How Dumb Is the Coercion Case Against Dallas Councilman Scott Griggs? You'll Be Shocked.
Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs, targeted for doing his job.
Count on everybody to be too clever by half in this one -- trying to figure out why Dallas cops brought felony charges last week against a City Council member because he got into it with a city employee about whether she doing her job properly. And, yeah, they say he used the f-word. He says not.
But f-word schmeff-word. Isn't that what we elect them for?
Already Larry Friedman, the very able lawyer representing council member Scott Griggs, is suggesting broadly that somebody wants to mess Griggs up to diminish his influence on the City Council elections now less than a week away. And, look, no way am I saying that can't be the case.
I'm just saying this. Whenever you're trying to figure out motivations of top Dallas City Hall officials in their more colorful escapades -- like this one -- you have to answer the question a country songwriter friend of mine once told me he was always asked by his music company when he told them he was writing a new song: Is it dumb enough yet?
Friedman is probably absolutely right that part of the motivation here is dirtying up Griggs before the election next Saturday. He's not running, but he and council member Philip Kingston have been campaigning for candidates in other districts who will vote to kill the Trinity toll road.
One hates to think anyone in his or her right mind would even consider ginning up a fake felony charge carrying a possible 10-year prison sentence over a toll road. But as you well know by now, this toll road -- to be built along the river through downtown -- is not a toll road. It's our local version of a Shia/Sunni sectarian war.
But I also think you don't have to go all the way to the toll road or to the elections to get this one. You can just stop with people being amoral idiots.
Nothing about this smells even vaguely copacetic. Normally you can't get incident reports out of the Dallas Police Department with a bolt-cutter, but last week the cops posted their report about Griggs on their blog. And, allow me to offer another caveat. We happen to have a smart regime over the police department right now. If I suspect them of anything, it's going overboard to show their own cards and try to keep their own hands clean in this.
But the police report is very oddly elliptical. It purports to show that Griggs got into it with a woman named Billirae Johnson, an assistant city secretary in charge of posting meeting notifications on the city web page. Assuming the incident even took place, it happened eight days before it was reported to police.
According to the report, Griggs used the f-word and threatened to break Johnson's fingers over something to do with putting a notification online to announce a special city council meeting about the toll road. Whatever happened, Johnson appears to be neither a witness nor even the complainant against Griggs in the police report.
After Griggs allegedly f-worded her and threatened to maim her, she is described in the report (see below) as having "a blank look on her face." The report says Griggs "had the appearance of that of a bully," but this characterization seems to come from an unnamed witness, not Johnson.
I called Griggs. For the first time ever, he did not respond to my texts or calls. I'm sure he has been told to keep his mouth shut. But I was able to talk to other people close to this matter.
The story I get is that the timeline in the report is very important. The alleged finger-breaking threat is to have occurred on April 13. But no report was made to police -- or taken by police -- until eight days later, on April 21.
That does not mean there was no activity between the 13th and the 21st. In fact, during that eight-day period, multiple attempts were made by police to interview Johnson, both at work and at her home. According to my sources, Johnson was reluctant during this period to go along with filing charges, and police themselves were dubious about the merits of the case.
I haven't spoken to Johnson, so I do not know from her mouth that she was reluctant. The police are not going to tell me they didn't like this case, but I can guess why they might not have.
The law under which Griggs has been charged, "coercion of public servant or voter," says you can't try to get a public official to do the wrong thing, either by not doing his duty or by doing something bad. A person commits an offense if he, "influences or attempts to influence a public servant ... to violate the public servant's known legal duty."
It doesn't say you can't use shout and use bad language. By the way, Griggs passed a lie detector test last week saying he never said any of that stuff (see below). But the law under which he has been charged doesn't a word about yelling, screaming, f-words or fingers anyway. It says you can't try to get a public servant to do the wrong thing.
I know from Friedman, Grigg's attorney, that Griggs did have a set-to with Johnson on the day in question. But it was all about Griggs trying to get Johnson to do what Griggs considered to be the right thing legally and according to Johnson's duties of office.
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Friedman gave me a lot of detail, a lot of who-shot-John, about that argument. He says Johnson was showing Griggs conflicting documents and giving him different stories about whether this meeting was going to be properly posted according to all the rules. And, look, since I did not get to Johnson and she's not here to defend herself, let's just assume she's got her own version of whether she was doing her job properly.
But that's what it was about -- arguing about how to get it done legally and properly, not illegally or improperly. And the law in question also carves out a specific exemption for public officials like Griggs who are trying to get people under them to do what they think is right.
Plus this: Griggs wasn't even trying to tell Johnson how to post or not post the notice. He was trying to get her to wait while he got City Attorney Warren Ernst on the scene to make a ruling.
So, wait. Back to dumb and dumber. What motivation could any sane person have for bringing a felony charge against a sitting City Council member for doing what the voters put him there to do? A sneaky conspiracy to influence the election? Sure, possible. But you know what? It's not dumb enough yet.
For example. What else happened on April 13, the day of the alleged effing fingers incident? Well, that was the very same morning that Griggs and Kingston finally won a long and extremely bitter battle with City Manager A.C. Gonzalez, who had been resisting giving them 2,000 emails dealing with that damned toll road.
Mayor Mike Rawlings put together a supposedly totally independent "dream team" of outside experts. The Dream Team was supposed to come up with design ideas for the toll road to show there could be a way to build both a highway and a beautiful urban park along the river downtown.
Kingston and Griggs wanted the 2,000 emails, because they believed the emails would show that the Dream Team, far from being even remotely independent, had been run on a short leash from City Hall.
On the day in question, before the fingers, Griggs and Kingston won an argument with Ernst, the city attorney, who told City Manager Gonzalez that he had to turn over the emails and he couldn't do it in some trick screw-you format, as he had already tried, making the emails unsearchable and virtually unreadable. The head of information services was told to just go back to his office and get the damn thumb drive with the emails and give it to them, which he did.
So what's in the emails? I have read some but not all of them, enough to give me a broad picture. Some of it is stuff that's just embarrassing, like Dallas Morning News editorial page editor Mike Drago giving the mayor's spokesman, Scott Goldstein, whom Drago addresses as "Dude," writing tips on how to improve an op-ed piece submitted to the paper under the mayor's name in praise of the Dream Team.
Some of the emails contained much more disturbing matters, including concerns about an insider contracting deal in which engineering and design companies funnel seed money to the city through private outfits like Trinity Trust and Trinity Commons to fund Trinity-related projects. Then the company funneling the money gets the work, worth way more than the seed money.
And, by the way, do you remember the "juggler under the overpass" project? It was an array of incredibly stupid ideas for sprucing up the big honking freeway they want to build. That, Dear Taxpayer, cost you over a hundred grand under this little reach-around.
And some it looks potentially explosive. In particular, the emails contain a summary of an engineering report that has never been shown to the City Council or to the public. This report indicates the raised "bench" they want to build for either the full toll road or the Dream Team "meandering road" toll road may crack up if they put it right next to fake lakes as planned. So, when they do decide to bring out that little gem, guess what probably happens to the lakes.
I am sure there is more, much more, when people have time to analyze all 2,000 emails. Griggs and Kingston got their hands on the emails the same day somebody went ballistic and decided to go after Griggs with criminal charges.
I asked a person close to all if this: Is it dumb enough yet? Would the anger of toll road-backers including the mayor and Gonzalez really be enough to explain phony-baloney felony charges with a 10-year prison sentence, charges that would also destroy Grigg's career as a lawyer? That person said no.
That person told me I had to go all the way back in Griggs history, to the time two years ago that he and former council member Angela Hunt caught former City Manager Mary Suhm covering up a secret City Hall deal with frackers, a scandal that spelled the beginning of the end of Suhm's tenure.
Bring that narrative forward through a series of incidents in which Griggs, now with Kingston at his side, has caught the sitting city manager and mayor with their pants down. Add the emails.
Now it's dumb enough, but also totally, breathlessly, mind-numbingly shocking. Not just dumb and dumber. Dumb and shocking. A new bottom of the pit.
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