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Fund balks at buying surveillance cameras
South Dallas: City Council decision called poor use of $250,000 from trust

SCOTT GOLDSTEIN / The Dallas Morning News | July 16 2006

Members of a South Dallas community trust fund board are protesting a City Council decision to spend more than $250,000 from the fund to place surveillance cameras in their neighborhood.

At issue is whether the City Council agreement to put cameras in that area is an appropriate use of the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. Mayor Laura Miller and other city leaders say the cameras will reduce crime and improve the quality of life.

But Ms. Miller's appointee, board chairwoman Jessica Dixon, along with other board members say the limited cash should go elsewhere, such as to aid businesses and nonprofits or fund programs for children and the elderly. The fund contains roughly $430,000 in uncommitted money, said Lee McKinney, an assistant director in the city's Office of Economic Development who oversees the fund for the city.

"The trust fund shouldn't have to pay out funds to do something that the Police Department should be doing anyway," said Ms. Dixon.

To Ms. Miller and supporters of the plan, however, taking the money from the trust fund makes sense.

"Trust fund recipients ... have repeatedly told the City Council that trust fund grants and loans have not been able to significantly turn around the Fair Park area because of one thing – crime, and the perception of crime," Ms. Miller wrote in an e-mail. "Cameras deter criminals, help catch criminals, and therefore significantly reduce crime. It has been proven all over the country, including here in Dallas. I think buying cameras with Trust Fund money is the No.1 best thing we can do to help that neighborhood. It is the best possible use of the money."

The City Council agreement to use trust fund money was made during a straw vote in September but has remained a hot issue in the community for months. And now trust fund board members say if the cameras are coming, someone else needs to pay for them.

It is unclear how many cameras are included in the plan and where they would be placed.

Controversy has surrounded the community fund for years. Established in 1989, it provides loans and grants for community and economic development around Fair Park. But a 2004 city audit found the fund was mismanaged.

The September council agreement to pay for the cameras followed a debate with racial overtones in which Ms. Miller successfully called for the fund to be stripped of new cash because of lack of financial accountability.

Council member Leo Chaney, whose district includes South Dallas and Fair Park, maintains Ms. Miller is intent on dismantling the fund and he opposes using trust fund money for the cameras.

"I didn't think we had enough time to really work this through, to get all the various stakeholders involved," Mr. Chaney said.

Ms. Dixon said she fears the board's power might be undermined by this episode because the council is not bound by the advisory panel's wishes on the camera initiative. She and fellow board members say the council is asking for their stamp of approval after the fact instead of seeking their input during the decision-making process.

"I know the council, it's left up to them what they want to do," said Mary Hasan, an advisory board member and assistant to District 8 council member James Fantroy. "But I think that the community should have had some input."


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