Cursed are the peacemakers

Councilwoman Laura Miller steps right into the line of fire--and ends up wounded--in a neighborhood war over a parking lot

So Miller says she told Methodist at her meeting with them, "Look, you've got the parking lot there already. Now why don't you go help Isenberg with the meditation garden?

"I said, 'You hired [zoning consultant] Mike Coker, you hired [attorney] Jim Bishop. How much does that cost? That's not for patient care.'"

In her mind, it was simple: The hospital was going to win the zoning thing on the parking lot. Now the least they could do was win graciously and make a little gesture. What? Ten, maybe fifteen grand? Peanuts, next to what they were spending on high-priced legal and political help.

But the suggestion was no sooner out of her mouth than Miller, by profession a close student of facial expressions, saw that everyone on the other side of the table all of a sudden looked like he was having a lemon for breakfast.

In their minds: Oh, no. Not the old tit-for-tat with the fountain thing again.

"They looked at me," Miller says, "like they thought I was extorting them."
In a more pointed off-the-record remark, she says she felt they were looking at her as if she had suddenly metamorphosed into one of the more vile targets of her own sharp pen.

A third party familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition that he not be named, says Miller over-interpreted and took it all way too hard.

"She didn't know any of the history. They did have the sucking-on-a-lemon look for a while, but that was only because they were thinking, 'Oh, no, not the damned fountain again.' But as soon as that cleared the air, everybody was fine."

One pitch down. One to go.
"Maureen Jones and Gary Burns and some others wanted me to come learn about funding for the Bishop Arts district," Miller says. "The only time they can meet with me is in the evening, so I have to say, all right, I don't get to have dinner with my kids, but that was how it had to be, so I went.

"I got there, and they were just going along with their regular business, reading the minutes...which didn't tell me a hell of a lot about Bishop Arts.

"So finally I got up and said, 'I have sat here for an hour, and I haven't learned a hell of a lot about Bishop Arts.' They said, 'Don't go, don't go.' I said, 'Well what do you want?' And they said they wanted $500,000."

The participants in the meeting have a similar if somewhat differently shaded version of events.

"I had called her that week and asked her if she would meet with us," Burns says. "She said she wanted to keep her evenings free for her children. Then she showed up. Late.

"She came in and said, 'Just continue with your business, I'm just here to observe.' And she took out her little notebook. I talked for a while, trying to update the group on things. Then she started packing up her notes.

"She said, 'If there is anything I can do for you, let me know, but I'm not getting anything out of this.' She started to leave, so I said, 'You know, Laura, if you could get us some money, that would be great.'"

In fact, the Bishop Arts area where the neighborhood wants to spend money is mainly not even in Miller's district. Most of it is in Councilman Steve Salazar's district. There should be federal community block grant money available for the improvement projects the neighborhood has in mind. But Salazar had allowed all the community block grant money for his area to get sucked out of the budget earlier in the year when the mayor and city manager were scouring around for money for arena- and river-related projects.

Here was something Miller might be able to get done. But with that hand-holding thing still in mind, she turned to Pat Conley and made a suggestion.

"I said, 'If I get you this money, can you cut the hospital some slack on their parking lot?'"

Gary Burns describes the moment:
"You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody had said a word about Methodist hospital up to that point. I wish I had a picture of Pat Conley's face when those words came out of Laura Miller's mouth."

But Miller did have the picture. "They looked at me the way the hospital had looked at me," she says, "like I was extorting something!"

It was that old devil quid pro quo again. The unmentionable.
Maureen Jones, who is every bit as somber on these matters as Warren Rutherford, says the group tried to explain to Miller how important the parking lot was.

"I am a New Age minister," Jones says, "and everything in my life is under divine guidance. I explained that the parking lot is not just a parking lot. It is a zoning violation that was blatant and premeditated. They broke the law. Either we have zoning in the City of Dallas, or we do not have zoning. If we don't, just be honest about it, and say we do not have zoning. Don't waste my time and let me think I can steer the destiny of my neighborhood."

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