The scapegoat

A mid-level staffer bears the brunt of a sleazy City Hall coverup

Louise Elam sat on the floor next to a copy machine last Thursday morning, trying her best to fish a jammed piece of paper out of a document feeder with a pair of scissors.

Elam, her terra cotta-colored pantsuit rumpled after only two hours at work, jabbed at the copier helplessly, then heaved a frustrated sigh. Immediately, a small group of sympathetic folks gathered around--wanting to comfort, anxious to help.

Someone took the scissors. Someone else asked if she wanted to talk. As Louise Elam gazed up at them, her eyes filled with tears.

There is, after all, nothing worse than being the scapegoat.
"Is Louise taking care of herself?" coworkers whispered furtively to each other around the office, which on this day was brightened only by a lovely flower arrangement from a sympathetic former boss who knew the truth. "Does she have her files?"

Yes, she had her files. And you better believe she was copying the hell out of them.

As a project manager of long tenure in the city of Dallas' Public Works department, 40-year-old Louise Elam not only had her work history meticulously documented, she had the experience and the political scars to know she'd better copy everything before some bully boy from the city manager's office appeared at her desk, demanding that she turn over every shred of proof that she had done nothing wrong.

Because the witchhunt was on. And everybody at City Hall knew it, thanks to an incredibly misleading story in The Dallas Morning News the day before.

The story, which, strangely enough, appeared in only a small number of late-edition papers, was astonishing--not so much for what it said, but for all that it didn't.

The News had served as a mouthpiece for the false accusations of City Manager John Ware and his top lieutenants, who were aggressively playing spin control to cover up their own misconduct and bad management.

"Even before the Dallas City Council had hired consultants to determine the best location for a new sports arena," the News article began, "a city employee had contracted with another architectural firm--without management or council approval.

"The Public Works employee, whom officials declined to identify, hired JPJ Architects to examine the impact of a new facility on the future expansion of the Dallas Convention Center, city officials said."

The $50,000 study was completely "unauthorized," according to a seemingly outraged Assistant City Manager Ted Benavides. Benavides claimed he had found out about the work just two weeks earlier.

Ware was quoted telling the paper that he'd only known about the study for a week, was upset about it--"that never should have been done"--and was contemplating disciplinary action against the unnamed employee. He made the same claims that very day in a closed-door executive session with the Dallas City Council.

In the next day's paper, the employee--Elam--was named.
First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley, while admitting that he asked some city employees to do an arena study, specifically accused her of hiring and paying outside consultants without his knowledge--or anyone's approval. Said Keheley, "I'm not willing to take the responsibility of this report being created and laying in the files and coming up at an awkward time."

Well, that's too bad.
Because Keheley is responsible. Along with Benavides.
And, worst of all, so is City Manager John Ware--who, according to one of his own top subordinates, knew about the study every major step of the way.

John Ware could not be reached for further comment on this subject.
But the plain fact of the matter is that the city manager and two of his top deputies have been telling lies.

Without informing the city council, the men at the top of Dallas' 13,000-member city bureaucracy assembled a secret internal task force to study a new arena.

They knew that to complete its work within a 30-day deadline, the group would have to hire--and pay--outside consultants.

And they were determined to do so in a way that would prevent them from ever having to seek city council approval.

In short, Louise Elam did nothing wrong, and--unfortunately for the men in the city manager's office--her files prove it.

John Ware, who is so ardently beloved by the Dallas City Council that he was just awarded a $12,000 raise (to reach a base salary of $150,000) after one year on the job, has always had one big Achilles heel.

He can be one mean sonofabitch.
Ware's trademark style--asking people to do the impossible, in an insanely short period of time, in an atmosphere charged with fear and dread of the onetime Army sergeant and his mouth--has produced Ware's first bona fide scandal.

It is one he utterly deserves.
"I'm real happy that this city council thinks John Ware hung the moon, but they don't work for this man," says one long-time Public Works employee who has watched this sports arena nightmare unfold. "They can look at him and say, 'great, all these things are getting done,' but it's the people under him who are taking the beating to make it work. I'll tell you the truth--people are already so sick of the city manager's office that this is just one more thing. But this one is downright slimy."

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