By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Out of business: So, it turns out Buzz was right. No matter how you do the accounting, how you structure the contracts, how you interpret arcane campaign finance laws and city ethics policies, getting caught on camera accepting 10 grand in cash out back of a church the way Don Hill did is still like getting caught naked in your neighbor's house. It's tough to come up with an innocent explanation.
Monday a racially diverse jury in the Dallas City Hall corruption trial in federal court picked up its ax and whacked through a dense tangle of counter-arguments by the defense: guilty, guilty, guilty, the jury said of five defendants ranging from the popular former council member to an unknown used car dealer.
Dallas Observer reporters have been talking to people around Dallas for the last two weeks about what this trial will have to say about Dallas City Hall (more on that in upcoming issues). The overwhelming sentiment has been that this kind of verdict—everybody guilty of something—should go straight to the heart of the way this city does politics.
Should. Assuming there is a heart.
Hill, elected to the Dallas City Council in 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007 and considered a serious contender for mayor of Dallas, is, by the jury's account, a convicted felon. So is his wife, Sheila Farrington Hill, also his appointee to the city plan commission, the Reverend D'Angelo Lee, and his political crony Darren Reagan (proprietor of the Black State Employees Association of Texas which had no black state employees as members) and Ricky Robertson, a little-known little guy who wandered into the middle of a far-reaching extortion/bribery plot.
The big theme offered by the defense was "politics as usual." In other words, the 14 defendants in this mess (several of whom pleaded guilty before the trial) were just doing business the way everybody does it at Dallas City Hall—selling their votes for money filtered through consulting contracts and campaign contributions.
Most of the people we have talked to thought the defense was making a pretty good point. But they think it's an argument for why a hell of a lot more people ought to be headed to the pokey, not for why anybody should get off.
Remember that Don Hill sought and received opinions from the Dallas city attorney telling him that his way of operating was copacetic. What does that tell you about copacetic?
The overarching reality here is that the FBI and the Justice Department looked at Dallas City Hall's version of copacetic and said to themselves, "No, that's not copacetic. That's extortion."
And a jury of 12 peers just agreed with them. So what happens now to "business as usual"?