The Dallas Morning News

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Willis for Dallas City Council District 13

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For many years, the Dallas City Council’s 13th district had a predictabl­e political formula: elect a low-taxes hawk who would work to make sure the homeowners of Preston Hollow didn’t pay City Hall any more than they had to.

That’s still true to a certain degree, but dynamics in the district shifted when council member Jennifer Staubach Gates took office and when the district lines were redrawn to include more of Vickery Meadow, a densely populated, low-income area of Dallas where a variety of languages and cultures blend.

Gates, who is term-limited, did an excellent job of working to lift up the people of Vickery Meadow even as she balanced developer interests, NIMBYISM and a reluctance to embrace change in Preston Hollow.

Now, five candidates are vying to replace her. Voters should focus on the two with deep records of city service who understand constituen­t interests across the district. Those are real estate investor Leland Burk and Turtle Creek Conservanc­y chief executive Gay Donnell Willis.

Both Burk, 59, and Willis, 56, are wellqualif­ied for the office, having many years between them on a variety of boards and commission­s in District 13 and beyond. But voters should choose Willis for two compelling reasons.

First, Willis has the deeper knowledge and commitment in Vickery Meadow. She was Gates’ appointee to the Vickery Meadow Tax Increment Financing board. Her understand­ing of what should happen to balance re-investment in the area with helping to stabilize the existing population is critical to ensuring this area is redevelope­d in a way that doesn’t exacerbate Dallas’ affordable-housing problem.

Second, Burk has a serious potential conflict of interest as it relates to one of the most important areas of District 13: Preston Center. In an interview with our board, he said he doesn’t anticipate any zoning cases coming up related to his properties in that area. But just by virtue of owning major pieces of real estate there, Burk has a conflict and likely would have to recuse himself. He told our board his conflict is no different than the conflicts faced by his predecesso­rs on the City Council. And he said he could reach out to trusted Council colleagues to vote on matters for which he would need to recuse himself.

We disagree this isn’t a problem. The successful redevelopm­ent of Preston Center is critical not just for District 13, and it must become a model for a walkable, urban Dallas where the interests of all are raised above the interests of a few.

Willis would have a free hand to represent constituen­ts without any appearance of conflict. That is important to a fair resolution.

Of the remaining candidates, we were impressed with attorney Ryan Moore, who has plainly gone to school on city matters. But Moore, 33, has a thin record of civic involvemen­t in Dallas. We hope he stays engaged and involved.

Teacher Da’on Boulanger-chatman, 34, also has sophistica­ted ideas about governance. But he, too, has not been involved and needs seasoning.

Retired engineer Mac Smith, 76, offers bromides about low taxation but few specifics on how to get there, saying he would study up on the budget once in office. The time for that studying should come before asking voters to put you in office.

Our recommenda­tion is for Willis, who is the strongest candidate in the race.

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