In the everyday business of City Hall, there is one thing fundamental about operations - how you treat citizens. Now don't get me wrong. It doesn't mean that as citizens we have a right to rant, rave and be rude. But all things being equal, citizens deserve respect.
That is what's been missing in the conversation about the Dallas Executive Airport, and that was my subject in this weeks Dallas Morning News...
There’s no better way to judge how great a city is than by how its officials treat its residents. This means more than how politely people are greeted or how deferential politicians are to their constituents. All of that can be feigned.
A city shows respect for its residents when it includes them in decisions that affect their prospects for prosperity and quality of life.
This is a lesson Dallas seems to have to learn and relearn, again and again.
Take the recent and unnecessary controversy over Dallas Executive Airport. In this case, the city turned a win-win into a needless battle.
When Mayor Mike Rawlings initially announced Dallas’ deal to obtain Midland’s nonprofit Commemorative Air Force, he could barely contain his giddiness. “I’m going to try to get this smile off my face. I feel like an 8-year-old Christmas morning after I opened up those presents.”
Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins was equally joyous: “We’re getting an icon to southern Dallas and the area. It’s going to create more restaurants, more hotels and more action.”
The airport, located off Hampton Road in a middle-class section of southern Dallas hungry for more development, is slated for expansion, and the Commemorative Air Force may well bring economic vitality to the area. Its focus on preserving vintage aircraft, as well as promoting and hosting events that teach about the role of military aviation, promises great benefits for those who like that kind of stuff.
The problem is that in the midst of all of the excitement about airport expansion, the CAF relocation and whatnot, someone forgot to let the people living in the surrounding neighborhoods in on the project or include them in the planning.
It has taken pressure from area residents, potential legal action and public embarrassment to get the city to finally do what it should have done in the first place: form a commission that includes residents to help plan the expansion. The 2012 master plan for Dallas Executive Airport says, “A cross-section of community members, stakeholders and interested persons have been identified to act in an advisory role in the development of the master plan. … This planning advisory committee will review reports and provide comments throughout the study to help ensure that a realistic, viable plan is developed.”
Clearly, no one in the surrounding community got even a hint of the memo. Mark Duebner, the city’s aviation director, has not only apologized but has promised to be responsible for the “do-over.” His action offers a glimmer of hope that City Hall will listen to residents and give them a place at the table. Likewise, interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell has sent a conciliatory message to the group.
Neighborhood residents didn’t ask to halt the progress of this project, an economic engine that purports to bring good-paying jobs and diverse business, education and entertainment opportunities to their area. These are no wild-eyed radicals threatening to lie down the runways in protest.
These are people who just want their voices to be heard amid those of politicians and aviation professionals.
Raymond Crawford, a resident and spokesman for those taking issue with the city’s process, is right to remain skeptical. “It’s wait-and-see,” Crawford says. “We haven’t heard back what they have agreed to do.”
The victory isn’t won until the victory is won.