By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Listen. By no means was this all about small businesses in minority neighborhoods. The committee was also shocked and appalled by what they heard from major businesses and trade associations, including apartment and hotel owners in Dallas, who testified at length about the city's bizarrely juxtaposed concept of crime fighting.
Paul F. Gaumond, representing Bigelow Management Inc. and Budget Suites Hotels, told the committee: "In practice, the city of Dallas doesn't want to cooperate with the citizens to fight crime.
"Rather, they really don't want to know about it. If they hear about it, they will misuse [the nuisance law] to force legitimate business owners to do the city's business."
When Dallas Mayor Laura Miller appeared before the committee, Nixon, the chairman, told her right up front that the committee had been hearing very bad things about her city, not just from the Davenports but from other citizens, business people and officials:
"Other property owners came to us and expressed to us the same kind of frustration at the selective enforcement of the nuisance statute, which gave us cause to believe there seems to be some kind of extortion or kickback scheme," Nixon said to her.
Miller refused again and again to answer direct questions about her personal philosophy of crime control. Is it the city's job to control crime for the benefit of citizens and businesses, or is it the job of businesses and citizens to fight crime for the benefit of City Hall?
You should have seen it. Every time she got hit with a tough question, Madame Strong Mayor ducked behind the city attorney, ducked behind the police chief, said she wasn't the expert, just didn't know the specifics.
When I spoke with the mayor about it later, she ardently defended the use of the nuisance law to go after problem properties. She said she hoped this week's anticipated change in the law by the sitting Legislature will be "something I can live with."
I, too, hope the Legislature comes up with a good fix for the nuisance law this week, because otherwise I'm just not sure any of it is something we can live with, we citizens, we business persons, we schmoes. I'm like Chairman Nixon: If a guy gets shot in front of my house, does that make me an accessory? Can the city sue me for allowing crime to occur in my vicinity?
We're going to be talking about this stuff, you and I, for weeks to come.