By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Two on the council will keep their daggers unsheathed. Mary Poss, the Duchess of Northeast, clearly plans to run against Miller for mayor 14 months from now when this special shortened mayoral term ends. James Fantroy is the Southern Dallas conundrum who got mad at Miller on her first day in office for going out on a trash truck and cleaning up an illegal dump in his district without his permission. I keep meaning to check and see if there had been any missing persons in that area before the cleanup.
The point is: Miller and the council are going to get along, not perfectly on every issue but well enough. If you stop to think about it, the reasons why most of the city council would try hard to work with Miller or any other new mayor are obvious, in spite of all that nonsense during the campaign. Take Lill and Miller, for example. They can find way more common ground personally and politically than ground for animosity.
They're both about the same age, both mothers, both married to guys with high-pressure jobs. They both represent older, diverse neighborhoods in the inner city, and both have ties and sympathies that range broadly over the city.
Lill is my council member. I see her all the time riding around my neighborhood in her white SUV checking up on the garbage trucks, with her kid in the back like one of those suction-cup toys on the back window: "HELP ME! MY MOM IS IN POLITICS!"
She looks just like Miller when I see her: Miller's got her kid in a shopping cart, with his hands on his ears muttering, "Oh no, she's talking!"
Given that these are very driven people--and by the time most people take a big enough chunk out of their lives to get elected to the city council, they are all driven and very committed to a set of serious issues outside themselves--why wouldn't all of these people look for enough common ground with the new mayor to get stuff done that they want done?
It's already happening.
The problem for the city manager is that it wasn't supposed to happen. Now what happens if Miller, already a problem in herself, is able to coax the other munchkins on the council out from beneath their flowers? And what if they start demanding information, too?
Ooooooh, big problem.
I have to do some due diligence and tell you that City Manager Ted Benavides' version of the situation is the exact opposite of everything I am saying here. Benavides told me at the end of Miller's first week that it is his intention to work with her.
"I will do everything I can to help her be successful," he said. "I will work with her and learn her style."
Then I have to tell you that I just don't believe it. I'm not saying Benavides is being deceitful. I am saying what he says, even if sincere, simply flies in the face of the way things are.
Take that first full day of briefings after Miller took office, for example: Two groups made major presentations about why they should get tens of millions of dollars in city taxpayer subsidy for their private, for-profit development ventures in downtown Dallas. One of the groups put on a very persuasive, elegantly crafted presentation asking the city council for an almost $50 million subsidy for its proposed development around the new downtown arena.
Embedded in that presentation was a request that the city council enable this group to set up its own quasi-governmental body with the ability to sell bonds and levy property taxes. This is a very exotic, extremely complex concept that has never been used in Dallas and with which the city council is totally unfamiliar.
Think exotic complexity: Think Enron.
But the only people telling the council about this concept, the only ones giving them the details, were the development group seeking the subsidy and a very sympathetic member of the city manager's staff. It's remarkable that the city council would even allow itself to ponder something this new, this big, this complicated and this significant based only on the word of the people trying to sell it.
John Loza is one of several past and current council members I have spoken with in the last week about the problem of briefings and information.
"You would have to do your own research in order to prove anything to the staff," Loza said. For that, he said, council members would have to have their own staffs far beyond the single assistant per council member now hired for them by the city manager.
Many people who have served or are now serving say it would take a small personal staff merely to read the briefing papers that the city manager typically dumps on them five days before they have to vote on Wednesdays. A developer who spoke to me on a not-for-attribution basis said he thought council members would have to have access to their own certified public accountants and lawyers in order to get any decently independent view of things like the private bonding and taxing authority the arena developers are now seeking.