why on Tuesday, I was able to hear KRLD's City Hall reporter interviewing Yolanda Lara (Dr. Elba Garcia's Administrative Aide).

A state employee group had endorsed Laura Miller, and the reporter was interviewing Lara who has been a vocal opponent of Mayor Miller.  Lara said her group, City of Dallas Employee Association, did not have the authority to endorse in the mayor's race.  But, she said "I am going to be campaigning for Ms. Poss."  

I could not believe my ears.  It is a violation of  the Dallas City Charter for a city employee to endorse or donate to a mayoral or council candidate.

Here's a memo that was circulated by the City Attorney's Office to all city personnel regarding politicking by city employees:

Political Activities of City Employees, Chapter XVI, Section 16(b) of the Dallas City Charter contains specific restrictions on Employees' Political Activities in City Council elections, which restrictions have been judicially interpreted in Wachsman v. City of Dallas, 704 F. 2d 160 (5th Cir. 1983).  With the exception of sworn police and fire department employees who must follow Section 150.002 of the Local Governmental Code.
========================
DATE        February 21, 2003
TO           Teodoro J. Benavides, City Manager
SUBJECT   City Council Election - Political Activities of City Employees Chapter XVI, Section 16(b) of the Dallas City Charter contains specific restrictions on employees' political activities in city council elections, which restrictions have been judicially interpreted in Wachsman v. City of Dallas, 704 F. 2d 160 (5th Cir. 1983).

With the exception of sworn police and fire department employees who must follow Section 150.002 of the Local Governmental Code, the following restrictions on political activities in city council elections are binding on all city employees:

(1) No employee of the city or association of such employees may
publicly endorse or actively support candidates for the city council or any political organization or association organized to support candidates for the city council; however, city employees are not prohibited from privately endorsing a city council candidate or expressing their support for city council candidates with other individuals and with groups of 15 or fewer people. The spouse of a city employee, and associations and organizations of spouses of city employees, may publicly endorse and actively support city council candidates.

(2) No employee of the city may circulate petitions for city council candidates; however, a city employee may sign a city council campaign petition. The spouse of a city employee, and associations and organizations of spouses of city employees, may circulate petitions for city council candidates.

(3) No employee of the city may contribute, directly or indirectly or through an organization or association, to such a campaign nor solicit or receive contributions for a city council candidate. The spouse of a city employee may contribute to the campaign of a city council candidate and may solicit and receive contributions for a city council candidate.

(4) No employee of the city may wear city council campaign buttons nor distribute campaign literature at work or in a city uniform or in the offices or buildings of the City of Dallas. A city employee, while not on duty, not in uniform and not in a city office or building, may wear city council campaign buttons and distribute campaign literature.

(5) A city employee may place city council campaign signs in their yards and on the premises of their homes.

(6) A city employee may place city council campaign bumper stickers on their vehicles.

(7) A city employee, while off duty and not in city uniform, may work in campaign headquarters of city council candidates.

(8) An association or organization of city employees may mail or otherwise distribute endorsements of city council candidates to the city employee members of such organization or association.

Under Section 150.002, Local Government Code, sworn police and fire department employees may not, while in uniform or on active duty, engage in the following political activities relating to a campaign for elective office:

(1) making a public political speech supporting or opposing a candidate;

(2) distributing a card or other political literature relating to the campaign of a candidate;

(3) wearing a campaign button;

(4) circulating or signing a petition for a candidate;

(5) soliciting votes for a candidate; or

(6) soliciting campaign contributions for a candidate.

While out of uniform and not on active duty, a sworn employee of the police and fire department may engage in a political activity relating to a campaign for elective office, including each activity listed above, except that a sworn police and fire employee may not solicit campaign contributions for a candidate other than from members of an employee organization to which that employee belongs.

All city employees should be advised that under Section 12A-9 of the Code of Ethics, the use of city facilities, personnel, equipment, or supplies for private purposes, including political purposes, is prohibited.

If you have any questions, please contact me.

Jes? Toscano, Jr., Administrative Assistant City Attorney

cc: The Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council
Madeleine B. Johnson, City Attorney
Thomas M. Taylor, City Auditor
Shirley Acy, City Secretary
Jay Robinson, Administrative Municipal Judge
Pete Oppel, Public Information Office


Apparently, Yolanda Lara has been too busy politicking to read this very important memo.  When she went on the air Tuesday and Wednesday and stood up at her "Posse Rally", Lara PUBLICLY ENDORSED and IS ACTIVELY SUPPORTING a candidate for the city council.  The Mayor's race is Place 15 on the City Council.  What would happen to your job if you publicly violated a written Code of Ethics for the employees of your company?  Particularly when you had been reminded of the rules just a couple of weeks earlier?

Yolanda Lara is a civil service employee.  Under civil service, city employees are protected from coercion from elected officials, and conversely are prohibited from publicly endorsing or financially contributing to a council candidate.  Without civil service, a council person could hit on employees for donations and make them go out and do campaign work.  

This is hugely dangerous.  If this show boat can get away with violating the City Charter, it sets a precedent and will make it impossible to enforce the rules in the future.  It's all about clean elections and clean government.

Speaking of clean elections and clean government, my favorite Democrat, State Rep. Steve Wolens, is moving his mail vote harvesting bill forward.

Mail ballot bill aims to cut vote cheating; But some fear that measure would stifle minority turnout  03/12/2003
By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News
Candidates, campaign workers and voters play a role in every election in Dallas County. And sometimes there is a less visible participant, essential to the operations of some candidates, who visits elderly and disabled voters and persuades them to vote by mail.
   They can perform a public service, or they can commit fraud, election experts say. Either can happen without election officials ever knowing their identities.
. . .  Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, hopes to force operatives and vote harvesters to record their identities on ballot materials whenever they assist a voter.
. . . Mr. Wolens told the House Elections Committee last week. "This is going to address pushing people around who are sick, who are elderly and who can't push back."  
. . . The Elections Committee has twice heard testimony on the bill. Committee members will decide Wednesday whether to send the bill to the full House for consideration.
. . .  In Dallas County, mail ballots have often been the focus of election controversies. In November 2001, illegally cast mail ballots were at the center of a Dallas City Council election voided by a state district judge.
. . .  a Dallas County grand jury indicted an operative on allegations that she had tampered with a blind woman's mail ballot. The voter accused Felicia Ann Pitre, who had been working for a Dallas school board candidate, of taking her ballot before she could mark it. . . .  a judge ruled that the allegation against Ms. Pitre was not a crime under the state election code.
    The new bill would change that. It requires any person who helps a voter to put his or her name and address on the "carrier" envelope that holds the ballot. 
. . . The proposed law would also make it illegal to mark voters' ballots without their consent. . . .  would also stop the controversial practice of storing mail ballots ? after they have been collected from voters ? until the last minute, when they are sent to the elections department. 
. . . stiffer penalties . . .  Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of no more than $4,000.
Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, . . .  "In order for us to increase voter participation, a few of us have ... mastered to the best of our ability how to get our folk to the polls through the absentee [mail] ballot process," . . .

 
There is just no reason for any crook or thug to collect anyone's ballot.  The County mails out return envelopes with the applications and ballots.  

The problem with our election process is we have rules that no one pays any mind.  

Some people need to go to jail.  What Rep. Wolens is doing has been needed for years.  Vote harvesting is just wrong.  Stuffing the ballot box by voting people who did not get to the polls is just wrong.  It's time to put the bad guys in jail or at least hit them with a big fine so that it costs them more money than they make doing their dirty tricks.

We may need better rules and regulations, but we at least ought to enforce the rules we already have.  Don't expect our City MisManager to take a stand.  He hates the Mayor and could care less if city employees violate our City Charter.  As City Manager, Ted Benavides has taken this city right into the tank.  Granted, his predecessors put us on our slippery slope, but Ted Benavides has no clue out turn things around.

Benavides could start with enforcing employment rules for the city employees.  

What do you think?  If you think a city staffer should be able to PUBLICLY violate the City Charter with no repercussions, do nothing and say nothing.  If you think city employees who violate the City Charter should be terminated or penalized or put on temporary leave or at the least reprimanded, you should contact the City Manager and your council representative and demand some action against city employees who defy the City Charter by publicly campaigning for and endorsing any candidate in a city council race.

Are you going to do something?

                                        

    





                            

 

  Ward politics is the Devil's key to the soul of the city council.  It is how some council members got themselves in trouble in the past.  It is the bait that will get others in trouble in the future. 4/6/8