By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
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.
So I asked the city attorney's office if the Bolton hearing will be quasi-judicial. The answer was no. The thing on the 15th is just "a hearing," as in: "You speak; I hear." It changes nothing. The only thing Bolton and his lawyer can do at the hearing is talk. The only thing the mayor and the council can do is listen and maybe ask some questions out of sheer curiosity. But the council can't rule or overrule or actually do anything.
Bolton can't "clear his name" in that kind of proceeding. Tell me how? And the council won't be "fact-finding," because it won't be making any decision for which it needs facts.
Some of the demands from the Bolton camp have included a call for a better deal on pension benefits. But that's crazy. The guy's been fired. You can't bring him back into the pension plan now. If you could do that, you could give city pensions away to favorite cousins of city council members. (Why did I say that one out loud?)
Benavides could rehire Bolton on his own. And then--given the way Bolton has behaved since getting fired and given the mood in most of the city--Benavides himself would be fired the next day, and the day after that Bolton would be re-fired. I'm not saying that wouldn't be interesting. Maybe my favorite Mexican restaurant, Matt's Rancho Martinez, which has a tendency to give its dishes interesting names, would introduce a new menu item called Re-fired Bolton. But the point is that Benavides will not rehire Bolton.
I tried a couple of times to reach Hinton, Bolton's lawyer, and he wouldn't call me back. Hinton has a reputation for being sharp, and I'm going to assume he knows very well that Bolton cannot be reinstated as a result of this hearing.
So now here's your question. I can hear it coming. If the council can't do anything, and if the plaintiff can't really get anything done, and if the city manager isn't going to do anything, then what in the world is this hearing for?
You know the answer. The purpose of the hearing is to pack the peanut gallery with people from Bolton's church, bring in the hair shirts and the firebrands, the open-mike gang, wait until the TV cameras are cranked up and then blister the mayor and the council to a crisp. Look, I hate to seem like I'm publishing bomb-making instructions here, but the truth is nobody needs me to tell them: The way you get things jumping is to have people chain themselves to seats, disrupt the proceedings and get right up in the face of the mayor so that the police will have to haul people out in restraints.
There will have been time by the 15th for a couple more Sundays of Bolton in the pulpit doing his fist-in-the-air foot-stamping Mussolini imitation: "I deed notta bow down! I shall notta bow down!"
At the August 28 city council meeting, the day after Bolton was fired, the council chamber was like a wet Fourth of July: There was some smoke, but the verbal bottle rockets wouldn't quite ignite. This time around we might really see a display. I'm not the only one thinking this.
And this is out of anger? Mmm, maybe for some of the bit players. But anger won't pay Robert Hinton's bill. And anger won't make the chief's wallet any fatter. For that you need greenbacks.
The only real outcome anybody smart could possibly anticipate from this proceeding would be entirely behind-the-scenes and sub rosa: People on the council could get really nervous about the proceeding itself. In an effort to head it off, they could start leaning on the city manager and the city attorney to toss Bolton some cash.
The purpose of demanding this hearing, in my humble opinion, is to scare the council into giving Bolton money. And I can see that happening. I can actually see the council members creeping into Benavides' office one by one, whispering, "Ted, is there anyway you could throw a garbage bag-full of some of that tax-money stuff out the window to see if it makes the scary people go away so we won't have to have the scary hearing? Or, if that doesn't work, could you maybe throw out another bag-full?"
Benavides could offer a cash settlement. The council could affirm. They would call it a settlement in lieu of litigation. But Bolton has nothing to litigate. So it would really be a settlement in lieu of a real bad scene.
It's your money. You tell me: Is it worth it?