By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A week ago I got into sort of a snip-snap with Blackwood and her husband over something I had written about her campaign finance report in her run for the District 14 (Veletta Lill) council seat. It was a one-day story on a bookkeeping error.
The real bottom line on her and her husband, Park Cities lawyer Tom Thomas, both brand-new to city politics, is that they're smart. They have stepped right around the mayor and city council on the entire issue of charter reform.
Thomas was the lawyer on the Park Cities suit against state aid for poor school districts, and a little more than 10 years ago he filed a "civil rights" suit against Kaufman County for daring to arrest 100 or so Park Cities brats at an out-of-control Park Cities adolescent booze fest.
So he's a successful, respected lawyer from deep in the Bubble, and he and his wife have invaded Dallas to impose regime change. They probably found the weapons of mass destruction their first day. But what is the bottom line on their idea, charter reform?
There is a general perception in the city--a kind of reluctant recognition--that Dallas City Hall is like a human heart in fibrillation. It shakes. It jiggles. It tries so hard. But it just can't pump blood.
People have been jumping on Mayor Miller for being all over the place on this--against the Blackwood petitions, now apparently for them. But Miller is consistent on one point: She keeps telling the cameras that what we have now does not work.
She's right. So how could we possibly justify keeping it?
I hate parts of this proposal. When I spoke with Vance Miller some weeks ago, I asked him about my favorite concept--strong mayor, strong council, strong manager. Make the mayor the boss. But give the council a better salary and the ability to hire its own staff. Create an independent analytical agency equivalent to the state legislative council in Austin. Keep the manager but have him or her report to the mayor, so that the manager doesn't have to hunt for the likely eight-vote majority on any given issue in order to know which way to jump.
Vance Miller thought I was talking trash. He clearly sees the council as the problem. I think his opinion is widely shared among the city's economic elites: The trouble started when all those little neighborhoods--"wards," he calls them--got too big for their britches.
When people talk about the "good old days" in Dallas, they don't mean the days before blacks and browns came to the table. They mean the days before there was a table.
So how could I vote for this? Not happily. I sure wish we had another choice. But this summer is when the voting public will get a chance to vote for change. The only way to put this off is by campaigning against change in May. I believe that would be the worse poison.
Do the Park Cities bubblati and their North Dallas cohort think they'll be able to capture the mayor's seat after the charter has been changed? Of course they do. There's talk now among the business moguls of being tired of Laura Miller, thinking she's a photo-op former journalist who can't run a company.
But the people I talk to who see the polls regularly tell me Laura Miller is still extremely hot with the heavy-voting middle-class base. I think the next mayor under the new system will be Laura Miller.
Then we'll see. Boy will we see.
I said to a friend recently: "People have a sense that the ship is drifting in circles. Above all else, the city has a right and a duty to survive. I think people want to elect a captain and tell the captain to set a course--almost any course, but a course with a tight rudder and wind in the sails."
He listened. Was silent for a moment. Then said: "I don't disagree with any of that, Jim. I just want to point out that these are the sentiments that brought Hitler to the Reichstag in 1933."
Hmm. That's not good. Phew. I think I feel an attack of intellectual fibrillation coming on.