By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dallas: A Midyear Report
From schools to City Hall, pouring rain to dumping pig's blood, a 2014 progress report for Dallas.
School's out for the summer, and across the city, spring's final bells are ringing in a season of joy for students and teachers, and a season of sweaty-day-camp-pick-up for parents. But for us, the caretakers of little Dallas Texas, there are no seasons and no summer break. It's just one long and heavily pot-holed merry-go-round, and it's up to us to provide the occasional progress report.
So here we are, bearing down on the midpoint of 2014. How is Dallas doing? Is she cutting back on the clumsy back-room dealing that we talked about last year? Has she stopped plowing her public schools deeper into irreversible uselessness? Has she stopped showing up covered in pesticides and ice like we asked?
It's time to find out. No, we don't grade on a curve, and no, an apple on our desk won't help. We are, however, easy to find on PayPal.
Introduction to City Management
Assessment by: Jim Schutze
The only thing remotely cool about Dallas city manager A.C. Gonzalez is his first name, initials that in Dallas usually stand for "air conditioning." Otherwise he is the quintessential, deferential, inside wonk, a loyal staffer who didn't even have the nerve to ask former City Manager Mary Suhm to please move out of her City Hall offices last January after he won her job in a squeaker of a City Council straw poll.
The behind-the-scenes straw poll — before the fake unanimous vote in front of the cameras — was a squeaker because Gonzalez came into the competition with so much baggage, including first-hand involvement in just about every major mess that happened in Suhm's final years. When everything came to light, there he was, Mr. Air Conditioning, right in the middle of public deceptions about allowing gas drilling in city parks, man on the scene in endless ridiculously sleazy good-old-boy deals for Yellow Cab, main player in years of housing policy that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs says intentionally kept Dallas' neighborhoods segregated.
Why was he even considered? Because the mayor and a host of special interests knew he had always been a loyal spear-carrier, and that was just what they wanted. That was all he ever really had to do, carry their spears. If he had stuck to that, he would deserve a grade of A-plus after his first six months. But in return for a huge salary hike over his predecessor — pretty cool move, we have to admit — Gonzalez made the mistake of over-promising.
He promised the council behind closed doors he would get rid of five of the city's top seven executives most closely identified with past scandals, sources say. He has gotten rid of not one. Six months are gone, and there they still are, still holding their spears. That alone should earn him an interim letter grade of F.
Ah, but wait. Teacher can't be quite that mean. The same reliable sources who say Gonzalez promised to sack five of his former colleagues right away and then didn't do it also say he has been much more candid than Suhm about just how screwed the city is financially. It turns out that the streets really have been knocking your car to shit because the city needs to do almost a billion dollars worth of deferred maintenance right now. It wasn't all in your head, after all.
Pre-A.C., the staff at City Hall was under huge pressure to pay for the Calatrava make-believe suspension bridge and keep the financial doors open for construction of the Trinity toll road, so they were never going to come clean about the deferred maintenance issue. Gonzalez has been honest about it, and even his critics on the council think his marks should be adjusted to reflect that.
Grade: C, bumped to a B- for citizenship.
Basic Public Education*
Assessment by: Patrick Williams
Here's a prediction made by some idiot employed by a local alternative newspaper 18 months ago: "We don't want to be biased and suggest that the clock is already running on the outspoken [Dallas school Superintendent Mike] Miles' future here. Just in case, though, $2 for June 12." That was the writer's bet for the day Miles would finally be fired or quit: June 12, 2013, exactly one year ago.
In defense of this never-to-be-named idiot, it wasn't a bad guess. According to one DISD watchdog group, the average term for the nine previous superintendents — including "interim" supers — who served at least one school year is 2.3 years. Reformers in particular have had short shelf lives. In 1997, new Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez rode a bulldozer into a district-wide rally to fire staff up for the changes she had in store for DISD; she left a year later en route to the big house for stealing from the district. Waldemar "Bill" Rojas rolled into town in 1999 with big plans to turn some schools over to a private education service. He also had a big mouth when it came to insulting trustees who disagreed with him. They fired him a year later.
So why expect a happy future for Miles, who endured months of daily hammering that started almost as soon as he arrived in the summer of 2012? Here was a man willing to pay a $185,000 salary to ship in an inexperienced new communications chief in a district just coming out of a financial crisis. And Miles' pick for chief of staff? That would be one Jerome Oberlton, who returned to Georgia to begin serving time for taking bribes in his previous job in Atlanta. Top administrators Miles hired soon started bolting like rats from an Italian cruise ship. His plan to reassign, retrain or fire a slew of principals, especially at predominantly black schools, enraged African-American school board members. His board opponents ginned up an investigation into vague charges Miles violated contracting procedures. It found no wrongdoing, but it was enough to put Miles on a short leash. Surely Miles couldn't last.