By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
You would think that by now we would have lost our ability to be appalled by anything Dallas City Council members say or do. Fat chance.
Buzz is talking, of course, about the move afoot either to fire City Auditor Robert Melton or to deny him a raise because he -- brace yourself -- did his job. (Melton must be blowing the curve for the rest of City Hall.) Unfortunately for Melton, his job involved writing a critical report about Margie Reese, the politically and socially connected city Office of Cultural Affairs director. The report found she rigged the process for awarding a city contract. (See Jim Schutze's column last week.)
Melton's council critics, who oddly haven't faulted the findings of his report, say Reese's connections have nothing to do with their complaints. His detractors -- who include Mayor Ron Kirk and several council members -- say Melton is an overzealous media hound.
This -- brace yourself again -- is a lie. OK, so maybe it's not a lie. Maybe it's just their opinion. In that case, it's a stupid opinion.
The charge that Melton is overzealous stems partly from the contention that he had members of his staff stake out Reese's home, which was reported as fact in The Dallas Morning News. (Originally, the rumor was that auditors had searched her home.) Buzz pictured trench-coated and fedora-wearing CPAs skulking beneath streetlights, smoking Lucky Strikes, and sipping from pints of Old Crow. The truth, which council members learned last week but glossed over, was less picaresque, according to a confidential affidavit from senior investigative auditor Hector Collazo Jr.
Melton's gumshoes were looking into an allegation that Reese had given her daughter a city-issued laptop computer to use at college. Before Collazo asked her to produce the computer, the auditor's office sent a staff member to wait outside her home to ensure that someone -- her daughter, presumably -- didn't rush home with the purloined laptop.
Collazo stated that he asked to see the computer. Reese graciously offered to drive him to her house, where she used the laptop for city business, to collect it. She didn't want him to get lost. Once there, they collected the staff member on "stakeout," and Reese invited both men inside because it was a hot day. She produced the computer. Gracious to the core, she offered the men a cold drink. Collazo accepted a glass of water. (But no finger sandwiches. That might have constituted bribery.) The men left in no more than 15 minutes.
While at Reese's house, Collazo said in his affidavit, "I commented about her home and what a large kitchen she had. Ms. Reese then told us a little history of the home and how pleased she was with it."
Now, as heavy-handed police-state tactics go, the auditors' actions seem a far cry from hot lights in the face and a truncheon to the kidneys. But what does Buzz know? We thought it was an auditor's job to keep track of city property, but then we're not a city council member -- saints be praised. Those delicate flowers are a bit sensitive to anyone looking over their shoulders -- even the folks they pay to do the looking.
While we're not on city council -- really, praise them saints -- we are in the media. Most of the Dallas Observer staff has tried in the past to persuade Melton to dish dirt. No such luck. Talking to Melton is...well, it's like talking to an accountant. A good one. (He didn't give us Collazo's affidavit, which was stamped confidential. That came from a city council fax machine.)
But Melton's attitude toward the press could change, especially if his council enemies continue on what is a patently boneheaded, sleazy course and punish Melton financially. Good plan, guys. Reeeeally piss off the man who owns the map to where all the bodies are buried.
Listen, Bob. Should the day come when you decide to Xerox your files and go seek a little payback, just remember your old friend the Buzzer.
Advise and consent
The tiff over whether to build a city "pocket" park in the State-Thomas TIF -- don't you just adore these little bureaucratic puns -- rages on.
The latest skirmish centers on a meeting of the State-Thomas Design Review Committee scheduled for Friday morning. An agenda notice states that the advisory committee will "approve the design and funding for a pocket park located at Worthington and State Streets."
The State-Thomas Tax Increment Financing District is supposed to use tax money collected from new development in the Uptown neighborhood to pay for amenities. The trouble is, not everyone in the neighborhood wants the small park that's on the agenda. Even worse, the review committee's job is simply to advise the TIF's board of directors. Not even the board of directors can approve funding for a city park. That's the city council's job.
Thomas Lardner, a speculator who owns land in the State-Thomas neighborhood, was until recently a member of the TIF board. He opposes the park and says the committee agenda is a mistake -- the meeting should be canceled.