Ted's Excellent Adventure

City manager fires chief, finds self in hell

The real proof of how dumb this system is can be found in the fact that nobody really gets how it works. Let me give you an example. There has been a lot of talk in the past week about how the mayor "disrespected" the police chief. I bet very few people in this city really understand how extremely disrespectful Bolton and his command staff have been of the office of mayor.

Some of the pressure beneath recent events grew out of a series of stories in The Dallas Morning News in which the News revealed that the police department had hired an officer whom the department had reason to believe might have been involved in an unsolved murder. Mayor Miller, who is specifically authorized by the charter to make inquiries of city employees, tried to call Deputy Chief Cynthia Villarreal, who had made the decision to hire the cop, in order to ask for the background. Miller wound up jumping in her car and ramming over to police headquarters one day to demand that Villarreal see her.

A week before Bolton was fired, I called Miller and asked her why the mayor of Dallas had to go stand around in the lobby of the cop shop like some schlub citizen trying to get an audience with an assistant chief. (I also called Villarreal. She didn't return my call.)

Dorit Rabinovitch
Terrell Bolton probably was set up. But the person who set him up most was Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who made Bolton think he was bulletproof.
Peter Calvin
Terrell Bolton probably was set up. But the person who set him up most was Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who made Bolton think he was bulletproof.

This is what Miller told me: "At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I came in my office, and I said, 'I'm going to talk to Villarreal. I want to know what's going on.' So I started calling her. She wouldn't call me back, and no one over there would call me back. I kept calling and calling, and she wouldn't call me back...

"I'm told she's in a meeting with [Assistant] Chief [Shirley A.] Gray, who was acting chief for that day. She'd been in there for two hours. I said, 'When she comes out, have her call me.' She doesn't call me. Then I'm calling back, 'Well, where is she now?' 'Well, she's left for the day on personal business.' I said, 'Left for the day? It's 5:30.' I said, 'Find her. Call her on her cell phone, page her, tell her I need to talk to her.' 'Well, we'll see what we can do.'

"So all of a sudden about 6 o'clock in the evening, Ted Benavides walks into my office. 'Are you looking for Chief Villarreal?' 'Yeah. What's it to you? Is this a problem?' 'Well, we'll see what we can do.'

"So, of course, I hear nothing. I get up the next morning, I start all over again, from my car. I was busy, I was in my car. I'm calling and calling, they keep transferring me all over the new police station.

"Finally I just got her lieutenant, her chief of staff, and I said, 'You know what, I'm real tired of trying to find her. Would you just give me her city cell phone?' And he said, 'No.'"

Did you know our system was that stupid? Did you know that a bunch of mid- to lower-level city employees could tell the mayor to kiss off? No wonder Bolton thought he could defy the city manager.

In the end, all of the political mess winds up swirling around Benavides like there's a broken sewer under his desk. Ultimately he has to clean it up. And then nobody believes he's the one who cleaned it up, because he's not the mayor.

The answer here is to make the mayor the mayor. Hey, keep the manager if you love him. But have the mayor hire and fire him. When there's a political mess, we fire the mayor. And in the interim, let's hope people know who they are and what they are and what they're supposed to do, and we get a little peace and quiet.

So the big news is we didn't have a riot. We need to forget about riots. This is Dallas. We don't have riots here. We just all wind up looking like idiots instead. This is better, right?

Last scene: end of the day, shadows falling outside City Hall, almost everyone gone. I am on the first floor of City Hall, going to my car, and Sandra Crenshaw pops out from behind a pillar like Banquo's ghost. She throws out her arms--her face aglow with a beaming smile--and trills: "Oh, this was so much fun!"

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