By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I have a crystal ball. I'm going to predict the future. In detail. And you watch: I'm going to be right. In detail.
A little swami music, please.
A week from now, a consulting firm called McKinsey & Company will present the Dallas City Council with a report on what Dallas could do to get smarter. And that report is going to be total bullshit.
For the last several months, ever since the study was announced, the mayor and council members and top city staffers have all been saying, "We'll have to wait and see what the McKinsey report says."
Ask them what they plan to do about the homeless: Wait and see what McKinsey says. Ask what they intend to do on choosing a place to put a second rail line through downtown: Wait and see what McKinsey says.
OK, my problem is this: I know what McKinsey is going to say, and not because McKinsey told me. A spokeswoman said they have an official policy of never speaking on the record to the press. She did offer to talk to me off the record, but I declined. I'm uncomfortable talking romantic with strangers.
The people at City Hall want to pretend they don't know what McKinsey will say. But please. Give me credit for a little bit of intelligence, and I guess I must mean a very little bit. I got some of this right when I wrote about it once before ("Deal," July 29, 2004).
My hunch in July was that McKinsey had been brought in by Robert Decherd, chairman, president and CEO of Belo Corp., owner of The Dallas Morning News. Decherd has a keen interest in City Hall and downtown. Part of what I said then was: "I looked hard for direct links between McKinsey and Belo and did not find them. But McKinsey tends not to leave footprints."
After that column ran, I received at least a dozen e-mails and voice messages--people calling me un-nice names like "Mr. Magoo." One was from a breathless cell phoner who sounded like he was lurking in a boiler room in the bowels of the Morning News building. In an urgent whisper, he said: "Are you kidding, 'no direct links?' Sheesh! McKinsey's everywhere over here. They're in the house! They're running this place."
Belo never returns my calls on stuff like this. But after that column ran, I also received good information that I believe confirmed one of my better conspiracy theories about all this, even though the mayor denies it and implies politely that I may need medication. I said I thought the McKinsey study was part of the grease in a deal between Decherd and the mayor.
Look, this is simple. Just think of Decherd as the Penguin and Mayor Laura Miller as Catwoman. The deal is for Catwoman to help the Penguin set up one of his pet projects, a private government for downtown, in return for which the Penguin helps Catwoman with one of hers--a referendum to establish a strong mayor system in Dallas.
Together, they rule the world!
Specifically I noted in July that prominent Dallas lawyer David Laney had spoken up to say he was going to lead the way to put a strong mayor system on the ballot in May, and I suggested that Laney and Decherd might be closely tied. I received phone calls after that column ran--I recognized voices from some of the "Mr. Magoo" calls--pointing out that Laney is not just close to Decherd: He's his cousin. Apparently this fact was first published in the Dallas Observer ("Belowatch," April 27, 1995).
Fine. I confess. I have not mastered all of the begets and begats of the ancient all-cousin oligarchy of old Dallas, a hoary list that makes light reading of the Old Testament.
But I do know by now that some kind of agreement exists. Out of it, Catwoman is supposed to get a lot more power over the city council. And the Penguin and other major players in the downtown business community are supposed to get a "limited government corporation," or LGC, giving them great sway over zoning, planning and transportation issues downtown.
In addition to not knowing that McKinsey and Belo were bonded at the hip and not knowing that Decherd and Laney were cousins, I have volunteered the fact that I don't know if the LGC thing is good or bad. And I'm not even sure about strong mayor. How much more can one man not know?
On the one hand, it's a good thing to have guys like Decherd invested and involved in downtown. They're just going to go away some day if City Hall keeps giving them the jitters by acting cuckoo. If control is the price they exact for investment, we have to weigh the deal on its merits.
On the other hand, all of this stuff--strong mayor, the LGC, the whole package--is a sharp stick in the eye to those political leaders, both white and minority, who see it as an assault on one-man-one-vote, on 1965 voting rights act guarantees and on the federal court settlement that produced in 1991 the 14-1 single-member district council system.
African-American council member James Fantroy has told me he will put the city in court if either the LGC or the strong mayor thing passes. Mike Daniel, one of the lawyers whose work created the current system, told me he thinks there's a good lawsuit there. David Biegler, who has been leading the effort to get the LGC created, confirmed to me that Fantroy has threatened a lawsuit. Biegler said he is actively engaged in trying to work all of that out.
None of which I'll try to predict. My crystal ball gets kind of cloudy when I ask it about those things. But on the topic of McKinsey & Company and its report, my crystal ball is a high-, high-, high-definition TV set.
The ball tells me McKinsey & Company--a Harvard and Stanford, Rhodes scholar, ultra-brainiac think tank--is going to come up with something less than totally objective, scientific or strictly by-the-numbers next week when it tells the city council how to get smarter. Let me hazard a guess:
Do you think it's possible McKinsey & Company, conjugally committed as it is to Belo, may suggest in some roundabout and very erudite way that maybe it would be a good idea for Dallas to turn downtown over to the Penguin?
Let me pose it another way, from the opposite direction. What chance do you think there is that McKinsey & Company will say, "Nope, we looked at it, and this Robert Decherd guy's a meatball. His idea for downtown is lame. Forget Decherd. He's into some bad Kool-Aid."
Please. McKinsey & Company isthe Kool-Aid.
From what I hear, they may not even present this thing themselves, in order to avoid having to answer questions in public about their involvement. Council member Don Hill may serve as their stand-in pitch man.
Hill, like Belo, never returns my calls, but I feel less slighted by Hill, because as far as I can tell he never returns anybody's calls. Fantroy told me Hill has been anointed as the token African-American to front this whole thing.
Be that as it may, here finally is my full prediction:
First, McKinsey will fat up its report to the council with a bunch of irrelevant feel-good nonsense borrowed from Belo's "Family First" series ("Talk to your children, walk your dog, no hitting in the face during meals").
They'll present a series of charts designed to zombify the council: "Average Height of Buildings Downtown," "Average Age of Buildings Downtown," "Average Weight of Buildings Downtown." It's an old trick: You bore the council until their eyelids are at half-mast, and then you make them bark like dogs.
Just before the council starts to snore, McKinsey will cut to the chase. They probably won't mention the LGC by name. They will have invented some kind of Harvardy euphemism for it. Maybe they'll call it the Riparian Ortho-rhombic Brahman Epitastic Reich Trust (ROBERT). You get my drift.
McKinsey will offer a couple of really bad alternatives we could adopt for downtown instead of going with ROBERT. We could turn City Hall over to an ad hoc committee of the needy and allow them to use it for mixers. We could flood downtown for the amusement of sport fishermen.
But eventually the McKinsey report will get around to saying: TURN DOWNTOWN OVER TO THE PENGUIN RIGHT THIS INSTANT, YOU SILLY HEATHENS. AND DO WHATEVER THE PENGUIN TELLS YOU TO DO.
In fairness, I do need to acknowledge the possibility I will be proved wrong when the McKinsey report finally sees the light of day. Let me just say that it's tough establishing a fair-spirited dialogue with a very political player like this when they have a policy against speaking. At my house, if you don't want to talk, you need to stay out of the kitchen. But maybe I will have to eat my words. I am willing to take that chance.
I predict instead that this report will be a fancy high-dollar shell game with Robert Decherd and the LGC hiding under the pea. It will prove one thing: If you bring in a top consultant with a whole staff of bright men and women who have brilliant degrees from the world's best universities, they will do an eloquent job of telling you what you wanted to hear in the first place. Like going to the symphony.
It's all too clever by half, this thing--the cousins, the trade-offs, the consultant reports. And one irony is that there may even be good ideas buried in this sump somewhere. Anybody ever think about just standing up and defending those ideas?