By dmagazine |

Four Takeaways from Eric Johnson’s Interview With Texas Monthly

The mayoral election is over, but the Dallas City Council is on its summer hiatus, and so we still haven’t had much of an opportunity yet to size up Eric Johnson, the city’s new mayor. Now, in one of his first interviews since his election, we get a glimpse of Johnson’s style and approach in this one-on-one conversation with D Magazine vet Jason Heid that appears in Texas Monthly. Here are four things that stand out:

Johnson wants to “own” workforce development: “Workforce development” was a phrase Johnson repeated on the campaign trail, though there was some vagueness with regards to how Johnson was going to leverage the mayor’s office to strengthen the workforce. Responding to a question about the relatively weakness of the mayor’s office, Johnson seems to take a page from Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Grow South playbook when he tells Heid he hopes to use the prominence of the mayor’s seat to coordinate the various players–from the community college districts to the business community–already involved in workforce development.

“Everyone’s doing a little something. The coordination of those things is where we are lacking, and the accountability is where we are lacking. There’s no one whose job is on the line. I want to own the issue. I want my job to be tied to our success in this area. We’re going to come up with real goals, measurable goals for moving people from unemployment and underemployment to middle-skill employment.”

Johnson already sounds a little ‘divisive’ when it comes to regionalism: “Divisive” was a kind of code word on the campaign trail, a way to slander council members who pushed back against the status quo, business establishment, and pet projects like the Trinity Toll Road or a bid to turn Fair Park over to a private organization headed by a friend of the former mayor. However, when questioned about this thoughts on regionalism, Johnson sounds like one of those squeaky wheels on the council and offers a refreshing take on DART:

“[T]he city of Dallas has to take a step back and ask whether or not we have to do some things that are just focused on our citizens, our residents. and their individual needs within our city limits. For example, mass transit, bus service. I do feel that there has been less emphasis on how well we move people around the city of Dallas, as opposed to the DART service area overall, then there needs to be. And I think we can say the same thing when it comes to growing our tax base—we have to have a slightly more selfish, individualistic approach than we’ve had.”

Johnson wants to lead with data, but will he have the data he needs to shape policy? Responding to a question about how he plans to handle a recent uptick in crime, Johnson says he is waiting on a crime study being prepared by KPMG before he makes any decisions. As mayor, Johnson says he wants to use data to steer policy.

That Johnson wants to be a data-minded mayor is a positive sign, but will he be able to gather the data the council will need to make good decisions? That question was raised during the campaign in a guest Frontburner post by Robert Mundinger, who compared Dallas’ “data infrastructure” with peer cities and found Dallas sorely lacking. If Johnson truly wants to lead with data, he should take up Tim’s suggestion to grab lunch with Mundinger as soon as possible to learn what the city needs to do to start collecting better data.

Prickly pivot: Johnson was criticized during the election for his thin skin, and it doesn’t take too long for Heid to get under it. After asking Johnson about “boondoggles,” the new mayor snaps back:

EJ: You weren’t on the Griggs campaign as a consultant, were you? Because that’s exactly what he said about Dallas. I mean, it’s almost word-for-word.

TM: I’m just asking if you think that’s a fair critique.

EJ: I mean, you did everything but use the word “boondoggle,” or what’s the other word? There was another term [Griggs] used a lot—”vanity projects.” Vanity projects and boondoggles. I think it’s a false choice.