Mixed memories

A visit from columns past

The Town of Addison, however, is another matter.
Last June we wrote about a terrific young police officer in that town named Gerald Runnels. A former, highly commended Dallas police officer who was looking for less stress for the same pay, Runnels went to Addison and found something else: racism.

On Runnels' last night of training in his new job, a dispatcher named Randy King decided to be a funny man and type into the onboard computer terminal in Runnels' car the initials "HNIC"--"Head Nigger in Charge."

Runnels was shocked. He wanted the dispatcher fired and his fellow 48 officers--all of whom were white except for two Hispanics and one other African-American--given immediate, intensive sensitivity training. Neither of which happened. King received a five-day suspension without pay; Runnels' fellow officers still treat him like he broke code blue and made a mountain out of a molehill.

Runnels, like Shoulders, hired a lawyer. Too bad Runnels didn't hire her lawyer. Instead, he hired an Oak Cliff attorney named C. Victor Lander, a municipal judge who has a big reputation as a civil-rights attorney. But apparently limited interest in this case.

Lander sent the town a demand letter last June, asking for the actions Runnels wanted taken, plus monetary damages. The officer says nothing has happened since, though his attorney sent a lovely letter to the town's lawyers last month, wishing them a good holiday and a healthy New Year.

"It really irritated me that I paid for that," says Runnels, "but it just wasn't worth the additional $150 it would have cost me to call up my lawyer and argue with him about it."

So true. Because, quite frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if Lander couldn't remember Runnels' name.

"Was that dispatcher a he or a she?" Lander asked me, trying to reassemble the facts of the case while watching the Dallas Cowboys football game on TV last Sunday. "It was a she, right?"

Lander explained to me that his technique was different than other lawyers. "We try to straighten it out outside the lawsuits," Lander told me. But if the town of Addison didn't straighten up soon, he said, his voice rising, "then we go to the EEOC and then file a lawsuit."

Ah, good strategy. Too bad Runnels had already been to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last June. Remember? "Oh, yes, I'm sorry," Lander said.

Runnels, though, is the kind of guy who will make lemonade out of these lousy lemons.

He's just enrolled at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he needs 28 credit hours to graduate with a degree in government and political science. And then?

"I'm seriously thinking of going to law school," says the industrious 31-year-old. "Because I want to help people in situations like mine. Before all this happened, I had the impression that in 1994 people could go to work and not be called a nigger. But it's not the case--not in 1995 either. And I want to do something about that."

Dennis Martinez is happy to be away from his employer, too--the City of Dallas.

Exactly a year ago, Martinez was fired from his job as director of the city's economic development department after an agonizing, 60-day investigation by superiors into sexual harassment charges that were never confirmed (and were largely based on the accusations of a young female employee who was involved in a sexual-harassment lawsuit with her last employer in California).

Nonetheless, City Manager John Ware and his top staff chose to leak the accusations to the media anyway, resulting in an unfair smear of Martinez's name--all when a simple "we'd like you to move on" would have worked nicely, thank you.

Today, a year later, Martinez is his own man--Martinez Associates is a consulting firm specializing in economic development. Based in Dallas, Martinez also works out of San Antonio, where his wife took a job as budget manager for the city of San Antonio after the Dallas City Hall debacle. They have kept a house in both cities.

"I'm having fun," Martinez says. "I'm actually having a good time, and that's a big switch."

Martinez admits he's been watching the Machiavellian goings-on at City Hall regarding the crusade for a new sports arena with more than a little interest. And a sense of vindication. The lying, the obfuscating, the deceit that City Manager John Ware and First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley are displaying, he says, is sad but not surprising.

"Having worked with John and Cliff, I know exactly what their style is," Martinez says. "And the style is to manipulate and hide the facts. And they did it when I was there, and they'll continue it until the city council decides they want to stop the wool from being pulled over their eyes. The integrity of the city manager form of government is at stake--and will be until these people go."

We'll see what 1995 brings.

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