City of ignorance

Don't expect racial tensions to cool in DISD as long as emotion trumps the truth

I guess it was around June or July when another version of the story began trickling back to the Dallas Observer. After several months of reporting by staff writer Miriam Rozen, the Observer published a September 11 cover story ("See Yvonne run from the truth") that revealed another, far less flattering side of the charismatic superintendent. This was no martyr in the making. Here was a woman who'd stared down the opposition only to succumb to a siege mentality herself. Now she was lashing out with increasing ferocity against her enemies--both real and imagined--employing some of the same dirty tactics she'd accused them of using against her.

Who can forget her dramatic pronouncement that unknown persons appeared to have bugged her phone--which she saw as proof that her enemies were out to destroy her?

The truth about that statement, however, goes beyond irony--in fact, when I heard what was really going on, I began to suspect that our superintendent had gone plumb crazy.

It's now alleged in court records that Gonzalez was the one playing silly spy games, attaching a surveillance device to the personal car of Harden, a 19-year DISD veteran who, at least until then, had enjoyed a spotless reputation within the district. Gonzalez suspected that Harden was leaking information to the Observer (see Miriam Rozen's full report in this issue, "Hunter or prey?").

What was Gonzalez so afraid of? We don't know for certain, and the superintendent is no longer talking. But we do know that she and one of her flunkies, DISD publicity chief and major blowhard Robert Hinkle, had dispensed a pretty impressive series of misrepresentations, overstatements, and outright lies during Gonzalez's short tenure. From office renovations to staff salaries to the costs of her extravagant back-to-school pep rally, Gonzalez clearly couldn't be trusted with facts.

Which put a rather serious crimp in her savior status.

The local opportunists--and we have more than our fair share around here--love that taste of blood.

With hundreds of Hispanics gathering for the board meeting on the afternoon of September 17, trustee Jose Plata saw fit to distribute to the crowd, in Spanish and English, an inflammatory declaration of support for Gonzalez. Unfortunately for him, it resulted in him sounding like a self-serving boob--in two languages.

"...Because of her efforts to bring spending under control, she has been attacked relentlessly in the press by character assassins who want her to stop the internal investigation she started months ago," Plata wrote in the English version. "Dr. Gonzalez was finally pushed to the brink...

"As the Latino member of the school board," he continued, "I am not willing to stand by and let outside forces run off the only school superintendent in the history of this district who has had the courage to make the hard decisions and the willingness to fight corruption...as far as I am concerned, she has done nothing wrong."

I know an election year is coming up, but this statement is shamelessly disingenuous and irresponsible, not to mention idiotic--in light of the district's racial tensions. One can only guess that Plata is trying to win some of the respect that has so far eluded him in Dallas' Latino communities.

Plata, however, wasn't the only one who seized the opportunity to draw attention to himself last Wednesday night.

When I walked into the jam-packed auditorium, where most board meetings are held, I observed quite a pageant of strutting and posing among district hangers-on--as well as a fine array of cheap, double-breasted suits.

There was DISD litigant Don Venable, talking very loudly next to the two rows of press seats about all the important stuff he's done. There was Dallas businessman Michael Gonzalez, ceaselessly striding about the front of the room with his cell phone. And there was John Wiley Price, sporting a truly ridiculous Bugsy-style hat, sitting in the back of the room flanked by a couple of his Warrior sidekicks.

Ultimately, even their smug voices were overwhelmed by the shouts of people who actually have a stake in the district's affairs--the hundreds of Hispanic parents and schoolkids who'd pushed through the doors and crammed into every available seat.

Around 9 p.m.--five hours into the board's closed-door meeting, with four hours still to go--a couple of people, ornery and bored, yanked up the blinds on the auditorium windows. Visible outside were more than 100 Latino demonstrators, who now pressed up against the windows, thrusting an American flag and pro-Gonzalez placards into view.

Their chants of "Gon-za-lez! Gon-za-lez!" caught on inside the auditorium, prompting a cacophonous soup of foot-stomping, chair-banging, hand-clapping, and children's squeals.

It was hard not to get swept up in the pro-Gonzalez sentiment--hard to push away feelings of sympathy for a superintendent who had so clearly won this crowd's unreserved, heartfelt support.

It was actually a relief to see Hispanics finally flexing some muscle in the district--an entirely appropriate and necessary phenomenon, seeing as how 45 percent of the district's kids are Latino. Quite frankly, anything that draws the spotlight away from the increasingly irrelevant, morally clapped-out John Wiley Price can only be a positive development for DISD.

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