By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
That's how I feel sometimes about City Hall. Only it doesn't make me smile or speak in a soft voice.
Recently the governor of Texas and the speaker of the Texas House authorized a special investigative committee to come to Dallas toward the end of the year to look into allegations of corruption and official oppression. This is not the same thing as the recent FBI raids on Dallas City Council and Plan Commission members. This is a completely different black eye for the city--other eyeball.
The specific charges against the city have to do with a state "nuisance abatement" law that was designed to help cities crack down on crack houses, hot-sheet motels and places like that. The accusation is that Dallas has gone after legitimate businesses instead, blaming them for the terrible crime rate the city itself has failed to resolve. More specifically legislators want to know if the city has used illegitimate enforcement methods to pressure businesses into hiring Dallas cops off-duty.
In other words, has Dallas city government turned into some kind of weird municipal protection racket?
A shocking thought. But most of the reaction from City Hall has been almost blasé, as in what council member Mitchell Rasansky told The Dallas Morning News about the investigative committee. He said he thought some "liberal person" in Austin is "trying to make a name."
Yikes. May I make one thing clear? This whole animus against Dallas definitely does not come from the liberal end of the thermometer. I have written a lot about this, and, if anything, the people who agree with me tend to give me the willies. Recently a loyal reader and source called me with the news that the John Birch Society may lend its support.
I sent the Birch Society an e-mail seeking comment at the end of last week and have not heard back yet. But...the JBS...what can I say? These are not liberals. Generally, the charges against the city come from the pro-business and private property rights spots on the dial. The basic rap would be a headline saying: "Dallas: the city that hates free enterprise and private property."
I spoke to Rasansky at the end of last week. He stuck to a hard line. He cited the instance of Jim's Car Wash on Martin Luther King Boulevard, a business whose complaints earned sympathy at hearings in Austin earlier this year.
"At a car wash," Rasansky said, "if they're accumulating noise, hanging out, having music, these boom boxes at night and cars hanging out there, not getting car washes but just parked there, that's not right, and if that man [the owner] is being persecuted, that's tough."
It is tough. Dale Davenport, who owns the car wash with his father, can tell you how tough. The city of Dallas has cost Davenport and his father six-figure sums by suing them to force them to control crime in the area near and on their property.
They happen to own a car wash surrounded by vacant fields and crack houses, as well as several legitimate businesses. They're in a very tough area.
No one says the Davenports break the law. They're honest business people. They obey the law, down to and including an excellent record on building and business code issues. But the city of Dallas has been hammering them because they have failed to prevent other people from committing crimes in the vicinity.
Let me give you an example how the city hammers them. On February 9 or 10, the Davenports had an impromptu meeting at City Hall with City Manager Mary Suhm in which they pleaded with her to end the persecution of their business. They say Suhm was not unsympathetic but told them they needed to plead their case instead to city council member Leo Chaney, in whose district their car wash is located. Suhm has confirmed to me that the meeting occurred, and she confirmed the Davenports' basic version of events.
On February 11--within 48 hours of when the Davenports say they met with Suhm--five Dallas police patrol cars carried out a drug raid on their car wash at the corner of MLK Boulevard and Myrtle Street. Customers and a vehicle were searched, but no arrests were made, because no drugs were found.
The police department incident report states the raid occurred because a police officer "received a complaint regarding the possible sale of illegal narcotics at the car wash." The report says the officer drove by the car wash, saw suspicious activity and "in the interest of officer safety, called for cover elements to assist."
But after the raid an honest cop went to the Davenports on the sly and told them the whole thing had been a political set-up ordered from on high. The cop told the Davenports there was a way to track it: He said they should make a public information act demand for text messages sent back and forth between the five patrol cars.