By David Wilfong, NDG Special Contributor
Scott Griggs represents District 1 on the Dallas City Council, where he has served for six years. He is running for a final term in the May 6 election and is facing challenger Stephen Winn for the seat that covers a large section of Oak Cliff. His district is on the rise, with young professionals clamoring to move there, and business interests following closely behind.
“I was very involved in the community,” Griggs said of the time leading up to his first run for office. “(I was a) neighborhood president, serving on boards and commissions for the City of Dallas for five years; on the Board of Adjustments and on the Fort Worth Avenue TIF Board. At the time also I was the president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Board, working on the revitalization of Fort Worth Avenue. It was a very different place than it is now, because the Belmont was just opening. At the time I didn’t trust the incumbent who was in office, and so I decided to run.”
He has a simple answer for what keeps him going back to city hall year after year.
“(I enjoy) helping people, day in and day out, with small things usually,” Griggs said. “It’s the small things that make the big difference in people’s lives. From helping with the potholes to trash service that may have been missed and things like that.”
District 1 is one of the most diverse areas of the city, in ethnicity and income, which has become part of Oak Cliff’s allure. Some current residents of are worried that gentrification is bringing increased prices and the area could become “Dallas’ next uptown.” Griggs says he is committed to do his best to keep Oak Cliff the way it is.
“When I re-zoned the (Oak Cliff) Gateway in a multi-year process, one of the biggest zoning cases that’s happened here in Dallas, we made sure that there were no preexisting nonconforming uses, and no preexisting nonconforming buildings, so everyone could keep their business and their livelihood and not be forced out through an amortization process,” Griggs said.
“Also what we’re doing is we’re very careful about how we use zoning so we don’t create too much ‘lift,’ which pushes people out. ‘Lift’ is what you call it when zoning is up-zoned, and then the lift can lead to price increases.”
Top Priorities if Re-elected
At the very top of his list of priorities for the next term is Dallas Police and Fire Pension crisis. The state, not the city, has final oversight of the plan. Griggs is currently supporting the Flynn Bill (named for Dan Flynn, R-Van) which addresses the $3.5 billion hole with a combination of increased contributions from members and the city, along with decreased benefits to members, and restructuring of the fund. At the time of this interview, Griggs was waiting to see what version of the bill would come out of committee in Austin.
“We’re down about 600 officers, and we’ve lost about 10 percent of our police force in the last year,” Griggs said, adding to his law enforcement concerns. “That has a direct impact on public safety. We’re seeing that reflected in increased violent crime and increased response times.”
Other key issues on his radar are the infrastructure needs in his district, the future of Fair Park, and his continuing opposition to the Trinity tollway.
The cost of being outspoken
While Griggs, a practicing attorney, is a rather soft-spoken individual, shyness is not exactly something he is known for. His adversarial skills are lauded by much of his constituency, but not everyone involved in city government has been so enthusiastic. Twice Griggs faced investigations launched from within city hall. In both cases, the investigations came up empty, with many observers calling them “politically motivated” from the beginning.
“Well, now of course, I expect it because it’s happened to me twice,” Griggs said with a slight chuckle. “It happened to me at the pension system in retaliation for speaking out about the system, and expressing concerns about the solvency of the pension system at a time when I was the only one expressing those concerns. Now it’s accepted as fact that the pension system is in trouble. So they were trying to silence me that time. And then the other time it was for being an outspoken critic of the establishment at city hall, particularly under the former city manager.”
Whatever the cause, the investigations have faded away. Griggs remains on the council.
Dallas residents now must choose who will lead the city for the next two-years, and as city council elections usually see a much lower turnout than national elections, Griggs says each vote is that much more important. Whether or not District 1 has been well-managed is now officially up for debate, and the voters will make that decision on May 6.