Civil Disservice

Ted and Laura team up, which is a deeply unnatural thing

It made me sad. I remember wondering: Is that all there is? All those children playing on lawns, dogs romping, people barbecuing in back yards: We're all just "impeding flow?" Wasn't that pretty much what Attila told Constantinople?

So maybe you can see why I would hear--or want to hear--a good thing in what Benavides is saying. A little less logic, a bit more listen-up. I think I like it.

And definitely I can understand what Miller is thinking. She knows better than anybody how you call City Hall, if you're a neighborhood or a citizen and you want a stop sign, and you don't get a stop sign. Ever. You get this chart-whacking lecture. Whack-whack! And no stop sign. So I can see someone like Miller thinking, "How about less trafficology, more 'Yessir, we'll be out with the sign in the morning'" once in a blue moon.

Mayor Miller thinks stripping key city staffers of civil service protection will get them to do what she wants. City Manager  Ted Benavides says it will make them do  what he wants.  Can both be right?
Photos: Peter Calvin
Mayor Miller thinks stripping key city staffers of civil service protection will get them to do what she wants. City Manager Ted Benavides says it will make them do what he wants. Can both be right?

She said she isn't worried about the staff lying down for developers, because, "City Hall has always erred on the side of people who want something from City Hall, so I don't think that's going to change."

I took her to mean that they already give it up for the boys, the downtown wired guys, but maybe now they'll have to give some to the little people, too.

But notice how each of them sees this new nimble responsiveness a tad differently: he as, "Now they'll do what I want," and she as, "Now they'll do what I want." You get the subtle conflict, right?

It is a huge irony that, of all the people I talked to, the one who weighed in with the best defense of the staff was North Dallas conservative and business-friendly council member Mitchell Rasansky, himself a banker and a player in development deals. I have always thought Rasansky was smart, and I've never been too staff-friendly myself, but Rasansky's withering scorn for city staff members during public meetings makes me cringe. I just don't believe people can be treated that way in public.

Shows what I know. Rasansky is the one many of the planning staff have gone to in recent weeks on the Q.T. to protest the proposed changes. In talking to me, Rasansky skipped right over the zoning process and went straight to the hypothetical scene where a builder is trying to get the city engineer to stamp his plans--a scene I think Rasansky knows well from several perspectives.

"If the city engineer is telling the builder he needs to put more steel in his building, and the builder doesn't like it," Rasansky said, "then I may be very uncomfortable with a situation where the engineer has to fear for his job if he doesn't give in."

Here's the fear: not the builder. The employee can stand up to the builder. It's the builder's friend on the city council. When a council member calls, the employee has to wonder if his kid should start applying to cheaper colleges.

Both Benavides and Miller said that won't happen. Benavides said it won't happen because the city employee being pressured to OK a bad plan would blow the whistle, either to Benavides or to the Observer.

Hmmm, maybe. If the employee trusts either one. But wouldn't it be easier, college-wise, just to give in?

Miller said city council pressure won't happen, because, "I don't know of anybody who does that."

What?

I have been hearing anonymously all week from city employees citing chapter and verse on just exactly how it happens, all the time. I have to disguise this quote a little to keep from blowing this person's cover, but basically she said: "We get calls lots of times from council people. 'Hey, I've got a constituent mad about this plan.' Now we can just go, 'What they told you is wrong,' and that's it. But if you take away civil service protection, and you get a council person who's a real pushy one, then you might just let it go through. There is no protection. Your decisions are going to be based on what's best for you, not what's best for the city."

In all the recent talk about the difference between cops vs. non-sworn "civilian" employees, we may lose sight of the fact that many of the non-sworn people are cops, too. Instead of writing traffic tickets, they have to enforce the law on big-headed, short-tempered wheeler-dealers. Or on you and me. You, when you want to build your building, and me, when I want my stop sign. And neither one of us ever likes hearing no.

These changes that they're talking about at City Hall are serious business, maybe more serious than the budget. You know it's serious when they all start doing their code-talker routine.

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