By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
All right, here it comes. This is former Dallas police Chief Terrell Bolton coming straight at you with a Molotov cocktail in one hand and the other one out for money. So what's it gonna be? You tell me.
You might call it political extortion. I say it just might work.
Bolton was fired August 27 by City Manager Ted Benavides. He has demanded and will receive a hearing on September 15 before the city council under an obscure provision of our incredibly stupid city charter.
His church will have two weeks to load up the buses and jam the city council chamber. All of the wackos will be back with bells on. (So far, the people from Bolton's church have been dignified and polite in their appearances on his behalf at City Hall. The wackos have not.)
You may have seen reports in which this hearing has been described by reporters as a "name-clearing" event, a civil service proceeding, a fact-finding session, etc. That's all totally bogus. This proceeding has nothing to do with civil service. It will not provide Bolton with an opportunity to clear his name. There will be no "fact-finding."
As a matter of fact, our incredibly stupid city charter does not say what this kind of hearing is for. The charter (chapter 6, section 2, subsection 1) just says a fired department head, "shall, if he so demands, be given a public hearing by the council before the order of removal is made final."
Does that mean the council has the ability to stop the removal from being made final? No. Specifically, definitely, clearly not. According to the charter, only the city manager can do that.
Does it mean the city council could order the city manager to stop the removal from being made final? Absolutely not. That also would be a violation of the charter.
The council cannot tell the manager, "Reinstate the chief, or we'll fire you." That would be big-time illegal. If Bolton's lawyer, Robert Hinton, were demanding that the council reinstate Bolton, he would be demanding that it break the law. And by the way, he's too smart to do that. That's not what this is about.
None of the Anglo or Latino council members wants this. They're having executive sessions and talking amongst themselves to find a way to make it go away. But they can't. It's a great example of how our city government is set up so that nothing works.
And also on that point: The Dallas Morning News and some of the TV reporters have been saying it would take a "super-majority" of the council, or 11 of the 15 votes, to remove the city manager. Wrong. The charter says the manager is "removable at the will and pleasure of the council upon a two-thirds vote of the members unless otherwise provided by contract."
I looked at the current city manager's contract. It does not provide otherwise. It takes a two-thirds vote to remove him--10 votes, not 11. Just to make sure I wasn't losing my mind, I also checked again with the city attorney and the city manager. Two-thirds.
The fine points of this calculation become important in understanding how the black caucus on the council was able to protect Bolton for so long after the mayor had made it plain she wanted to see him gone. As long as the city manager had six solid votes to protect him--all four African-American members plus at least two of the three Latinos--the manager himself could not be fired by the council. And the city manager is the only person who can fire the chief, under our extremely knuckle-headed city charter.
Under our system, six council members and a city manager can tell 10 council members to kiss off. Welcome to Dallas.
But I'm not sure Benavides was ever truly comfortable with the keep-Bolton deal. Maybe the ice was too thin. Obviously he wasn't comfortable with Bolton. At some point in the days before the firing, Benavides did some new math and decided he could dump the chief and still keep his own job. Benavides may feel a weight has been lifted from his shoulders: From what I hear, he's been going around City Hall ever since firing Bolton with a big grin like, "Free at last! Free at last!"
In reality, the question was never why Bolton was fired "suddenly and without warning." It was always how in the world he was able to survive so long.
Another point I checked on with the city attorney's office: Will Bolton's upcoming hearing have any kind of special status or authority? I asked, because I remembered the big imbroglio when my neighbor, David Dean, the world's most effective lobbyist, demanded a hearing before the city council to appeal a Landmark Commission decision barring him from adding to his house.
The Dean hearing was "quasi-judicial" in nature, which caused huge problems because none of the council members quite understood what that meant. Were they supposed to wear powdered wigs or something? The best answer anyone was able to give was that in a quasi-judicial hearing the plaintiff--or whatever you would call him--can introduce evidence; the council can cross-examine; certain "rules of evidence" may apply. Nobody knows what rules. But rules.