Look back in confusion

Buzz remembers the year that might have been and proves that not only the winners write the history

Dallas 1998. Think back with us to the unique, exciting moments over the past year. Really, we mean it. Think back with us. Better yet, think back for us, because, frankly, Buzz's memory is not what it was before we discovered beer many, many years ago.

Let's see. We recall that it was hot--that damn El Nino thing. City Hall's attention was focused on several big-ticket projects while code enforcement lagged and ever-growing potholes ate our car alignments. The Dallas Independent School District was a mess. The Cowboys needed coaching. Big business was in charge of city government. Mayor Ron Kirk and Laura Miller were starring in their own Punch and Judy Show at 1500 Marilla.

Wait a minute. Was that 1997 or 1998? Or, God forbid, tomorrow?
Don't fret. After spending several hours hanging with the winos at the downtown library reading back issues of the Dallas Observer and The Dallas Morning News, Buzz is here to sort out The Year That Was. Actually, only we were reading old copies of the Morning News. The winos had better taste.

Unfortunately, trying to grasp a full year of history by reading newspapers is like trying to watch an opera by peeping through a keyhole. You miss the grand sweep of things. To provide a sense of perspective, Buzz took the liberty of filling in a few blanks here and there.

In other words, we made some stuff up, so read at your own risk.
Of course, no serious year-end chronicle--or even one like this--is complete without a theme. We considered several: "Going for the Gold" (too obvious); "Purple Haze" (Remember the smoke from Mexico?); "Mooned River" (for the Trinity Project).

In the end, we turned to the city staff of Carrollton and copped their name for the suburb's disastrous decision last summer to bulldoze a poop-fouled egret rookery. So strike your best Pete Townshend air-guitar pose, shout out a few choruses of "Won't Get Fooled Again," and dive into this:

Operation Remove Excrement.

JANUARY

What are the odds?
Dallas rings in the new year with the birth of two boys who tie for the honor of being the city's first newborns of 1998. The news is doubly good when it turns out that neither child is the illegitimate offspring of any member of the Cowboys--as far as we know.

Let them eat hockey
Giving Marie Antoinette a run for the money in the gall department, media gazillionaire Tom Hicks announces he will buy the Texas Rangers for more than $250 million--just weeks before Dallas residents will vote on whether to raise hotel and car-rental taxes to pay the city's $125 million share of a new $230 million sports arena, a place where millionaire athletes will compete on teams owned by Hicks and fellow gazillionaire H. Ross Perot Jr.

Does such a vulgar display of avarice enrage the populace to reject this bit of corporate welfare? Of course not, you silly. This is Dallas, where if you've got it, you flaunt it, baby. Then you get some more.

The pro-arena campaign, largely financed by Hicks and Perot, outspends opponents by around 25 to 1 and wins by less than 2,000 votes. The two million bucks spent to purchase the more than 62,000 "yes" votes comes out to just under $32 per vote, giving new meaning to the phrase "chump change."

Among those endorsing the arena is the Dallas Police Association, which comes out in favor of the proposal a day after Mayor Ron Kirk, the chief arena booster, says he favors adding more money for a new police headquarters to a May bond proposal. Kirk and DPA officials say this is just a happy coincidence.

The Untouchable
"There is a thing...by the name of pitch: This pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile."

That's right. Buzz reads Shakespeare, and not just the comics versions either. After beginning this essay with mentions of moons, poop, and excrement, allow us to class things up with a touch of Henry IV as it applies to Matthew Harden, former chief financial officer of the Dallas Independent School District.

Harden, one of DISD's casualties in the fall of Yvonne Gonzalez, spent much of the past year fending off accusations that he took kickbacks from a roofing-contract scam at the school district. Contractor William Risby and former DISD supervisor James Hargrave will be sentenced to prison later in the year for their part in the scheme and will implicate Harden, irrevocably tarring his reputation. (Pitch, tar, roof. Work with us. We'll get back to being lowbrow soon enough.)

Harden, who would resign in February, rings in 1998 facing allegations that he gave his homebuilder nearly $20,000 in cash for improvements to his house, making the payments in amounts just under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements for cash transactions--a process known as "smurfing" among money launderers. Harden claims that he was unaware of the law and weeks later turns up a check receipt that he says shows he did not make all cash payments.

Did we mention that he was chief financial officer at DISD?
Despite the allegations, lawsuits, and damning leaks from federal investigators, Harden to this day has not been charged with any crime. That makes him a criminal genius, a lucky idiot, or a man done more wrong by the authorities than The Fugitive's Richard Kimble.

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