C'mon Get Happy
Buzz was going to begin our annual look back at the past year this way: Another year has come and gone. Good God, will they never end?
But then something strange happened on the way to press. Reviewing the past 12 months, we became afflicted with an odd, unfamiliar feeling. Could it be that thing we've heard talked about, but always thought was a myth, like Bigfoot or practicing Christians? Could this be optimism?
Maybe it was the several thousand milligrams of antidepressants Buzz gobbled in 2006, or maybe our usual dementia was entering a sunnier phase, but somehow things seemed to be looking up. Perhaps the news was telling us that the time had come to change our outlook. Just consider what happened in Dallas:
After decades of virtual political invisibility locally, hundreds of thousands of Latino demonstrators took to downtown streets in the belief that their protest could affect the course of the national immigration debate. People who don't—or can't—vote acted as though they could make a difference. Now that's optimism.
The Dallas Cowboys signed bad-boy receiver Terrell Owens in the hope that he could help lift the team to the Super Bowl without tearing it apart. Not only that, after years of wandering in darkness and iniquity, the Pokes found something akin to a local messiah. His name was Tony...Tony of Eastern Illinois. Apparently, miracles really can happen.
Mayor Laura Miller announced she is giving up politics to devote more time to her children. Maybe people can change.
Police Chief David Kunkle made local TV reporter Sarah Dodd his fifth wife. Five! Someone, at least, still possesses boundless belief in the possibility of true love.
Democrats swept into power at the Dallas County Courthouse. Lazarus has nothing on those guys.
Seemingly all of Dallas is taking leaps of faith, acting as if the future might somehow be brighter, so it occurs to us that maybe Buzz should jump on the optimism bandwagon, slap a smile on our kisser and begin looking for silver linings. Not immediately, of course. Changing the cynical and misanthropic habits of a lifetime is a big step, and before we take it we're gonna need some evidence that the happy trends of 2006 aren't just a fluke—say, the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl or Kunkle and Dodd celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, whichever comes first. In the meantime, we're going to hang with the whole cynicism thing. See for yourself, as Buzz takes one last look back on 2006:
Slurred speech: Farmers Branch police Chief Jimmy Fawcett retires after apologizing for using a racial epithet at a meeting of the police department's oral review board, which had gathered in December to consider job applicants, including one potential recruit of Vietnamese descent. "As long as I'm chief, we won't have any gooks working in Farmers Branch," Fawcett allegedly said to board members. Fawcett, a veteran officer with an unblemished record, says he deeply regrets the comment and its reflection on Farmers Branch, which a city spokesman insists welcomes people of all nationalities and races, "as long as they have a green card and aren't, you know, beaners or anything like that."
Mean streets: A survey by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty ranks Dallas sixth in the nation among 224 cities for its harsh treatment of the homeless—a decision flatly rejected by Mayor Laura Miller. "We're doing great things, and they're not considering them at all," Miller tells The Dallas Morning News. "They're only looking at the laws—that's all. It's unfortunate, because I think we're doing such a terrific job in how we're addressing the homeless." That terrific job includes efforts to ban panhandling, raze homeless encampments, rip up donated tents, restrict the places charities can provide food and outlaw shopping carts on city streets—leaving city officials scratching their heads over why the city made only the No. 6 spot on the list. "Jesus, like the mayor said, we're doing the best we can," an unnamed city staffer says. "The law won't allow us to simply shoot the homeless, but we'd make No. 1 in a minute if we could. "
Uncle Sam wants you: An 87-year-old Oak Cliff grandmother receives a letter from the U.S. Army Recruiting Command offering her a $20,000 bonus to enlist in the military, the Morning News reports. An Army spokesman says the letter to Lillye England was the result of an error in processing a large direct-mail recruiting campaign. "It has absolutely nothing to do with finding moro...I mean volunteers...willing to go to Iraq," the spokesman says.
Surfing for cops: Grand Prairie police begin recruiting officer candidates on the city's Web site. Officials say the Internet-based effort is intended to find young recruits who no longer use traditional methods to locate jobs, but it hits an early snag when the first job ad—seeking "strong, well-disciplined individuals skilled in the use of handcuffs and nightsticks"—receives 12,659,832 responses from lonely, middle-aged bi-curious married men, crashing the city's computer servers.
Labor shortage: Dallas school trustee Joe May proposes that DISD seek a change in immigration laws to allow it to begin hiring Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants to alleviate the district's growing shortage of bilingual teachers. The proposal falls flat with local immigrant laborers. "Teach high school kids or dig ditches for the same eight bucks an hour?" immigrant day laborer Hector Ramirez asks. "Shit, hombre, give me a shovel. I don't wanna get shot."
All about Eve: An 18-year-old student at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst is suspected of attempting to poison a fellow student in order to take her place as lead in a school play. Hurst police believe the understudy may have slipped a bleach-like substance into the lead actress' Mountain Dew. "The girl became suspicious when she sipped her Mountain Dew and it didn't taste like the usual combination of corn syrup cut with battery acid and bear piss," a police spokesman says.
Virgin for sale: An Oak Cliff homeowner offers for sale on eBay a tree that some say contains an otherworldly image of the Virgin Mary. Homeowner Gilbert Peña says his family had hoped to keep the tree and its 4-foot image of Mary, but the growing swarm of pilgrims coming to pray in his yard had become bothersome, prompting the sale. "We even had some guy claiming to be Jerry Jones lighting candles and praying for help with a quarterback problem," Peña said, "but we figured he was just a nut job."
SOP: Two committees of the Texas House accuse the city of Dallas of engaging in "ward-based politics run amok" for its controversial use of a state public nuisance law to target business owners who report crimes on their properties to police, part of the police's "don't ask, don't tell" program to improve the city's abysmal crime statistics. "The vast majority of what we did was all legal and much needed," Mayor Miller tells the Morning News, no doubt warming the heart of South Dallas car wash owner Dale Davenport, one the victims of what the city did that was not quite all legal or much needed. (Davenport was targeted for heavy-handed police harassment in 2004 after he testified on behalf of a man arrested at his car wash.) Police officials vow to stop bothering Davenport, choosing instead to harass his customers by ticketing men who offer to wash cars at his business. The tickets are for "illegal solicitation of a car wash." Crime victim advocates praise the police for their determination to end "the debilitating scourge of sponge-wielding clean freaks terrorizing peaceful neighborhoods."
Daddy Gotbucks: Highland Park father and GOP stalwart Ted Gambordella tells the Morning News that he will refuse to pay for his son Teddy's college education unless the youth switches his political allegiance from the Democratic Party to the Republicans. A GOP spokesman defends the dad's arm-twisting, saying, "Extortion, bribery and cash incentives shared among the privileged classes have a long and proud tradition in the Republican Party, and we don't see any reason to change that now."
Oh no, it's T.O.: The Cowboys reveal that they have reached an agreement to sign controversial receiver Terrell Owens. Owens, who was suspended last season by the Philadelphia Eagles for disrupting the team, tells his new teammates, "I'll be a better teammate, a better person, a better man in life." Cowboys trainers report a sudden surge in groin pulls among players who injured themselves while "laughing their asses off."
No-shows: Dallas City Council members James Fantroy and Don Hill learn that they may have to refund the city thousands of dollars in council pay because they missed too many official meetings the previous fiscal year, the Morning News uncovers. The pair finds an unexpected ally in Mayor Miller, a longtime political opponent who promises to "sell cookies, wash cars—hell, I'd even shake my moneymaker—to help them raise enough money so they never, ever, ever have to attend another city council meeting."
Right cause, wrong place: Hundreds of student protesters, angry over federal proposals to criminalize illegal immigration, skip classes and invade Dallas City Hall. The protesters flood the council chambers, causing havoc by pretending to cough while saying "bullshit" as council members speak, passing notes and repeatedly raising their hands to ask Mayor Miller, "A douche bag says what?" The students disperse, however, after being informed that their city representatives have nothing to do with drafting or enforcing federal immigration law. "I guess there are like all these branches and levels of government 'n' shit," protester Hector Cantu says. "Man, I sure never learned that at DISD."
Fish in a barrel: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission comes under fire after its agents arrest bar patrons in Irving for public intoxication, part of a stepped-up program intended to pre-empt potential drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel. The TABC suspends the bar stings after being criticized for "Gestapo-like" tactics in busting prospective criminals. "Bars seemed like a natural place to go trolling for fall-down drunks," a TABC spokesman says. "But if that's out, I guess we'll have to go back to our old standbys—Baptist funerals, Catholic weddings and GOP fund-raisers."
They're here, get used to it: Up to 500,000 people march in downtown Dallas to oppose proposed new federal restrictions on illegal immigration. The peaceful rally is the largest civil rights gathering ever held in the city and is even more notable for one absence: Mayor Miller does not attend. Miller defends her decision to skip the protest, saying immigration is a federal, not local issue. "Besides, I was really busy. I had to pick up the dry cleaning, go to the grocery store, cook dinner and try to get my house straightened up," Miller says. "For some reason, my housekeeper didn't show up today, and I'll tell you what—come Monday, heads are gonna roll around here. Damn, it's hard to get good help these days."
We're No. 1: For the eighth year in a row, Dallas ranks No. 1 in crime among U.S. cities with more than 1 million people, according to FBI crime statistics. City leaders dismiss the ranking, saying it's impossible to draw meaningful comparisons among different cities' crime reports. "For example, we've made great strides in controlling vicious cases of unlicensed vehicle washing at South Side car washes, thanks to countless hours of work by our officers," a police spokesman says.
Price is wrong: DISD trustee Ron Price is accused of lying about his background during a 2005 graduation speech at Woodrow Wilson High School. Price, who claims he grew up speaking mostly Spanish in New York—a language he doesn't speak now—denies that he said he served as president of the State Board of Education (there's no such title) or that he exaggerated when telling students he spoke with President George W. Bush on the telephone. Price admits, however, that he may have misspoken when he told students that it was he who suggested to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that King change the phrase "I have a suggestion" to the more popular "I have a dream."
Isn't that war over?: Administrators at the University of Texas at Arlington order the removal of 123 international flags from a campus display. The flags are taken down as the university faces pressure from state lawmakers and protests from Vietnamese-American students over the inclusion of a Socialist Republic of Vietnam flag. The students win unexpected support from former Farmers Branch police Chief Jimmy Fawcett, who says he fully backs "the little people's effort to keep those commie goo...I mean Marxists of Southeast Asian extraction...from soiling the great state of Texas."
Send us the recipe: Eighteen staff members at Lake Highlands High School are treated at a local hospital after eating marijuana-laced muffins dropped off at the school by pranksters. The afflicted staffers complained of dry mouth, nausea, a "really wicked case of the munchies" and wrenched joints and lacerations caused by a fierce struggle among teachers to grab one of the tainted pastries. "At first, I was all like 'no way' when they told me, but then this doctor dude was all like 'yes way, dude,' and I'm all like 'whoa, that's really effed up, dude,'" one giggling social studies teacher says. "I mean, that was some pretty bad-assed shit to be handing out for free and, and...I'm sorry, dude, what was the question again?"
Flunkies: About 15 percent of Dallas high school seniors face the prospect of not graduating after failing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exam, a percentage well above the state average. "That's sad," DISD trustee Ron Price tells reporters. "As I was saying to Condoleezza Rice on the phone just the other day—she calls me to shoot the shit, you know—having one in three students unable to grasp basic concepts of math and language just ain't no good."
Little ingrate: A first-year Hebron High School teacher—a former Miss Texas contestant—faces felony charges of having an improper relationship with a student after an 18-year-old youth tells police that he and the teacher had sex on numerous occasions. Texas law forbids sexual relationships between teachers and students, even if the student is above the age of consent and the sex is consensual. A Denton County grand jury later declines to indict the 26-year-old teacher, saying their decision was based on overwhelming evidence that the alleged victim is "a dumb-ass stool pigeon."
What's in a name: In an homage to the Mavericks June run at an NBA championship, DeSoto resident Kimberly Weimar names her newborn son Maverick Wade Weimar-Rice. The Mavs go on to blow a two-game lead to the Miami Heat in the playoffs—after a controversial decision by the city to begin planning a victory parade early—losing the championship series in six games. Weimar later files court documents seeking to legally change her son's name to "Chokey McChokerstein Weimar-Rice."
Second-time charm: Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez passes a state law enforcement exam on her second try in late June. Valdez, who has come under increasing criticism for her management of the troubled, underperforming Dallas County jail, failed on her first attempt to pass the exam in April, scoring a 66, four points below a passing grade. "There were some really tricky questions that threw me the first time," Valdez explains. "Apparently, tossing criminal suspects in a stinking hole to rot and die in their own filth is not an accepted method for dealing with prisoners in Texas. Boy, was my face red on that one."
Fake guns don't kill people: Dallas City Council members begin consideration of an ordinance banning the sale or public display of realistic-looking toy guns in the city. Work on the ordinance is delayed as city lawyers sort out the proper wording, but backers plan to push ahead with the measure. "I don't want my kid walking the streets of Dallas with a plastic popgun," one concerned parent says at a council meeting. "If you're going to let your kids out in this city, they need to be packing some real heat, or the next thing you know, someone will be offering them an illegal car wash."
Over the limit: An investigation by The Dallas Morning News reveals thousands of questionable purchases by DISD staffers using district-issued credit cards. News reporters uncover lax oversight, a failure to collect and maintain receipts and hundreds of dollars spent on items such as Blockbuster gift cards, moisturizer and even one charge to an online dating service. In response, DISD administrators vow an immediate overhaul of the credit card program and an end to unwarranted purchases. DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa expresses shock at the newspaper's findings. "Who knew that passing out hundreds of free credit cards to unmonitored, underpaid public servants could lead to a scandal?" Hinojosa says.
Mommie dearest: In a move that sends shock waves through local politics in July, Mayor Miller announces that she will not seek re-election next May, citing her intense desire to spend more time with her three children, or as she calls them, "the boy, Whozit, the girl and that other one, who I believe also is a girl."
Muffin men: Dallas police in late July discover an indoor marijuana farm at an SMU-area condominium complex. Narcotics investigators say they were tipped to the operation after residents complained that teachers and staff from Lake Highlands High School were showing up at the condo unit at all hours. "Midnight on Saturdays looked like a freakin' teacher in-service day around this place," a neighbor complains.
Quality construction: In mid-August, Dallas officials announce they are seeking new bids on construction of the 40-story "signature" bridge over the Trinity River after initial bids come in at more than twice the anticipated $57 million cost. Bids for the Woodall Rodgers bridge, designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava, came in at $113 million, well above the $65 million budgeted. In October, Houston-based Williams Bros. Construction submits a $69 million bid for the project. Critics question how the company was able to slash their earlier bid by nearly 40 percent. "We got a really good deal on Super Glue, baling wire and duct tape," an unnamed company spokesman says. "God knows I wouldn't drive over the damn thing, but then who would?"
Butt ugly: DISD trustee Ron Price calls on the Dallas City Council to pass an ordinance banning the wearing of saggy pants and exposed underwear on city streets. "As I was saying to Dr. Bill Cosby on the phone just the other day—we chat every now and then, you know—the sight of these boys walking around with their behinds exposed is just plain disrespectful." City council members vow to take up the proposal as soon as they have "nothing freakin' better to do with their time than tell kids to pull their drawers up." Only Councilman Mitchell Rasansky objects. "Yo, dawg, when you got mad junk in the trunk like I got, you gotta share it wit' the world," Rasansky says.
What's in a name redux: Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield files an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit to stop his election opponent Rose Renfroe, an Anglo, from using the nickname "Rosita" on the November ballot. Mayfield complains that the Democrat Renfroe cooked up the name as a ploy to win Latino votes. Renfroe counters that literally tens of people know her as "Rosita," including her late husband, housekeeper and "the guys who mow my lawn." Undaunted by her loss in what was otherwise a Democratic sweep in county elections, Renfroe vows to return in the next election with her other nickname: "LaQuiesha" Renfroe.
Survivor: Lancaster High School music teacher Theresa Dobbs, arrested in class for an outstanding $50 traffic ticket, spends three days in the Dallas County jail without seeing a lawyer, bail bondsman or judge, the result of what jail officials say is a clerical error. Hers is the second such case to occur in the past year, the Morning News reports. Sheriff Valdez assures reporters that Dobbs' incident is a sign that conditions at the troubled jail are finally looking up. "Only three days and she didn't die or lose a limb or major organ? In our jail? Woo-hoo! We're No. 1! We're No. 1!"
What goes down: Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington unveils a promotion that will allow anyone who eats a Madagascar hissing cockroach to move to the front of the line for the park's popular Titan rollercoaster. The campaign hits a snag when the park quickly runs out of the insects, which can grow up to 3 inches in length. "I don't really want to ride the rollercoaster," says park patron Lester Warren, his lips glistening with green roach goop. "But they were free, so I figured it was a way better deal than a $6 Six Flags hamburger, since I'm trying to eat healthier."
All thumbs: Terrell Owens is treated at Baylor University Medical Center's emergency room for what police at first call an attempted suicide. Owens quickly denies that he tried to end his own life and blames the incident on a reaction between pain medication and nutritional supplements he takes. Police later reclassify the case as an accident. "Apparently, someone tossed him some of his medication, but he bobbled them and didn't realize the pills slipped through his hands and fell into a Coke he was drinking," an unnamed police source says.
Free at last: Dallas County officials consider reopening a long unused jail, built in 1915, to relieve severe overcrowding at other facilities. Touring the old building to see if it is still fit for use, jailers discover the skeletal remains of one Thaddeus Grotweyler, who records show had been incarcerated in 1917 for illegally parking a buggy, only to be forgotten as the result of a "paperwork SNAFU."
Separate but unequal: Acting in a lawsuit filed by Latino parents, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay rules that Preston Hollow Elementary School principal Teresa Parker "was, in effect, operating, at taxpayers' expense, a private school for Anglo children within a public school that was predominantly minority." Plaintiffs accuse the school of segregating Anglo students into their own classes in an effort to encourage white parents to send their children to the predominantly Hispanic and black school. DISD officials deny that Parker or the district was deliberately creating an unlawful system of separate but equal at the school. "White kids from affluent North Dallas families are notoriously shy and retiring, so we thought that giving them their own bathrooms and drinking fountains might make the environment seem friendlier," a school spokesman says. "Guess they'll have to poop with the poor folk now."
Keep out: The Farmers Branch City Council adopts anti-illegal-immigrant measures that require apartment renters to provide proof of citizenship or residency, make English the city's official language and allow police to check the residency status of arrested suspects and initiate deportation proceedings in certain cases. The laws prompt several lawsuits and a petition drive aimed at their repeal. Critics complain the ordinances will make Farmers Branch appear to be a xenophobic enclave of white-flighters hostile to immigrants and minorities. "Ya think?" says city council member Tim O'Hare, who spearheaded the effort.
Oh, Tony: Tony Romo leads the Cowboys to a 21-14 victory over the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts on November 19, raising his record to 3-1 since he replaced the almost lifelike Drew Bledsoe as starting quarterback. Dallas County mental health workers report an upsurge in calls to counseling help lines from distraught males complaining of sexual confusion prompted by homoerotic dreams starring the young QB. "NFL fans include a substantial number of homophobes, so it's not surprising that these thoughts and dreams might cause a certain level of anxiety," a mental health worker says. "We're calling it 'romosexual panic.'"The Cowboys go on to defeat Tampa Bay 38-10 on Thanksgiving Day in a game that sees Romo tie a club record by throwing five touchdown passes. Romo celebrates the victory by serving holiday meals to the homeless at a Dallas shelter, successfully dividing one drumstick and two loaves of bread among a multitude of 1,100 hungry guests.
Doesn't add up: David Fryar, hired to lead DISD's new one-man Office of District Integrity, quits after the Morning News reveals that he claimed on his résumé to be a certified public accountant despite having his CPA license revoked in 1996. Fryar was hired in response to the scandal involving the district's lax oversight of credit card use. Superintendent Hinojosa announces the creation of a new division to oversee the hiring of the new integrity officer. It will be called the Office of Let's Stop Doing All This Stupid, Embarrassing Shit.
Set them free: The county auditor's office reports that the Sheriff's Department paid $9.4 million in overtime last fiscal year to staff its overcrowded jails. Sheriff Valdez blames the record high costs in part on paperwork errors that resulted in 27 jailers being mistakenly locked in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center for six weeks over the summer.
Cheap shot: SMU becomes the likely home of the future George W. Bush presidential library as the president and first lady enter into "exclusive" discussions with the school. Some SMU faculty members fear the link to the Bush administration might mar the school's standing as a nonpartisan institution, but administrators dismiss their concerns. "With the Kennedy monument downtown, the Bush library is a natural for Dallas. Now we'll have two facilities honoring brain-dead chief executives," a school spokesman says.
Jim? Jim who?: Weeks after the U.S. Justice Department issues a scathing report about poor inmate health care, understaffing and overcrowding at the Dallas County jail, Democratic County Judge-elect Jim Foster gets a first-hand look at the problem during a tour led by Sheriff Valdez. Foster vows to make fixing the jail's woes a top priority for his administration. Valdez in turn, promises to locate and free the MIA Foster from the jail in time for his swearing-in this month. "We know he's still in here somewhere; we just misplaced him somehow," Valdez says.
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