As the Friends of Unfair Park can probably guess, there were two good reasons why we suffered through nearly four hours of a Dallas Independent School District board of trustees briefing today. The first: the fate of W. H. Adamson High School, whose historic main building district officials want to demolish. The second: a certain amendment to the public participation code that cuts down the amount of time any parent, student or wingnut has to address the board.
The meeting started at 11:30 this morning, and 40 folks took their seats inside the wood-paneled DISD board room at 3700 Ross. Eight had signed up in advance to address the trustees (save for Edwin Flores, who was out of town) and Superintendent Michael Hinojosa. Of the eight, three were members of the W. H. Adamson High School Alumni Association.
The gist of their message was that they've been very conservative in their opposition efforts thus far and still have hope to reach a compromise with the board. There is no reason Adamson should be torn down, they insist. It could be modernized while still preserving the American Classical Revival style main building, designed in 1915 by St. Louis architectutal legend William B. Ittner and tinkered with 23 years later by Dallas's Roscoe DeWitt. They want it designated as a historic landmark.
"In short, we've always felt we could find a compromise," said alumni association president John Ruiz. Ruiz acknowledged that Dallas isn't exactly famous for embracing historic preservation efforts, but insisted: "We feel that Adamson is worthy of being preserved."
After the public forum ended, Ruiz spoke to Unfair Park and said that he fully expects the DISD board to turn down their efforts to designate Adamson as a historic landmark. At that point, he said, he will turn up his opposition efforts. "There are other resources we have at our disposal that we have not put to use yet," Ruiz said. Ruiz hinted the secret weapons would include the avid support of other conservation groups, as well as increasing the visibility of their opposition efforts.
"We haven't gone out to the general public and said, 'Look what they're trying to do,'" said Ruiz, who is suspicious of why the DISD board will not allow an independent structural engineer that he'll pay for to review the property and confirm what DISD is telling them, which is that it is too damaged to maintain. "They have denied the engineer access to school property. That tells us they may be hiding something."
In other words: Get your popcorn ready.
A few hours later, the DISD board finally got to the the question of public participation. As it stands now, whenever five or more people sign up to speak at a meeting to address the same issue, the total time they are alloted as a group is 15 minutes. There are two amendments proposed. The first was presented by board president Medrano and moves to nix the time limit and allow every speaker, no matter the topic, three minutes. The second amendment, from former board president Jack Lowe, adds a tier-time system. If there are more than 15 speakers on a subject, each gets only one minute.
Board Member Carla Ranger was in full support of Medrano's amendment, while soon-to-be-gone member Ron Price was not. He said that board meetings in his day were "hell" compared to this "heaven" today, where few people show up to DISD meetings to make a "circus" out of them.
Ranger would not budge and launched into a defense of democracy: "We're here to listen to the public." She said that she wished the meetings were overflowing with people. "We were elected not for our convenience on the board," she said. "We were elected to serve the public. In order to serve them well, we have to listen to them."
Lowe said, "My experience is that if I have to say something in one minute, I say it better."
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Price was in support of fine-tuning the amendments so that there would be different rules for the public, depending on whether they wanted to address agenda or non-agenda items. "It was a circus around here. I'm trying to prevent you guys from going down the same road I was baptized on. You should have the right to go home if you want to go home."
Then the idea of finding out how the Dallas city council and Dallas County Commissioners handle their public meetings surfaced; both Price and Nancy Bingham were all about this proposal. Ranger again disagreed. "We have to be in line with what DISD needs to do, not the county," she said. "We don't have to compare this to any other group."
But Bingham wasn't swayed: "It would be nice to know what the county does."
Before the board moved on to the next item, Ranger insisted they decide now whether they would vote on this item this month or table it for a second reading. But even that was too contentious to decide on, and the group moved on to the next item.