By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Now you can understand why people at City Hall would have a motivation to talk bad about the cops and firemen. And in fact, Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, tells me that's just what city officials have been threatening.
"The staff has a need to blame us instead of blaming people who should have stepped up to the plate and dealt with the problem a long time ago," White said.
What people? Council people and mayor people and city manager people. That's who could have given the staff direction to take care of this thing way before it had ballooned to such a size. (The total hit goes up every year it isn't settled.)
These suits could have been settled years ago for much less money. And the lawsuits grew out of something we citizens decided and voted for and laid down the law on more than 20 years ago.
In 1979 we voted for a pay hike for police and fire. The proposal we approved included a specific provision that the city could not give raises to the top brass unless they gave the same percentage raise all the way down the chain. It was a deliberate departure from the traditional Dallas top-down way of doing things. We, the people, wanted to make sure this money we were voting for would go to the cops and the firemen, not the brass.
So what did the city do? It gave raises to the brass and not to the cops and firemen. The gigantic Bozos! The city just ignored the language of the referendum and gave pay hikes at the top that added up to twice the rate of the increases further down.
What would have been the motivation of the mayor and city council not to come to grips with the police and fire pay lawsuits long ago? Well, I know what I think it was. During the period when they might have taken this on responsibly, bit the bullet and squared with the voters on what we owe, the Ron Kirk leadership at City Hall was busy selling us a new downtown sports arena, the river project, and the 2012 Olympics.
Kirk doesn't want people thinking about closed swimming pools, ruined streets, and screwed-up lawsuits when he needs us to go to the polls and vote to spend millions of tax dollars on the private ventures sought by his rich Republican handlers.
The plight of the police and fire forces, meanwhile, like the swimming pools, just gets worse the longer the city fails to act. I spent some time recently with officer Ernest D. Sherman, a trustee of the Dallas Police Patrolman's Union (different from Glenn White's group). Sherman has been doing comparative research on pay levels in Dallas, the suburbs, and other cities as well as on turnover, and he has come up with some very interesting numbers.
Starting pay for a cop in Plano is 127 percent of the same pay rate in Dallas. Sherman argues this kind of pay differential makes it hard for Dallas to hold on to good cops. Sherman offers other data that he says show that a quarter of the police department has turned over in the last five years because of low pay and that the city wastes tens of millions of dollars on training because it can't keep good officers.
In the last couple of months, the city manager's office has spent a lot of time compiling numbers for the city council to refute the information Sherman has been making public. But the manager's office concedes, on the other hand, that police and fire pay is low in Dallas and that some kind of raise, between 5 percent and 15 percent, is crucial.
The few council members who would discuss this stuff with me even off the record said they were going to try to offer the cops and the firemen a tit-for-tat deal: You people get a raise if you drop that nasty lawsuit.
But that's just not going to happen. We're talking different apples for different people. The pay raise is what the city needs to do to hold on to rookies. The lawsuit is a potentially major payday for people who have been around a long time. The two things don't connect.
The week after the city voted to let Councilwoman Laura Miller use private money to save a couple of swimming pools, park board member Dwaine Caraway drove me around town to show me how crappy the pools are and why they need to be plowed in. What I saw, again and again, was filtration equipment lying in rusty pieces on the ground, peeling paint, un-repaired cracks, and broken glass and litter six inches deep where the kids walk to porta-johns.
That's maintenance. That's the city allowing its basic plant to rot, while the mayor and city council talk us into spending millions on hockey arenas and make-believe lakes.
As bad as closing the pools on little poor kids may be, a deliberate campaign to undermine public confidence in the police and fire forces will be even worse, especially when the only goal is to dodge blame for a money problem.
Sometimes living here feels like being homeless in a BMW.