Dallas furloughed city employees – An open letter

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By JODI VOICE YELLOWFISH and NORA SOTO

Our City, Our Future

 

Dear Mayor, City Council and City Manager,

Our city is facing a crisis, one in which the old ways of the world are being found untenable and insufficient as seemingly insurmountable problems threaten us. It is in moments like these that the values and actions of our leaders are illuminated. Over the past week, Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced that 472 municipal employees will be furloughed through at least July 31, 2020. Ten departments were impacted, with park and recreation, library, and the Office of Arts and Culture losing the most people. Municipal employees at libraries and cultural centers have found inspiring ways to serve their communities by creating free content accessible to anyone with an internet connection. In a time when social distancing makes community feel impossible, these dedicated workers have found ways to keep our families engaged and encouraged.

Councilmember Tennell Atkins, who represents part of Southern Dallas, said he was especially concerned about the cuts to park and recreation and library. Many Southern Dallas residents heavily rely on hotspots for free internet, or computers at the libraries (facilitated by library staff) and child care services provided by park and recreation employees. These city employees and the services they provide are invaluable to many residents with limited means.

This is a missed opportunity for our leaders to model collective care and forge new ways of operating. We need governance that puts equity, human dignity, safety, and well-being at the center of decision making. Imagine instead, once leadership recognized the potential budget shortfall, they serve the community and address the problem at hand by revealing the following plan that would maintain employment for all 13,000 city employees:

All employees making a salary of $250,000 and more would take a 20% pay cut, employees making between $100,000 and 250,000 would take a 15% pay cut, and everyone making over $60,000 would take a 10% pay cut for the duration of the pandemic.

This type of solution would show that leadership is vested in the well-being of employees and the community; that they recognize that their good governance is made possible by the work of these 13,000 people. Taking a 20% pay cut on a $250k salary is not only reasonable but a moral imperative when you have colleagues who are struggling to feed themselves. There is nothing more cynical or cruel than choosing to take away a person’s livelihood during a global pandemic when there are other solutions available. It is impossible for the city to expect employers and landlords “to have a heart” if it is not willing to do so.

Last year, Our City, Our Future campaign fought for an anti-poverty budget. We were able to keep ombudsman services for the elderly and partner with the city council to champion our recommendations. This year, we have an opportunity to create a People’s Health Budget, which includes affordable housing, community and mental health resources and employment.

The People’s Health Budget includes addressing the police and carceral state in which, as of May 11, 2020, 223 people in jail have tested positive for COVID-19.  When police officers continue to arrest Dallasites for non-violent offenses like marijuana, they are exacerbating the public health crisis. By funding a People’s Health Budget, Dallas could choose a culture of healing and valuing each person existing in Dallas in ways that will be remembered and emulated for years to come.

As a collective of women and gender non-conforming Dallasites, Our City, Our Future expects leaders to govern with courage and moral clarity – not to operate within the same archaic framework that has perpetuated and maintained inequity and racism for so long. Libraries, cultural centers and recreation centers are essential in these times to work through the grief that comes with isolation and loss of family members. In this moment of crisis, we’re calling on Dallas’ elected officials and leadership to put people first.

Jodi Voice Yellowfish and Nora Soto are members of the Our City, Our Future,  

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