I now take you back inside the strange world of Dallas city councilwoman Vonciel Hill, who spoke yesterday on one of the most important tenets of her belief system -- that public information should never be shared with the public.
Explaining why she did not want -- repeat, did NOT want -- the city manager to inform the city council of forced repayments of misspent federal money, Hill said this:
"As the person on this particular council who has spent the most time on Capitol Hill trying to bring funding to this city, I make no claim to understanding the regs (federal regulations), and I don't intend to understand the regs, because we have lots of staff people to do that."
Rather then have you go backwards in the story to read that again, I will reproduce it here: "As the person on this particular council who has spent the most time on Capitol Hill trying to bring funding to this city, I make no claim to understanding the regs, and I don't intend to understand the regs, because we have lots of staff people to do that."
Don't read it again.
It has been over a year and a half since I last spoke to you from inside the strange world of Vonciel Hill, the previous occasion having to do with revelations that former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm, after promising to work against gas drilling in city parks, had actually entered into secret talks with gas drillers aimed at allowing them to drill in city parks. When former city council member Angela Hunt and current member Scott Griggs brought the secret agreement to light, Hill compared her colleagues to Haman, the killer of Jews and symbol of all evil in the Book of Esther, while she compared Suhm's position to that of the martyred Jesus Christ. (This paragraph will not be reproduced.)
Yesterday's debate grew out of revelations last July 10 here on Unfair Park by a commenter/whistleblower whom we now call, "Big Bear Daddy," obviously a City Hall insider, who told us that the city had been forced to pay back a large sum in a one-year period that the federal government said had been spent on specious, wrong, ill-advised and possibly crooked enterprises. Big Bear Daddy didn't give an amount, just saying it was lots of money. We found out later it was $810,000, after city council member Philip Kingston forced the city manager to release HUD audit findings detailing the hanky-panky.
Kingston and council member Scott Griggs told Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez they didn't appreciate getting information like this months after the fact -- and at that only from someone named Big Bear Daddy -- after they had been asked to vote on new budgets authorizing millions more dollars to be granted to all of the agencies identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as in on the hanky-panky. They said they wanted to know about hanky-panky before being asked to vote to give away even more money to the same hanky-panksters.
Griggs yesterday introduced a measure to suspend those budget appropriations, agreeing to reinstate them only if the council enacted language requiring the city manager to inform the council promptly of future pay-backs to the feds. The specific language of what we might now call the Big Bear Daddy Law states: "The City Manager shall notify the appropriate City Council Committee of expenditures identified as ineligible not later than 30 days of the reimbursement. Further, the City Manager shall keep the appropriate City Council Committee informed of all final HUD audit reports not later than 30 days of the receipt of the audit report."
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City Manager Gonzalez told the council he could live with the Big Bear Daddy Law. But Hill complained that such a measure would force the release of information to council members who, like herself, do not understand the information and who might then release it to the public, which would be even worse. Picking up on earlier remarks by council member Jerry Allen, who had said that city staff members usually are much smarter than council members, Hill said it was important to keep potentially controversial information in-house. She said revealing such information on blogs or to the press was the worst thing possible.
"I believe that council members have an obligation when and if we have questions, not to go to the bloggers but, as Mr. Allen said, to go to the staff members... I believe it is not in the best interest of this city to run to the press on issues that we do not understand."
I have a call in to Hill. I want to ask her if council members could be allowed to run to the press if they ever do understand an issue, at least for an attaboy. I will let you know if I hear from her.
The mayor and all council members but Hill voted to adopt Grigg's measure. Hill was the sole vote against, in keeping with her belief that what happens in City Hall must stay in City Hall.