Deepest depths

City council members find ingenious ways to screw poor kids out of their swimming pools

"We're not going to let them sandbag this," he said. "Caraway and the rest of the park board report to the city council. As for his wife, Barbara Caraway, she can't stop anything. I'm not impressed with her at all."

So right when it's time for the briefing to start, guess who comes in and sits down next to me: Dwaine Caraway. He and I had never met. He's a very impressive-looking man--big, handsome, extremely well-dressed.

So I introduce myself. Whisper-whisper. He's very nice. Whispers back. I mention there is something I need to chat with him about--whisper-whisper--which is what Laura Miller told me Paul Dyer told her about you telling him to sandbag the Save Our Pools thing.

"It's about what's right": Dallas City Councilman Leo Chaney has faced heated opposition in his fight to keep open a swimming pool in his South Dallas district.
Mark Graham
"It's about what's right": Dallas City Councilman Leo Chaney has faced heated opposition in his fight to keep open a swimming pool in his South Dallas district.

No more whispers.

Now he's stabbing me in the chest with his rolled-up briefing agenda, telling me the story is not only a lie but a "slanderous lie," and that he and I are going to confront Dyer about it right after the briefing.

The briefing is--how do I put this?--appalling. Paul Dyer introduces some guy from Wisconsin who sells Disney World-style amusement-park pool designs. This guy starts right off telling the council what a mistake it is to fix small old pools.

Then Dyer speaks for a while. He presents numbers to show it will cost almost $90,000 each to save the small old pools. But when the council starts asking questions, two major revelations emerge:

1. There is no "master plan." These jerks have been raunching us around for weeks, rending our hearts, telling us that allowing the poor kids to keep their pools open will violate their "master plan." And they don't even have one. They're working on it. Dyer said he hoped to have one in 90 days. You are kidding me!

2. Oh, another small mistake. It's not $90,000 to save each pool, which is way outside the Save Our Pools budget. In response to pointed questions from Miller, Dyer concedes that the actual cost is something in the neighborhood of $40,000, which is way inside the Save Our Pools budget. Way big difference.

During the questioning, Barbara Mallory Caraway says she thinks all of the small old pools stink, and she would never put a child in one. James Fantroy, the new council member who succeeded Al Lipscomb and represents a black and Hispanic area, says proudly that "My child, who is 14 years old, has never swum in one of these wading pools."

Then he makes a sneering speech about people trying to help poor kids. "It's easy to sit back here and say, 'Well, we're trying to help the little poor kids.'"

Sure, Mr. Fantroy. I sort of agree. It takes a certain kind of guts to publicly screw the poor kids instead.

The lady sitting on the other side of me, Karen Moult, is a leader in the Save Our Pools campaign. She had already told me, whisper-whisper, that she had called Fantroy to see whether he wanted any pools in his area kept open and that he had said no, not by you.

So when Fantroy is speaking, he mentions it too. "When I see somebody ride in my district and then turn around and tell me what pool should be open, I don't like it!"

Right, Mr. Fantroy, this is all about your personal power. And somehow it's also about white people trying to oppress black people by contributing money to keep their pools open. Figure that one out.

Fantroy finishes by saying, "I don't care if they turn me out [of office]. I got a nice ranch in Fairfield, and I can go to it."

Well, you sure brought a tear to my eye with that one, Mr. F.

Bottom line? None of the children in either Caraway's or Fantroy's districts will have neighborhood pools to swim in this summer. What a victory for the Caraway-Fantroy team. Maybe next year they can get their elementary schools closed.

After the briefing, Dwaine Caraway and I had the meeting with Dyer. But you know what? I'm not really going to share too much of that. Sorry. Caraway had no right to parade me into this man's office and demand an instant interview. I looked, and Dyer had about 50 phone-message stickies all over his desk and coffee table.

Dyer normally doesn't call back reporters very quickly. And much as I hate to say it, that's his right. He has a big institution to run. It's crazy for him to have to put up with some board member marching in without an appointment, dragging along a reporter to cause a big stink.

Oh, I'll share this one tidbit. Just can't help myself. Caraway ordered Dyer to tell me that the Laura Miller sand-bagging story was a lie. Mr. Dyer talked quite a bit in what I would describe as a somewhat scrambled rapid-fire manner, and in a timbre of voice that was somewhat unnaturally elevated. But listen as I might, I never could hear that word, lie, come out of his mouth.

I think Miller's story was essentially true. I think Dyer is in a hell of a position. If those pools ever do get fixed and opened, it will be that much more of a miracle. And mainly what we should all learn from the Save Our Pools fiasco is that the $50-a-meeting city council system is the source of all our civic woes.

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