Bad planning

Commission chairman's departure leaves panel in weaker hands

Dallas County tax records show a similar pattern--it was only last week that Clark paid 1994 county taxes on his home, due last January. Last January--when those 1994 taxes were due--he paid his 1993 taxes, one year late at the time.

In our interview, Clark insisted the taxes were a non-issue. He had just built a new home, he explained, and the value the Dallas Central Appraisal District had put on it, compared to the other, older homes in his neighborhood, was way too high. He had wanted to contest the value this year, he said, but started the appeals process too late--right about the time, actually, that the city filed suit against him for the taxes. Which was apparently the last straw for Kirk.

"It was almost like a theme with the tax thing," Clark says. "Ron would say, 'If you don't take care of it, I'll appoint someone else.' I said, 'Listen, this is only a volunteer position. I have to take care of my family and my business first.' I needed more time to deal with it, but he wouldn't cut me any slack."

(Most of Clark's taxes have now, in fact, been paid--although city records still don't show a payment for his office in Oak Cliff. Clark drove to my home on Monday night to show me the papers on a $69,446 loan he got from his bank at the end of November to pay off all his taxes. He says a title company handled the matter. The county received its share last week. The city shows payment on the cars and the office contents November 27, and payment on the house last Friday.)

As far as Kirk is concerned, it's Clark's business at this point. "He resigned, and upon his resignation I asked and appointed Hector Garcia to be chair, and I have every confidence that Mr. Garcia will bring the same integrity and intelligence to the commission, and that's all I really have to say," the mayor says. "I think Dr. Clark did more than a commendable job--he provided a terrific balance between homeowners and developers. I understand he has business ventures he wants to pursue."

What's sad about all this is not that a rich man can't stand to pay taxes. It's not even that he had to step down from the plan commission for that reason. What's sad is that the taxpayers lost a very good chairman for a pretty stupid reason, and as a result, the plan commission is being chaired by a lightweight--specifically, a restaurant ma”tre d'.

"I am not a ma”tre d'," Hector Garcia snapped last week to someone else who identified him that way. "I am a captain." Meaning, instead of escorting you to a fine table, Garcia will come to your table after you're seated, lay your napkin on your lap, and check to see that your flowers are fresh and your wine menu is on the way.

I am not belittling his job--not by any means. Garcia has been the captain at the very tony Riviera on Inwood Road at Lovers Lane for 11 years now, and he's very good at it. Trust me--my food tastes better just knowing that he is watching over it. However, it gives me the willies to think about him lording over the future development of a major city on the verge of an economic comeback.

The simple reality is that his experience is weak. On his commission application, Garcia states that his worldly experience consists of living in Dallas for 14 years, being a restaurant captain, a part-time actor, a precinct chairman, a Democratic Party activist, and a board member of the Turtle Creek Chorale, the gay men's chorus. When specifically asked on the application what experience he brings to planning and zoning, Garcia states, among other things: "Concerned about mental health, AIDS, children's services, public health, etc."

True, you don't have to be a real-estate maven to be a good chairman (Clark says he would have promoted another commission member, Rob Richmond, a straight-shooting developer with impeccable credentials, over Garcia). You do, however, have to be strong of will, objective, and apolitical.

None of which describes Garcia. This is the man, after all, who spent most of his first year on the commission trying to help freshman councilman Craig McDaniel keep open four low-rent apartment buildings he owned: McDaniel's neighbors wanted to shut them down because of the drugs and crime they attracted. While Garcia was scrambling around for clever ways to save McDaniel's rear end, McDaniel made the grave mistake of trying to influence Clark directly on the matter. Clark simply stared him down--fellow commissioners know the look well--causing McDaniel to scurry away in a flurry of apologies.

Garcia has an intensely political agenda. He has been telling fellow commission members--in the five minutes he's been chairman--that he wants more gays and lesbians on the commission and its committees. This is a rather strange priority, since sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with ability to do basic planning and zoning work--and there's no dearth of gays on the commission now.

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