Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax cuts to the chase (and slashes red tape) – Dallas Business Journal
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax made a huge leap when he left Tacoma, Washington, population 211,000, to come to Big D, population 1.3 million.
By most accounts, he has made the transition to the much higher profile position well.
As city manager, Broadnax is, in effect, the CEO of the nation’s ninth largest city and the biggest municipality in the country’s fourth largest metro area.
With just more than a year in Dallas under his belt, Broadnax said his top priority is to keep a more than $1 billion capital improvements bond program on track and on budget — something that hasn’t always happened in the Dallas of the past.
Add in an overhaul of how economic development is handled, and ultimately overseeing everything from transportation to public safety, housing, workforce and economic development, homelessness and animal control, and Broadnax has a full plate.
That’s just the way he likes it, he said in an interview in his office in City Hall. “Getting things done,” Broadnax said, is his favorite part of his job.
Adjusting to the scale of Dallas and the scope of its issues has been his biggest challenge since taking the position on February 1, 2017.
“The size and scope of the challenges has surprised me,” Broadnax said as classical music played in his office overlooking the city. “The desire for people to want to connect with City Hall has surprised me. I think people — whether it’s the business community or other people I’ve met with — don’t feel like City Hall has always been open to outside dialogue and discussion.”
In his first few months on the job, Broadnax replaced four of the five top assistant city managers who occupied the office under his predecessor, A.C. Gonzalez.
Broadnax, the first city manager the City Council has hired from the outside in decades, also hired a new police chief and took the lead in organizing a series of public meetings to get input directly from Dallas residents instead of relying heavily on past policies crafted mostly by municipal bureaucrats.
In those and other sessions, “I’ve talked to many residents who’ve spent 20 or 30 years here and not gotten a lot from the city,” Broadnax said.
“My leadership and my thoughts on how we’re going to approach righting the wrongs, so to speak, is putting investment in those communities,” he said. “That’s not just dollars and bricks-and-mortar, but also spending the time with residents who haven’t seen the street paved that they’ve lived on for 60 years.”
Broadnax has also increased transparency with steps such as ordering the creation of a website that allows anyone interested to track the progress of each of the many voter-approved projects in the $1.05 billion 2017 bond package. The website is a way for residents and people who do business in or with the city to hold city employees accountable, Broadnax said.
The bond package includes $534 million for streets and transportation, $261 million for parks and recreation, $50 million for Fair Park, $50 million for flood control and drainage and $16 million for libraries. It also includes $14 million for cultural and performing arts, $32 million for public safety facilities, $18 million for city facilities, $55 million for economic development and $20 million for homeless assistance facilities.
The program had widespread support in the business community, with organizations including the powerful Dallas Regional Chamber urging its members to vote for it. The chamber described the improvements as “sorely needed for the continued growth and success of our region.”
Broadnax’s approach to the bond program earned him praise from Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.
“It was a big first step to get a bond package to the City Council as quickly as he did and get it to the voters,” Rawlings said in an interview. “While he isn’t the only person who made all that happen, it would not have happened without his leadership.”
Now Broadnax has shifted from the “get it passed” phase of the bond program to the “get it done” stage. In addition to the bond project tracking website, Broadnax has made other changes.
Moving forward, the city will have a single entity — a bond program office — that will manage implementation. Internal and external project managers will serve as coordinators in their respective areas.
“It’s different from in the past,” Broadnax said. “We’re going to have a centralized management structure over it, whereas it used to be decentralized. Each respective area managed and coordinated their own projects. Therefore, it was unwieldy.”
Some projects in past bond programs simply haven’t gotten done. In 2006, for instance, voters approved a $1.3 billion bond program. More than $100 million worth of projects never got wrapped up, and many of those were never awarded.
Rawlings said he likes Broadnax’s approach to the bond projects.
“He wants to make people accountable and wants to minimize bureaucracy,” Rawlings said. “We’ve got some ways to go there yet, but on the bond election it’s very clear how it’s going to happen and who’s in charge and when it’s going to be done. That’s a tremendous element that he’s put in process.”
In another significant move, Broadnax merged the economic development department with neighborhood services because he believes that the two must function as one for the overall good of the city.
He ordered up a citywide Market Value Analysis designed to help Dallas better identify areas to incentivize. That plan, he said, will help the city more wisely spend the $55 million voters approved for economic development as part of the bond package.
The MVA will focus not just on property values and land uses, but on the impacts of city policies and economic incentives on people, he said.
“The market value analysis will provide a tool for us to gauge where we invest, how much we invest, and when we’re not investing, what we are doing to set that neighborhood up for success and a steady diet of attention from the city,” Broadnax said. “It will help us judge the different standards that we’re putting in place as to how to value the economic development projects that come through our doors and be able to say that not every deal was good for everybody.”
Speaking March 9 to young professionals at the Mayor’s Star Council’s “Engage Dallas” leadership conference, Broadnax said the MVA will also be a tool to attack societal ills such as poverty, food deserts and racism in the way Dallas developed over the decades
“If you’ve got to drive five miles to get a loaf of bread, or you can get gas and liquor whenever you just go out your door — and you don’t see that in other communities — that is institutional and systematic racism,” he said.
When it comes to redevelopment and incentivizing development, Broadnax advocates for mixed-income neighborhoods to “decentralize poverty.”
“Driving around the community when I first got here, my first statement was, ‘Why in the world are there so many low-income housing tax credit projects all on the same street? You would never see that in any other community,” he said. “Under my administration’s approach, and using the MVA as a tool, those things won’t happen.”
Broadnax also has charged the city’s transportation department with creating an overall transportation plan that will analyze how everything from highways and byways to buses and bike trails work together to impact transit, housing, zoning and economic development. That will give the city ammunition to drive transportation conversations and decisions instead of allowing outside agencies including the Texas Department of Transportation, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and Dallas Area Rapid Transit to direct the agenda, he said.