Minority Candidates Challenge Garland's DART Board Decision

May 05--Two minority candidates for Garland's full seat on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board said Wednesday that the City Council selection process failed its diverse population.

DART policy states that cities with more than one board member "to the greatest extent practicable, select persons who accurately reflect the racial and ethnic composition of that city."

The issue is not whether Michael Cheney, the licensed CPA and former investment counselor who was appointed to the board Tuesday night, is qualified. It is whether Cheney, who is white, is more qualified than the other four who interviewed, two blacks and two Hispanics. Mark Enoch, who is white, is Garland's other representative.

"This was a golden opportunity for the city," said B.J. Williams, runner-up in Tuesday's final vote. "There were four very capable, highly qualified minority candidates, and they were ignored."

Williams had four of nine votes and Cheney had three when four candidates were considered in the first round Tuesday. Because neither had five votes, the council narrowed the nominees to two finalists. Cheney was appointed to serve until June 2012 by a 5-4 vote.

DART officials said Wednesday that a city council has sole authority over its appointees to the board, and DART will not challenge the vote. Council member Rick Williams, who nominated Cheney, remained adamant that Cheney was the best choice to replace Tracey Whitaker on the board.

"He has a very impressive resume," Rick Williams said of Cheney, who the council late last year had selected to the Garland Housing Finance Corp. "I get the impression that to be effective on the DART board, you have to be pretty sharp cookie like Mr. Whitaker."

The council member compared the choice to 2008, when Whitaker was selected DART representative over Lee Alewine, who had served on many local boards.

"Lee Alewine knew everybody on council," Rick Williams said. "And up pops Tracey Whitaker who just blew us away with his interview, his connections, his resume. We picked a black male that no one knew over a white male that everyone knew."

The others who interviewed Monday to represent Garland at DART's table were former Dallas City Council member Chris Luna, DART citizen advisory board veterans Katrina Pierson and B.J. Williams, and Tony Torres -- who, with Luna, was serving on the city's Utility Advisory Board when it was discontinued earlier this year.

The DART board consists of 15 members, eight of whom represent the city of Dallas. The largest suburbs among DART's member cities -- Garland, Irving and Plano -- each have one full member and share a second with smaller cities. Board members are paid $50 per meeting.

The council did not discuss the interviewees or its selection criteria at Monday's meeting or after the nominations were made Tuesday.

"Most of the time, the person doing the nominating will present that criteria or will try to persuade the council to vote for that person," Mayor Ron Jones said Wednesday.

B.J. Williams has requested a follow-up meeting with the mayor, and Jones said he is working to grant that request.

"The community deserves to know what were the factors and how was the decision arrived at," B.J. Williams said. "I respect their right to make the decision, but I'm talking about the how."

Torres, who was not nominated, had encouraged Williams to apply for the position.

"I didn't want to give the council that excuse of 'How can we pick them if they don't apply?'" Torres said. "But I'm not completely surprised. As I told B.J., for one step forward, we go back three."

Of Garland's nine council members, eight are white and seven are men. Seven were not challenged in their most recent election. Torres, president of the Garland Association for Hispanic Affairs, said it is a challenge to get the city's 37.8 percent Hispanic and 14.5 percent black population to participate in city politics.

"What do they want or expect the minority community of the city of Garland to take away from this?" said B.J. Williams, who is longtime president of the Garland NAACP. "What's the message?"

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