Decherd and the boys get downtown. Miller gets the crown.

I'm ready and willing to be wrong here. But, man. The whole McKinsey study is even more cloaked and closed-door than the LGC plan or the strong-mayor reform by the mysterious anonymous strong-mayor reformers.

McKinsey does high-level strategy for companies all over the world. All of the staff bios on their Web page are not just Harvard, Yale and Oxford but magna cum laude with multiple degrees. I called McKinsey in New York and Dallas several times to ask them if they have a business relationship with any of the people or companies associated with the LGC effort in Dallas. They finally called me back and said they never discuss clients. I guess that would be fair, except that this is public business.

For all their vaunted business acumen, I don't really get the impression from talking to people here that McKinsey is especially knowledgeable about local government or politics. Pat Cotton was on the board of Parkland Memorial Hospital, the county's public hospital, when J. McDonald Williams, a member of the board of Belo Corp., brought McKinsey in to help Parkland reorganize.

Mayor Laura Miller may dance for the cameras, but Robert Decherd at Belo Corp. pulls the strings.
Mark Poutenis
Mayor Laura Miller may dance for the cameras, but Robert Decherd at Belo Corp. pulls the strings.

Cotton told me: "Bill Barnett, the guy who was running it here for McKinsey, is a very nice man, very pleasant, very congenial, probably a good business consultant, but they had no clue about Texas law, about public health, about any of the strictures that would make it difficult for us to do what we were hoping to do."

On the other hand, Cotton said she had the impression the McKinsey people knew where they were supposed to wind up politically: "I'm sure they knew what the end should be," she said.

I was interested in that remark, because I had just finished taking a look at a free study McKinsey did of the Dallas housing department, also at the behest of Williams, the Belo board member. Most of it was way too smart for me--a lot of stuff about utilizing "a workflow tracking tool" and increasing "the predictability/transparency of the development cycle."

But one recommendation stuck out like a sore thumb: "Do not buy out Cadillac Heights; support community development efforts."

Whoa, boy. Huge amounts of political blood have been shed over the question of buying out homeowners in flood- and pollution-ravaged Cadillac Heights. That's not an efficiency issue. That's morality, politics, culture, history--everything but efficiency.

There is no reason why McKinsey even would have addressed that question, unless somebody had a thumb on the scale. That's why my ears pricked up when Cotton implied there could have been a little thumb on the scale in McKinsey's Parkland study, too.

There are two possible thumb issues I see ahead in whatever McKinsey reports in its effort for the mayor. First, what was the rationale for stating ahead of time, before even starting to look at Dallas city government, that they wouldn't touch the strong-mayor issue? What was the motivation for saying that?

Second: If they make any kind of endorsement of the LGC, they got problems. The LGC plan for downtown is already associated in the council's mind with Decherd and Belo. If McKinsey recommends the council adopt the LGC, some members will want to know who brought McKinsey in and what connection, if any, McKinsey has with Belo.

I called Williams, the Belo board member, to ask about it, but he was out of town and not available for comment. I looked hard for direct links between McKinsey and Belo, apart from Williams, and did not find them. But McKinsey tends not to leave footprints.

McKinsey does have a huge media and entertainment practice. They have been major purveyors of a doctrine of media reorganization called "convergence," which is practically a religion at Belo, especially with Decherd. The question here would be whether McKinsey, Decherd and the mayor have "converged" in some way the mayor perhaps forgot to mention to the council when she presented them with the McKinsey study.

The game, if there is a game, would be for Decherd and his group to win the LGC, effectively taking downtown out of public control. In return they would help crown Miller queen of all the rest. I suppose if this is how it unfolds, the argument in favor will be that boys have the means to rebuild downtown. But they won't stick around and do it if poor people and minorities are going to have anything to say about it. So let them have their downtown duchy, and allow Queen Laura to rule the rest.

Me? As much as I think the strong-mayor system would be good for the city? As much as I love downtown? If the only way to get things done is to fence out everybody but the big dogs and treat other people as if they don't belong, then screw it. Let it all go to hell. Democracy is worth 10 times the city.

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