The Dallas City Council's Ethics Relapse

Two years after passing tighter ethics rules, City Hall tried to loosen them on the sly. You won't believe who blew the whistle.

People hate lawyers and lobbyists. Not me. I hate people.

If you wonder why, I offer you last week's outlandish hearing on city council "ethics."

Back in April, the city council passed major revisions to its ethics code, loosening the rules that restrict companies from showering City Hall with money when they have business before the city council.

Just what you and I were hoping for, right?

Some council members cried foul. East Dallas councilwoman Angela Hunt said the whole thing got passed by a kind of parliamentary trick and that the new rules increased chances for corruption. She and four other members demanded a special re-hearing to review the whole thing.

So last week, there was a re-do. Tom Perkins, Dallas' city attorney, stood up and gave the council his legal opinion. The rules had to be loosened, he said with a straight and sober face, to allow more people to give them money sooner after the council votes on issues important to those people.

"There are companies or businesses that will always have a matter pending before the city council during some designated period," he said. "As a practical matter those companies would be prohibited from contributing to city council candidates."

Many on the council—most notably our mayor—were gratified by Perkins' words. Their attitude seemed to be: Well, he's the lawyer.

So whom do we like better so far, the lawyer or the people he works for?

The entire purpose of the current ethics laws—passed at the end of 2009 following the City Hall corruption trial—was to shut down the money-for-votes traffic at City Hall. Stop. Do not proceed. Federal pokey ahead.

During his trial, former council member Don Hill, who was sent up the river for 18 years, argued that previous city attorneys had told him and the rest of the council that, basically, some money could be accepted in exchange for certain votes. I believe Hill's term for it was "economic development."

The court brushed that defense aside, recognizing that people often pay their lawyers to tell them some very outlandish stuff. That doesn't make the lawyers bad. It makes the people bad—or maybe just stupid—for taking the advice, right after paying the lawyers to give them specifically that advice.

Like, "Here's five bucks, tell me I'm handsome."

"You're handsome."

"Oh, I knew it!"

The 2009 rules made sense: If someone's company, or a company someone lobbied for, had business before the council, that person was prohibited from making a political donation to a council member or the mayor until 60 days after the council had voted on the company's issue.

But under the changes adopted at that April hearing, most employees—and all hired representatives—are allowed to pony up cash at any point, even on the day of the vote. And the period of time when the company itself can kick in some greenbacks was cut from 60 to 30 days.

When they reconsidered it last week, Perkins explained why he had authored the new, looser rules. For this, I must ask a question. We all know what temerity is, right? Chutzpah. Nerve. Temerity is an important quality for good lawyers to have. For this next statement, Perkins had to summon up just a whole huge truckload of temerity:

The post-Don-Hill-up-the-river ethics rules, Perkins said, were causing a hardship for companies that wanted to give more money to council members right after important votes. "That's the message we heard from businesses and companies that regularly do business before the city council," Perkins said.

My word. I am in awe. His name should be writ in the annals of Dallas City Hall forever as "Temerity Tom."

Sorry, Mr. P., but that is most definitely not what happened. And as much as I hate to inject myself into a story—moi meme, as they say in French—I feel compelled to tell what did happen, because I happen to know.

I have written a lot about lobbyists over the years. People think lobbyists are naughty. I don't, not always. It depends. I have written some relatively favorable things about lobbyists, not praising them or anything, just saying if you do happen to die, and if you do find yourself up there on the cloud, and they've got some kind of big indictment of you that they want you to read, don't bother telling them, "The lobbyists made me do it." It won't wash. The lobbyists are not always the bad guys.

That's not lavish praise for lobbyists, I know, but lobbyists and lawyers are kind of starved and scarred like feral cats. Give them one ounce of emotional cat food, and they're yours for life.

Anyway, I know a lot of lobbyists in Dallas. And last month, at the very moment that the city council was unanimously voting to adopt the new Don-Hill-is-too-cool rules, several lobbyists called me. Aghast.

Our conversations were, as almost always, deeply off the record. But the general flavor was, "Oh, no! They just slipped through a change in the law so they can come after our clients for even more money for their damn votes."

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7 comments
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S.C.
S.C.

You are such an idiot.

Russp
Russp

Angela Hunt seems to consistently be the only member of the council to show any signs of intelligence when it comes to doing the right thing for the city of Dallas.

Byron Stuckey
Byron Stuckey

How very, very sad that Dallas has become so corrupt that no-one cares or even notices. Less than 10% of the registered voters even bother to vote in the mayor's race. This means that about 5.1% of the voters can elect a new mayor. The other 95% have just accepted that this is a group of amoral, unethical politicians up there for power, prestige, graft, and publicity.

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

I would guess that Perkins was informed prior to making his "legal opinion" that the Dallas City Council wanted his "legal opinion" to go a certain way. As a good, shameless, prostitute of a attorney that his is, his opinion is matching that of his client. I am sure he is getting well paid with taxpayer money for being such a good lapdog and whore.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Jim, please help readers remember that back in 2008, how the $34 million dollar check from XTO was slipped into the consent agenda for gas drilling and only Angela Hunt and Mitch Rashansky called them out on it. The others gave those two the cold shoulder and went ahead and took the check. Now this is the one reason and the only reason we are in the situation that we have today. Someone(most likely Mayor Skeletor) slipped into the agenda. I would love to hear if Tom Perkins had given the council any counseling before that vote as he said he did for the ethics vote.If you 'google' Angela Hunt's blog from February 8 2008 about the check, everyone should read it and then you will know why she deserves another term. No one else said s#@t that week.

Judy Wilson
Judy Wilson

What a standard to present to our young people who will be tomorrows leaders. What ever happened to truth, trustworthiness, honesty, uprightness, etc. Doesn't say much for the leadership of Dallas or where they are coming from or who they really represent.

Donald Joseph Schulteis
Donald Joseph Schulteis

Maybe we need a city lawyer who has some real ethics who will set the bar at a high side rather than, below the bottom of the scale? That goes for companies who do business with the city too. We the city residents need to direct this; you can't have, as we now see, "crooks" make the laws on themselves.

 
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