Cain't Say No

Girls and boys of the city council get "in trouble"

Very best theater of the absurd this city has seen, ever. Absolutely. Our eyes witness these events, but our brains can't believe it.

First, city council members Mary Poss, Alan Walne and Ed Oakley are leaders of the pack in giving away $43 million in tax money to two billionaires, one of whom is a major-major obnoxious snotball who keeps firing off insults against the city from poolside somewhere in Hawaii because we're not giving him enough money fast enough. When the billionaires finally do get the boodle they want, they promise in return that they will build an ultra-luxe professional sports-cum-lingerie mall on a toxic waste dump near downtown.

Just what we were hoping for in my neighborhood.

But then barely a week after the big giveaway, the Dallas City Council gets the news that it is badly, horrendously, stupendously broke. And so for several evenings in a row we have city council members Mary Poss, Alan Walne and Ed Oakley on the telly every night shucking and clucking and waddling around with sky-is-falling looks on their faces, going on and on about how terrible it is that we seem to be facing a "shortfall" in the budget.

Well, what...what am I missing here? Did somebody slip me some Rohypnol? Mary, Ed, Alan: You gave the money away. I saw you do it. It was on television. That's how you get shortfalls.

Don't you hate that word, anyway, "shortfall?" If I'm a bank teller and my drawer comes up missing 10 or 12 grand, do you think they're going to tell me I'm facing a "shortfall?" A long walk on a short pier is what I may be facing.

Mary. Alan. Ed. You're the girls and boys who just cain't say no. Watch out for date rape.

This isn't the only place on earth with awareness issues. I guess not that many people in this region watched Barbara Kopple's documentary on the Hamptons on ABC a week ago, but I did watch it with grim fascination. Both nights it was on I drove the family out of the room and hunkered down to catch every syllable. That footage had more moronic, prattling new-rich nincompoops per square inch than I would ever have believed could exist in the entire universe. There must be an ancient Indian curse drawing them to the Hamptons like zombies from far and wide.

But Dallas may also be a major depot. I think we're a gathering point for the zombies. They come by night, and in the day they are our civic leaders. Look at these facts:

The same leaders who helped defeat the recent police and fire pay referendum--TXU Electric/Gas, Austin Industries, various groups, law firms and individuals directly or peripherally connected with the Trinity River project and public-works construction in Dallas--are aggressively promoting a series of make-believe fandango bridges across the downtown mudflats at a cost too huge to pronounce out loud.

They also are pushing for a $40 million to $45 million city bond issue to go toward the $250 million opera hall they want to build downtown. The opera buffs have already chosen our architects for us, led by the team that designed the makeover of the German Reichstag, or parliament building, in Berlin three years ago. The redone Reichstag includes a public seating area in the roof above the big room where the parliament meets so that "the public are symbolically above the politicians who are answerable to them."

That's a great idea. I wish we could get that company to come do a roof-deal like that for the city council chamber. Then we could all go sit up there over Mary Poss and yell, "Shortfall!" and drop stuff on her from our lunch bags.

The zombies are trying to zombify us. Money for the opera? We can't mow the grass in the parks. What money?

OK, I know that many responsible ordinary folk voted against the pay-raise referendum, because we had been led to believe we couldn't afford it. Looking at what has happened since, it must have been true. But if we couldn't afford more pay for firefighters and cops, then how in the world can we afford fandango bridges and $45 million for an opera house? Who thinks that way?

I don't even blame the mad billionaire who kept hurling thunderbolts at us from his Hula Hut. You can't blame people for asking. Why not? Maybe we should all ask. Why should the taxpayers be the only suckers in the deal?

To be sure, some of the people who ask for city money are strong advocates for causes in which they truly believe. William H. Lively, who is president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation, told me that the millions his group is seeking for the new opera house are, in his view, "the city's fair share that makes this a truly public-private partnership."

I know he means it. I respect his commitment. But what if I don't want to be in the partnership? Then my fair share is zero. I want to be a partner with the cop on my street, the firefighter at my neighborhood station, the city employee on the back of the garbage truck that comes down my block, and if I can't afford to stay partners with those guys, then I can't go partners in the Reichstag. It's that simple.

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