Peep-hole power

It's a scary world out there, but someone's gotta keep it under control. Jim Schutze uncovers the secret agony of the Dallas Citizens Council.

Barbara Mallory Caraway was a principal supporter of the mayor on the river deal and a strong proponent of the arena deal. When council member Laura Miller raised questions about the role of Ray Hunt (DCC) in some of the arena-related real estate transactions, Caraway angrily accused her of harboring personal malice against him.

Think of it. The representative from West Dallas accused Miller of being anti-Ray Hunt! Can we even imagine what kind of music to his ears this must be?

Charlotte Mayes is either more independent or less clear about how she feels. She's very pro-river. She would be a stronger supporter of the 2012 Olympics if she were certain the Olympics effort won't slow down the doming of the Cotton Bowl.

These people don't just support the Citizens Council on everything. They go to bat for them. They shed tears for them. They accuse people of being anti-Ray Hunt!

A tour of the finance reports of most of the rest of the council would reveal much the same pattern. Larry Duncan, a strong supporter of the river deal, gets all the pro-river money--Beecherl, Halff, the Crows, along with Blair Goggan and the city employees unions. Don Hicks does very well by the boys downtown, but has a few tricks of his own, as well.

Laura Miller got money from some of the Citizens Council types, but it was mainly lost in the avalanche of other money she got from friends and supporters all over the city and country. Donna Blumer (District 13, far northwest) has her own base of support. Sandy Greyson (Place 12, Oklahoma) is a cross-over.

Perhaps it is fair to mention that many white North Dallas candidates get even more money from the traditional sources than do the candidates of the southern tier. But they tend to be traditional candidates, expected to represent the interests of the downtown business establishment and the development interests. That money has to show up in those races. It's all in the family.

Where the same money is much more remarkable is in the counter-intuitive campaigns, the ones where the money can stay home if it wants or ride with somebody else, especially in a district where a little money is a lot. Everybody knows that the North Dallas members, with the exceptions of Blumer and sometimes Greyson, are going to vote with the big boys anyway. It's in the southern Dallas races that the money has much more the look and feel of influence buying.

The kind of money that shows up in southern Dallas also tends to illustrate what people have to say about the Citizens Council: The money that goes south to influence council votes seems to have very little to do with broad community issues. Instead it appears to be tied to fairly narrow development deals--the river and the arena, mainly. It looks like a quite narrow slice of the power structure working to get its way on immediate deals. And doing darned well at it, it would seem.

The bottom line is that a solid majority of the Dallas City Council sound positively devoted when they talk about the Citizens Council.

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss talks about it as if it were church. "When an elected official calls on them for support and advice," she says, "they are there to help."

Larry Duncan (District 4, a squiggly swath from far south up to far East Dallas), describes them as the new and improved Citizens Council: "They have become much more sophisticated," he says. "And part of that is being responsive. Before, they were this shadow. You can look at it as changing with the times, or you can look at it as, if one thing doesn't work, we'll try another."

Steve Salazar says he only has to talk to them when he's raising money. "During the election cycle is pretty much the only time I hear from them," he says.

Pretty much the only time they need to be heard.
Clearly, whatever they're doing, it works on their stuff, especially the arena and the river, for which members of the Citizens Council have a major dollar stake in what happens. But what about the broader issues for which the Citizens Council supposedly works selflessly for the good of the community?

Such issues do exist. The Citizens Council, for example, has invested some years of effort and a lot of hard work in the schools issue. Even the community critics who are most often at odds with the establishment over the school question tend to give the Citizens Council an A for effort, up to a point.

Russell Fish, the education activist who recently published all of the school district's financial records on the World Wide Web, says the Citizens Council has done serious pioneering work in examining the agonies and issues of the Dallas Independent School District.

"My interaction with the Citizens Council is strictly limited to education issues and a briefing I was given in the summer of 1997 on their work. Prior to that, I was unaware they even existed," Fish says.

"They had quite clearly spent a large amount of time and money on their education project and had done some very good, honorable, non-racist work to find out which schools were working and which were not."

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