Municipal Archives

“The history of minority participation in the political process of Dallas is not one of choice;
it is a record of what blacks and Hispanics have been permitted to do by the white majority.”
~Jerry Buchmeyer, Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

This page describes the high-level government styles used since the incorporation of the City of Dallas, provides the history behind moving to the 14-1 system of City Council, shows the timeline for the path to 14-1, and provides both audio and visual files related to the issue.

Since its incorporation, the City of Dallas has implemented the following three governance methods:
—1856:  Alderman system
—1907:  Mayor-Commissioner system
— 1931:  Council-Manager system (1931-1968:  9 at-large members, 1969-1975:  11 at-large members, 1975-1991:  8 single-member districts plus 3 at-large members)

This progression is shown in the following timeline:

Story of 14-1

In 1969, the 8-3 system required eight of the eleven council members to live in designated geographic districts, but voting for all 11 districts was still “at-large.”   During this time, citizens more frequently noted the historical difficulty of electing minorities to City Council.   To address this issue, in 1971, Al Lipscomb, Elsie Faye Heggins, and other community leaders filed a lawsuit against Mayor Erik Jonsson and all other members of City Council that requested a postponement of the April 6, 1971, City Council election until an alleged "dilution of racial minority voting strength" was ended.  Four years later, in 1975, as the result of the lawsuit, the new 8-3 plan meant that voters elected eight single-member districts council members and three other at-large members (one of those being the mayor).

By the late 1980s, Hispanic and black minorities made up almost half the city’s population but were unable to elect more than three members (black or Hispanics) to the council. In 1988, Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams and filed a lawsuit to have the 8-3 system ruled unconstitutional because it diluted minority voting strength.  U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer ruled in March 1990 that the 8-3 system for the election of members of the Dallas city council violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it diluted the votes of politically cohesive blacks and Hispanics in Dallas.

The City’s 1989 “Dallas Together” report by the Charter Review Committee recommended a 10-4-1 plan that would elect ten members from single-member districts, with four members and the mayor elected at-large.  This system was narrowly adopted after a bitter and divisive charter election in August 1989, with most African-Americans opposing the plan because it did not provide enough opportunity for minority candidates.

The 10-4-1 plan was never used because the City’s old 8-3 plan was ruled unconstitutional in March 1990.  Thinking that the 10-4-1 plan would also be unconstitutional, the City Council put a 14-1 plan, where only the mayor would be elected “at large” on the ballot, but it was defeated by 392 votes in December 1990.

Judge Buchmeyer then held a remedy hearing in January 1991 during which he directed the city’s appointed redistricting commission, the city’s demographer, and a demographer designated by Williams and Crenshaw to draw a 14-1 plan for the court.   Using the new 1990 census information that reflected a black population of 29.5% and a Hispanic population of 20.9% of the Dallas population.  The City had a competing 10-4-1 plan for which it was trying to obtain approval from the courts and sought a stay of the May 1991 election, which was granted in March 1991 and pushed the election to August 1991.

In May 1991, the US Department of Justice rejected the city’s 10-4-1 plan.  The City supported 10-4-1 but agreed to adopt the 14-1 plan to settle the lawsuit brought by Williams and Crenshaw.  The 14-1 plan was cleared by the Department of Justice in August.  On August 29, 1991, the district court signed an Agreed Remedial Order that established a November 5 election under the new 14-1 Plan.

The following image shows the 1991-1993 City Council, all of whom were elected under the 14-1 Plan.  The members on the back row (left to right)Paul Fielding, Don Hicks, Larry Duncan, Charles Tandy, Mayor Steve Bartlett, Glenn Box, Max Wells, Donna Halstead, and Jerry Bartos.  The members on the front row (left to right) are Domingo Garcia, Mattie Lee Nash, Chris Luna, Al Lipscomb, Lori Palmer, and Charlotte Mayes.

Timeline for the Path to 14-1

1969 "10-1" Council is eleven council places, including the mayor.  All places were elected at-large.
1971 The first case against Dallas' at-large system of electing council members was filed by Al Lipscomb.  Lipscomb was the first of the 18 original black Dallas voters who sued the city.
1975 U.S. District Judge Eldon Mahon ruled that the City of Dallas at-large system was unconstitutional because it diluted the African-American vote.  The city had used an 8-3 system, under which the mayor and two City Council members run citywide and eight others run in single-member districts.
May 1988 Roy Williams and Marvin Crenshaw filed a federal voting rights lawsuit, contending that the city's election system dilutes minority voting strength.  The Ledbetter Neighborhood Association, representing Hispanic residents, joined the plaintiffs.
August 1989 In a referendum voters approved a 10-4-1 election system, which provides for 10 single-member districts and four regional seats, with the mayor elected at large.  Most minorities opposed it and the U.S. Justice Department did not approve the plan. Elections were not held under it.
March 1990 U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer wrote that minority participation in Dallas politics has been a question of "what blacks and Hispanics have been permitted to do by the white majority," striking down the city's 8-3 election system.
December 8, 1990 Voters rejected the Council's initial 14-1 plan 45,624 to 45,252.
1991 Both sides agreed to settle the Williams v. City of Dallas lawsuit and Judge Buchmeyer ordered elections to be held under a revised 14-1 plan, in which only the mayor is elected at-large and 14 council members come from single-member districts.
November 5, 1991 The first elections under the 14-1 plan were held.

Historic and Modern Audio and Text of the 14-1 Story

Read the text of Judge Jerry Buchmeyer’s 14-1 Plan Court Order of August 29, 1991

Hear Marvin Crenshaw describe his role in the 14-1 Plan

Hear Diane Ragsdale describe the beginnings of the 14-1 Plan

Hear Roy Williams describe his role in the 14
in the 14-1 Plan

Hear historic Dallas City Council Audio from X/X/1991 regarding the 14-1 Plan