By Rachel Hawkins NDG Staff Writer
Many Dallas residents realized a busy schedule and a lack of transportation contribute to making it difficult for them to visit their City Hall. As a result, they are left feeling unheard in crucial decisions the city makes. Luckily for them, members of the Dallas City Council are trying to change things.
Recently Dallas City Councilmember Tennell Atkins, representing District 8, and Chairman of the Economic Housing Committee, opened his district office in a building which previously housed the old Highland Hills library. The office located at 3624 Simpson Stuart Road in Dallas plans to open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting with three days a week and later moving to five days a week. Dallas residents will not have to make reservations to visit the office.
“The building is around 40-years old,” Atkins said. “When I left City Hall we were going to sell the library and do something with it. When I came back, we as a Dallas City Council decided we wanted a community office in the community.”
These community offices are part of an initiative approved by the Dallas City Council last year to provide offices in the district of the council members. An initial budget of $500,000 was approved to open community offices for all of the council members. They are piloting the initiative by opening offices for council members in the southern sector first.
The council recognized it is a challenge for some residents to travel to their downtown offices.
“Since my district is 58 square miles that goes from Duncanville to Seagoville, this is kinda like the center of my district,” Atkins said. “We just put a grocery store in the food desert, there’s a college right down the street, and we have Amazon.”
District offices are not a new idea for Atkins. When he previously served on the city council, he suggested housing community offices in libraries and recreational centers as a concept. The building Atkins selected for his office was vacant for four years and located on a bus route.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we take this old building and make a community office out of it so people can come to this location,’” Atkins said. “They wouldn’t have to go downtown; they can come here and meet with a city councilmember in a more relaxed environment and not get dressed up and go through all of the security. So, now it’s okay, City Hall is now in the community.”
During the planning stages, town hall meetings were held seeking the community’s input to confirm the need for offices in their district.
“When you’re in a community office in the community you can get into your car and drive by to see the problem,” Atkins said. “Hopefully we can have more than just my office here. Right now we have part of the city attorney office. There is a possibility staff from code enforcement, sanitation, 3-1-1 and more might relocate to the building.
Atkins primary objective is for citizens to feel like they are a part of the decision-making process. When Atkins visited San Antonio to see how they ran their community offices, people told him how they felt more comfortable, and got more things accomplished because the offices are part of the city.
“The new office is a good idea because now we (the community) has a place to go and fix all of our problems,” Esther Anderson, a resident of District 8 said.
Four community offices have opened so far, and the process for establishing this office started nine months ago.
“My goal is to bring the community together, Atkins said. ”We have different silos and pockets. People who live in different places have the same issues that we are not talking about. I want to make sure that the community gets out of their silos and start engaging.”