DALLAS -- After nearly three decades of debate about its value, the last local movie review board in the country has been scrapped by the Dallas City Council.
Yesterday's 9-6 vote, cast after more than two hours of speeches and debate, reflected both the divisiveness of the issue and the intense lobbying on both sides in recent weeks.
Council supporters were able to approve an amendment allowing the city to consider re-establishing the board should a movie industry hotline be discontinued or changed.
But even supporters of the Dallas Motion Picture Classification Board said they doubted the city will ever reinstitute a local ratings system.
"This is a closed issue," said Fred E. Aurbach, a dentist who was chairman of the Dallas board. "They have signaled to the world that Dallas no longer cares and is a partner with Hollywood in the war on America."
[Film censorship in Maryland came to an end June 26, 1981, when the Maryland State Board of Censors went out of business. The last films viewed by Mary Avara and her staff were "French Pussycat," "Night Riders" and "Country Blue."]
Board opponents, meanwhile, said the money could be better spent on other things, especially in light of the city's financial plight.
This week, City Manager Jan Hart said she will need a 2.5 percent tax rate increase to balance next year's budget.
Mayor Steve Bartlett, who voted to kill the board, said, "This has been the most difficult decision I've had to make since I've been on the council."
He said that like many board supporters, he believes that the country lacks a moral compass and that "society is influenced by the mass media."
But Mr. Bartlett said he is persuaded the private sector can do the same job at no cost to taxpayers.
Last month, the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. started a pilot phone line that provides brief information about movie content and ratings on a free call-in line.
Supporters of the Dallas movie review board said they fear the film industry will abandon the voluntary phone line once the city board is scrapped.
"I'm confident if the board goes away, these efforts of the motion picture industry will go away, and I think anyone who thinks differently is naive," said council member Glenn Box.
For that reason, the council approved an amendment that calls for the city to reconsider the local movie board's fate immediately if the phone line is discontinued or altered.
But most council members agreed that the local board no longer justified its cost.
Council member Barbara Mallory said she had a tough time deciding how to vote, noting that she works for a Christian radio station. But she said it is ultimately parents' responsibility to supervise their children.
"Some of what happens in my district is more gruesome than what happens in the movies," she said.