Busted

Even in these boom times, Dallas is broke, thanks to a city council that has been giving away the store

That truth is no longer operative. Dallas needs to sell bonds again this year, for the Trinity River and other projects. Presumably, given the unfavorable ruling in the first of the pay suits decided by a judge, the city will have to amend its official statement to warn investors that things aren't going so well.

The $800 million figure for the potential hit in Gorsky's case apparently hasn't been mentioned yet in the court filings. If that's still true when the city publishes its new official statement, the city may not have to include that number. If the number ever does get into the financial declarations, it won't be a selling point for the bonds. Eight hundred million dollars, after all, is half the current budget.

Gorsky insists the police and fire employees are the last ones to want to bust the city. What they want, he says, is serious negotiation toward a resolution.

Michael Hogue
When it comes to blaming someone for Dallas' budget troubles, many people point fingers at former City Manager John Ware.
Martin Menocal
When it comes to blaming someone for Dallas' budget troubles, many people point fingers at former City Manager John Ware.

What frustrates them, he says, is their perception that the city manager, mayor, and city council are unwilling to move realistically toward any kind of settlement. Like the pension issue, like the franchise fees, like the failure to contain borrowing, like the hemorrhaging of tax abatements, the council seems intent on pushing the police and fire pay problem back under the rug, hoping it will suffocate.

For police officers and firemen, Gorsky says, it's an important statement about what the council really thinks of them.

"It's an example of talking out of both sides of one's mouth," he says, "constantly praising officers and firefighters for their service to the city, attending all the fund-raisers and banquets. But when it comes to paying them for their work, it's a different story."


The bottom line

Especially galling to the employees -- none of whom seem to have liked former City Manager John Ware much -- is the attempt by Mayor Kirk and the rest of the city council to blame Ware for the city's current financial disarray.

"To blame Ware," John Briscoe of the Texas Public Workers Association begins. He stops talking for a moment and then begins again.

"I mean, I never did like him. He was abusive to his employees. But he was following orders. If the council had been upset by what was going on under Ware, they would have fired him."

Briscoe sees the problem as a mayor and city council that are separated from reality. "My personal opinion is that the city needs to stop trying to make itself into something it's not. Dallas is not New York City. It's not Chicago. It's not even Seattle. We don't need a world-class arena for a fifth-class basketball team."

Donna Blumer sees the problem as a city council too sternly dominated by self-seeking manipulators in certain quarters of the business community.

"We have a bunch of puppets on the council who really don't understand what's going on," she says. She thinks some of the problem, also, is a change for the worse in the city's traditional puppeteers, the men and women of the private Dallas Citizens Council.

The Citizens Council, a shadowy business group that meets in secret but whose contributions tend to dominate city council races, is not what it once was, she says.

"It's a different motivation from the old Citizens Council. I think they really used to be men and women who were interested in the best for Dallas. I think now it's people who are just interested in getting their piece of the pie."

Walter Pearson, the citizen and taxpayer who rose to challenge John Loza and Veletta Lill at the Grauwyler meeting, said on the telephone later in the week that he tries not to think about City Hall too much, "because I don't want to grow my ulcer."

But he revs up anyway.

"One thing about the arena deal that stuck in my craw," says Pearson, "was that all of that development over there was going to happen anyway. You start at State-Thomas and go west. It was all happening. All I saw was a big developer going to City Hall and getting lots of money for doing what somebody was going to do anyway."

He isn't fooled by the city manager's "tax cut." In fact, the tax cut really makes him mad.

"The smarmiest let-'em-eat-cake thing is this tax reduction they're throwing out there. It just smacks of politics," he says.

He's angry about the steady decline in the level and quality of city services over the last decade. "They trot out this stuff like the new garbage trucks, and it doesn't work. The trucks can't fit in the alley. Then it seems like every time there's a problem, their reaction is to say, 'Oh we need to restructure,' and they take away more services or more of our elbow room."

But mainly Pearson sees something terribly wrong, something so big he can't quite put his finger on it, something that looms like an oppressive, rumbling cloud.

The story City Hall tells doesn't add up.

"We keep hearing about record growth in the tax base," he says, "and it looks to me like we're broke. I'm just doing the math. My first point in all this, I think, would be that the emperor has no clothes."

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