Dirty Business Could Wash Away a South Dallas Car Wash

The usual threats and thuggery at City Hall threaten business owners.

Last week late one afternoon I had a long chat with Sam Merten, former colleague, now the spokesman for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, about a letter the city sent to a South Dallas businessman, also a guy I have known for years, threatening to take his business away from him under power of eminent domain.

I thought I knew what Merten was telling me. Sort of. But I wasn't sure. Then the next morning I opened The Dallas Morning News editorial page, and I did know. For sure.

Mayor Rawlings may not be the first well-meaning white man to get conned by South Dallas politicians, but right now he's the biggest.

Freddy (left) and Dale Davenport are honest businessmen in South Dallas. That’s a problem right there.
Mark Graham
Freddy (left) and Dale Davenport are honest businessmen in South Dallas. That’s a problem right there.

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On November 19 the city sent a letter to Dale Davenport, a septic tank dealer and installer from Rockwall, and his father, Freddy, a retired steelworker, telling them the city wants possession of the car wash that Freddy Davenport bought with his pension payout from Lone Star Steel at the corner of Myrtle Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas. The letter says, "As you are probably aware, the City of Dallas is planning improvements to Martin Luther King Boulevard and median. Plans have progressed to the point that we wish to advise you that your property described above will be needed for the project."

Along with the letter was a pamphlet explaining that if they refused to sell their business to the city at the city's price or a price set by a judge, they could be forced to sell anyway under the city's power of eminent domain.

A day before I called the mayor's office I sat in Two Podners Restaurant across from Fair Park staring across two slices of chess pie at the very flabbergasted red face of Dale Davenport, who was waving the city's letter at me.

"It says, 'As you are probably aware,'" he said. "As you are probably aware? Probably aware of what? I've never heard a thing about this until I got this letter."

Normally a government cannot use eminent domain to seize private property unless there is a clear public good to be served. But nobody at City Hall seems to be able to lay out exactly what the public good is here, unless it's getting rid of the Davenports.

I called Lou Jones, the city real estate manager in charge of this operation. I asked her to tell me about this "project."

"It's supposed to be a plaza," she said.

I asked if it was a walking around plaza or a retail plaza like a shopping strip.

"No retail," she said. "No."

Long silence.

I asked whose plaza it will be, whose plan it is now.

"I don't know," she said. "You would have to check with I guess the city manager or the council people. I'm not sure of that."

Got to seize the property. Not sure why. OK. Jones insisted, by the way, that the letter she sent to the Davenports did not include the words "eminent domain" or "condemnation." She said the letter was merely a statement of initial intent in a long legal process.

Yeah. But they also got a pamphlet saying their property could be condemned if they didn't sell. So, if you were the property owner and you didn't want to sell, would you not be worried that condemnation might lie at the end of this road?

"It's always a possibility," she said.

I called council member Carolyn Davis in whose district the car wash falls. Her staff relayed my message to her. Davis instructed her staff to have me call Adam McGough, Rawlings' chief of staff. I did call McGough and got a call back from Merten, the mayor's spokesman.

Merten said of the car wash, "It is a huge problem. I don't know how familiar you are with that specific property. On weekends literally hundreds of people gather."

Well, very familiar. I think I am more familiar than Merten or the mayor. In fact I have written about, visited and reported on this car wash for eight years, ever since it was a principal focus of a Texas legislative investigative committee probe of official corruption in Dallas. In sworn testimony before that committee, the Davenports explained how they had filed hundreds upon hundreds of police reports on crime at or near their car wash, which is blocks from crack and gambling houses that have been in mysteriously uninterrupted operation for decades.

The Davenports told how the Dallas Police Department had retaliated against them for reporting crime, at one point sending a dozen or more squad cars to the car wash during peak business hours. The cars were parked, locked and left on the lot, effectively preventing the Davenports from operating their business. This act of official thuggery by police was confirmed in rueful sworn testimony by then police Chief David Kunkle, who said he had nothing to do with it and it would never happen again.

After weeks of testimony the conclusion of the committee was that the victimization of the Davenports was part of a pattern of extortionate threat-making by elected officials in southern Dallas. Representative Terry Keel, committee chairman and a former sheriff of Travis County, told me at the time: "We had diverse businesses and individuals unconnected to each other who gave startlingly similar stories about these threats."

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3 comments
ginger4v
ginger4v

Why can't the city just buy that whole area and change everything about south D. Corruption and racists occupants make that area the way it is now.

roo_ster
roo_ster

They've only been took if they aren't in on it.

currynorth
currynorth

I'd be willing to bet that:


1) The price the city is willing to pay is half what they appraise it.

2) 90% of people don't understand that by taking "market value" for a business also results in the loss of the profits.  FOREVER.

3) This "plaza" will eventually be occupied by COD licensed tax paying food trucks or other such vendors.

4) John Wiley Price is going to make money on this, somehow.



 
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