City Hall

Dallas Council Asks Consultant How to Be Nice

Wednesday afternoon a consultant from Ohio spent more than two hours in a meeting room at Love Field Airport with the Dallas City Council to help them find ways to become nicer people. I went to it, because I was hoping I might pick up a few tips for myself.

No, really, I would love to become a nicer person. I don’t like to make a big deal out of this because I’m afraid people will think I’m asking for special treatment, but I have suffered all my life from BPS, which is the acronym for Bad Personality Syndrome. I am always on the lookout for non-pharmaceutical therapies, mainly because the pharmaceutical solutions kind of beat me up at this point in life.

Based on my research, the biggest known cause of BPS is other people being idiots and liars. I was mainly interested to see if the consultant would have strategies in mind for that.

Julia Novak of the Novak Consulting Group is totally legitimate as far as I can tell, highly trained with a great résumé. It seemed to me the Dallas City Council would be a decent test of her abilities — midway between the National Assembly of Taiwan, famous for its hilarious YouTube fistfights, and the College of Cardinals, which the council does not resemble. Ever. At all.

Novak said at the top of her session that she wanted to help the council deal with some of its more notable personality flaws, which she wrote on the white board as, “Vitriolic, bullying, self-justifying, adversarial” and some other things that I couldn’t read.

The larger share of the crowd was made up of top city staff, which goes to the actual reason for the session. You may remember that last summer several idiots and liars at City Hall made up a phony-baloney felony charge against council member Scott Griggs, accusing him of threatening to break the fingers of a female staff member over something having to do with proper posting of a meeting notice.
It was a serious charge with a potential sentence of time in prison and the loss of his law license. But from the very beginning, there was always something idiotic and untruthful-seeming about it. Griggs had never threatened to break anyone’s fingers or lost his cool in any way when he uncovered a secret deal to allow gas drilling in city parks, when he found that top city staff had lied to him about important public works construction contracts in his district, when the mayor vowed to voters that his campaign consultant would never return to City Hall as a lobbyist and then she returned to City Hall as a lobbyist, when the mayor promised the council it could trust top staffers pushing a major new trash-hauling system called “flow-control” and then a federal judge ruled that flow control was a City Hall scam.

So he kept his cool through gas drilling, contract-botching, lobbyist-tricking and flow-controlling, but he was going to break somebody’s fingers over meeting-posting? Seemed very unlikely. Seemed more likely the charges themselves were revenge on Griggs for catching people in so many lies and so much trickery. And that’s what the grand jury must have thought, because they threw the whole thing out as soon as they got a look at it.

Now admittedly this is all according to a confessed BPS sufferer, myself, and there might be nicer ways to view the matter. That’s what I was hoping for from the consultant.

The consultant’s visit came about because another member of the council, Jennifer Staubach Gates, whose name is sometimes bruited about for mayor, thought that more attention needed to be focused on Griggs, even if the grand jury had decided he was not guilty of the accusations against him. So Gates organized yesterday’s session as a way to keep the pot boiling.

To review, the consultant’s job was to help the mayor and City Council learn to behave in less divisive, more positive and healing ways when dealing with false felony charges, character assassination, backstabbing, politically inspired smear campaigns, liars and idiots. I thought, “Oh my God, this is exactly what I need to be hearing. It sounds so life-changing.”

After introductory remarks, which I missed, the elected officials and the top staffers all broke up into groups and went to separate round tables, because that’s what you do with a consultant. When I came in they were all at their tables, supposedly consulting with each other about how to be nicer.

I’m out in the peanut gallery watching, and it occurs to me, “You know one way you folks could be nicer would be not sitting with your backs to each other staring at your telephones, tapping on your laptops and checking your makeup instead of consulting.” But, you know, that was the BPS talking.

After the table-talking portion of the session, council member Ricky Callahan got up and read off a list of ideas his table had come up with: “Be considerate to each other,” he read in a monotone, “follow the golden rule, still shouldn’t be afraid to say something, mutual respect, I’m not looking for a yes person.”
The golden rule. So I’m thinking if they followed the golden rule we wouldn’t be sitting here in the first place. Nobody would have filed the fake felony charges against Griggs for catching them being idiots and liars. No one would have tried to stir the charges again by having this session after the charges got kicked by the grand jury. I started thinking about all that, and my hopes for help with my BPS syndrome began to wane.

Then for the final kick in the head, Gates, she of the bruited-about mayoral rumors and author of the day’s event, suggested that council members could help reinforce good behavior among themselves by passing resolutions condemning each other’s bad behavior.

This idea was taken very seriously. It called for an opinion from the City Attorney, who looked up from the file folder in which his nose had been buried for the last half hour and said, oh sure, yes, any group of five council members could demand that the mayor post a resolution saying that some particular council member (Scott Griggs, I’m thinking) had behaved in a way that the five signatories considered offensive, and then the full council would vote on whether it thought the behavior in question was offensive or not.

So by that point my BPS symptoms are in full bloom. I’m sitting there thinking of examples of resolutions that council members might want to post about each other: “We, the undersigned five Dallas City Council members, do hereby resolve that Council Member X, our esteemed colleague, is an idiot and a liar and should have his fingers broken for ratting us out to the media.”

But I don’t think that’s what Gates has in mind. I’m sure she’s thinking of something much more high tea, designed for the good children on the council, the ones who don’t complain about secret drilling deals and campaign consultants acting as lobbyists, the ones who follow the real golden rule of politics: “Do unto others what will get you elected.”

I’m not blaming the consultant. It was asking way too much of her that she cure my own problems, let alone the City Council’s. And anyway, something sort of positive may have come out of the session for me after all. I’m sitting there just about to leave, getting my stuff all picked up, and I pause for a moment. I think, “Wait. I’ve struggled with BPS all my life, right? So do I keep coming back to Dallas City Council meetings because this is really my support group?”
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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