Don't Listen to the Morning News. Don't Take Your Eyes Off the Scam in the Griggs Matter.
Which would you consider more horrible? Drowning in the White Water Feature or going permanently nuts in the Water Maze? The most vicious form of bullshit in this world is the kind that wears a necktie, shines its shoes and masquerades as calm, cool and collected. Beware the knife from that guy.
The Dallas Morning News editorial page yesterday devoted its lead editorial to exactly that kind of knife. The News wants everybody to just put out of their minds for now that a sitting City Council member with a major role in the city election four days from now has been charged with a felony on transparently trumped-up charges.
Be calm. Be cool. Let the process work. Just wait.
Yeah. Wait until after the election. Then the amoral half-asses behind this move will have accomplished their goal. Then, when the councilman turns out not to be guilty of a damn thing, then you can pay all the attention your little hearts desire, because then the trick will have worked.
This deal is as dirty, as vile as anything I have seen in way too many years watching Dallas City Hall. The idea that we should turn away from it even for an instant, that we should let some totally bogus process work its wiles, is obscene. We need to keep our eyes on this ball like white on rice.
At the end of last week, Dallas police sent a case to the district attorney accusing council member Scott Griggs of violating a state law against coercion of a public official, based on a shouting match in the city secretary's office more than three weeks ago. There was no witness to the threat Griggs is alleged to have made. The day after the charges were made public, Griggs passed a lie detector test saying he never made the threat.
And anyway, the law they charged him under isn't for making threats. It's for trying to get a public official to break the law. He was arguing with a public official about the right way to obey the law.
I told you Monday that the incident in question came right on the heels of a major showdown between Griggs, fellow council member Philip Kingston and City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. Griggs and Kingston won. Gonzalez lost. The fight was over previously undisclosed information about the Trinity toll road project that Gonzalez had fought for months not to disclose.
The toll road is the single most important issue in next Saturday's election. Griggs and Kingston are the project's most formidable foes, at spear points with Gonzalez. The 2,000 emails they forced Gonzalez to give them raise serious questions about the toll road project.
The emails reveal a longstanding arrangement at City Hall with twin goals: 1) delivering overall control of the Trinity River project into a few elite private hands, and 2) giving a few select contractors a size 13 foot in the door for the big contracts if the project ever gets underway.
In a piece on the Morning News op-ed page yesterday, former Mayor Laura Miller, a long close observer of City Hall, gave her informed opinion on how the charges against Griggs came about: "No matter who was pushing to find a way to lock up Griggs," Miller said, "I can assure you of this: Before anything was done, City Manager A.C. Gonzalez would have had to green-light (or order) the pursuit of a felony charge and then inform the mayor of that decision."
So we have these elements in play: 1) Griggs and Kingston are a serious problem for Mayor Mike Rawlings, Gonzalez and other toll road boosters. 2) Kingston and Griggs rubbed Gonzalez's face in the dirt and pried loose a bunch of information he didn't want them to have on the same day the alleged coercion incident took place. 3) The public conversation this week should be all about those emails. 4) It's not. It's about bogus criminal charges brought against Griggs.
And now here comes the Morning News editorial page, hair slicked back, wearing its shiniest shoes, nervously twiddling its very best necktie, to tell us this: "The wheels of the legal system need to be allowed to turn through all the evidence, some of which may not yet be public. Actors on all sides of this mess would be wise to hold their fire until more information is available."
And they go on. The public, they say, should especially ignore charges that Griggs was singled out in any way because someone wanted to muffle his voice in Saturday's election: "Griggs' supporters are passionate in their defense of the council member," the News says, "but they do their cause no good by tossing about unsubstantiated conspiracy theories based on his opposition to a toll road in the Trinity River bottom."
Elsewhere on their pages the editorial writers call Griggs' supporters "paranoid."
I have gone through only some of the emails, but it's enough to have come upon several issues, especially this: More than merely having an inside track, private entities -- elected by no one, funded by wealthy donors who may include actual players in the project -- seem to have near exclusive dominance over key public decisions.
In February 2014, the City Council approved a contract (see below) with a company called Wallace Robert & Todd (WRT). They are the people, by the way, who brought us the wonderfully awful concept now known popularly as the "Juggler Under the Overpass," which Griggs eviscerated in a tirade, and now we know why Griggs' tirade may have especially angered the city's hoi polloi.
They paid for it. Maybe. It's a little hard to tell. The council resolution approving the contract states that the city has received a gift of $105,000 from the private Trinity Trust to pay for the WRT watercolors including the juggler. The city is to give the contract for the juggler drawings and then pay that amount to WRT, making the watercolors an official city project.
The arrangement is odd. If the Trinity Trust wanted $105,000 worth of watercolors including the juggler and had $105,000 to pay for them, why didn't the trust just pay for them itself? If WRT wanted to present the city with its jugglers drawings as a proposal or foot in the door for much bigger work later, that's something WRT should have done gratis, as a cost of doing business.
And, wait a minute. How can the Trinity Trust, even when it's giving the city money, tell the city to bypass its normal bidding procedures? Some of the emails I read show Griggs trying to get city officials to answer just that question.
But in one of them, Dallas City Auditor Craig Kinton tells Griggs: "This contract was not bid based on the acceptance of funding from the Trinity Trust ... this firm was the selected vendor of nine proposers."
Really? The resolution approving the contract says the city has to give the contract to WRT because the Trinity Trust said to.
What difference does any of this make? Let me remind you that Gail Thomas, president and executive officer of the Trinity Trust, was a mastermind of the city's infamous "Standing Wave" white water feature in the Trinity River, a gigantic concrete elephant turd intended to be a kayak thing of some kind or another like something some rich person saw somewhere on vacation.
Built in 2011, the white water feature is still standing as a dangerous and unusable barrier to paddling on the river right at the entrance to the Great Trinity Forest. And, by the way, in researching this column I realized I am a little past due for my annual white water feature article, "Still There, Still Stupid." I promise to get on it ASAP.
You may say, "Look, Jim, the white water feature only cost the taxpayers $4 million, and it only ruined one river. Let's allow bygones to be bygones."
Sure. Fine. Screw bygones. I hate bygones. What scares me from looking at Kingston and Griggs' emails is the to-comes. Revealed in the emails is a kind of nagging by which Thomas tries to get city officials to subsidize the proposed water maze.
Hey. I said exactly the same thing. The proposed what-the-fuck? What? The fuck?
Water maze. It's a maze. In the water. It was right there in the appendices to the WRT juggler briefing presented to the council last October.
Missed it? Well, that's why I have reproduced the whole juggler briefing below. I hope Scribd will let you search, so you won't have to go through the entire briefing in its depressing absurdity. Search for "maze."
It's ... what can I say? Amazing. Guess how much the water maze will cost? Five million bucks. Did you know you were building a $5 million water maze? In one of the emails in the trove pried loose by Griggs and Kingston, Thomas sounds peeved to hear that the city can't just haul the dirt it's going to dig out of the fake lakes and donate it to the project she calls "Brad's maze."
I don't know who Brad is.
In an email to Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, Thomas says: "Now I am confused and ask for help. Jill, I understood your telling me in a phone conversation last Friday morning that dirt from the borrow could indeed be used for permanent amenities 'such as Brad's maze.' Has this changed? Gail."
Can't you just see her stamping her foot? Apparently things had changed, and the city told her they couldn't give Brad free dirt for his maze. They did not tell Gail how on earth she was going to tell Brad. I don't know. Listen. I don't want to talk about the dirt. What is a water maze?
I happen to be a lifelong canoeist. Paddling a canoe in a maze is the worst idea I have ever heard connected with canoeing or kayaking. I would enjoy watching a movie about the Three Stooges paddling in a water maze, but I don't want to be in that movie myself. And we thought it could never get worse than the giant elephant turd.
More important: Do you remember a City Council meeting or a speech or public notice or anything in which anybody at City Hall ever asked you if you wanted a $5 million water maze. No. Nobody asked you that.
If anybody at City Hall had asked you that, you would have said: "BACK AWAY FROM THE CASH DRAWER, NOW!" And then you would have said, "Somebody, quick! Change the passwords!"
This is the barest, most shallow scratching of the surface of what's in those emails. Those emails are what we should be talking about.
Instead we're talking about criminal charges against one of the guys who got the emails out of the bastards, a few days before an election in which those emails should have been a huge factor.
When this is all over and Griggs has washed his hands of it, we need to go back and find out who was behind it and whether there's a way to bring some 10-years-in-the-pen criminal charges against that person. Whoever fired this gun needs some shooting back at.
The Newssays, "The wheels of the legal system need to be allowed to turn." What bullshit. What wheels? What justice?
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