If Philip Kingston Is a "Specialist at Aggravating His Colleagues," We Need More Like Him

Vonciel Hill is neither for the toll road nor against the toll road, nor is she in favor of the park road or against it, but she supports everything.
Vonciel Hill is neither for the toll road nor against the toll road, nor is she in favor of the park road or against it, but she supports everything.
Mark Graham

Wait a minute. Before we all just go tripping on down the road, we need to go back and sort out a particular aspect of last week's nasty city council meeting about the Trinity River toll road, the multi-lane, high-speed, limited access highway some people still want to stick on top of the Trinity River downtown.

Was it ill-mannered and "aggravating" of the anti-toll road minority on the council to ask that the other side say what it intends to do? A Dallas Morning News editorial after last week's meeting described city councilman Philip Kingston as a person "who opposes the road and has become a specialist at aggravating his colleagues."

Oh, come on! Are we 12? Kingston was one of four city council members who were all trying to get the rest of the city council to quit talking absolute self-contradictory nonsense and say what they meant.

I think you know the drill here. Some people think the river is a sewer. They want to build a six-to-eight-lane tolled expressway jammed right up next to it. The other side thinks the river could be made into a beautiful urban park. The only thoroughfare they want down there is a gentle meandering park road.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, who is a major champion of the highway, said he was going to convene a committee of outside experts -- planners, designers, various species of sooth-sayers and seers -- to come up with a way to do both things in the same public space, a giant expressway and a beautiful park.

The sayers and the seers convened and were paid, but they could see no sooth in what the mayor said. They said it's not possible to have a giant expressway and a beautiful park along the same river. They said we should ditch the road because we don't need it and it would suck. That is the same thing the local architectural and planning communities have been saying with increasing vociferousness in recent months, but now, great, we have sooth-sayers to say it, too, and who wouldn't want that?

See Also: "Trinity Toll Road "Dream Team" Says Dallas Does Not Need Highway Through a Park."

The deal at last week's meeting was this: The people on the city council who want the toll road were under pressure to say good things about the sooth-sayers and the seers. They had just received rave reviews earlier in the week for the debut at a private luncheon of their meandering park road concept.

But here is what the pro-toll road majority of the council wanted to say to the public: yes, we'll really do the meandering thing. But we don't want to risk any more delays in the federal approval process. So we'll continue to tell the federal government, notably the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that we're going to do the massive toll road thing.

And that, Dear Reader, is what brought us to WTF. Councilman Scott Griggs said he didn't think it was a good idea to lie to the federal government about what we're doing. And he said if we leave the toll road in the official planning documents -- the signed-on-the-dotted-line contracts with the federal government that say what we're going to do -- then that's what the city staff will work toward. The toll road.

Why would the city staff do that? I guess maybe because they're not total idiots. They do this stuff for a living, sometimes with the anticipation of eventual retirement not to include time in the pen. They don't want to do nudge-nudge wink-wink with feds.

Council member Sandy Greyson had introduced a resolution to say plainly and simply that the city of Dallas intends to build the meandering sooth-sayer road and not the toll road. Greyson's resolution directed city officials to tell the feds that the toll road is over. Gone. Not doing it.

Speaking in favor of the Greyson resolution, Griggs said, "We should be honest with both our citizens and with the federal government and tell them what we want to build ultimately at this time."

But a majority of the council voted down Greyson's resolution. You could read one of three scenarios into that vote. They really do want to build the meandering park road, but they don't want the feds to know they do. Or they really do want to build the toll road, but they don't to the citizens of Dallas to know they do. Or they are just totally inscrutable.

Kingston made an anti-inscrutability motion in favor of the toll road. He hates the toll road. But his thinking, as he explained it to me later, was that just wanted clarity. If they really still wanted the toll road, then they should have had the courage and the decency to vote for the damned thing in public.

Two of the pro-toll-road members in particular, Vonciel Hill and Lee Kleinman, were furious that Kingston was maneuvering them into having to declare themselves. Hill said, "This is the highest level of gamesmanship, dishonesty, and lack of integrity that I have seen in a council since I have been observing, and I have been observing since 1975."

But, wait. Why? If they voted for the toll road, then that would simply reaffirm the city's current position. Otherwise, if they didn't want the toll road, they could just vote against it.

Hill objected that if they voted against the toll road, that would cause the federal government to abandon its review process and start the whole thing over from scratch. But when she called City attorney Warren Ernst to the podium to back her up, he said she was wrong. It would take way more than a no vote on Kingston's motion to start things over.

Umm, so wait again. Which was it? Was it that she and Kleinman didn't want to vote to reaffirm the toll road, because now they want to build the meandering road instead? But they didn't want to vote not to affirm the toll road, because then the feds would find out we're doing the meandering road?

The feds don't have TV? What would the plan be when the road gets built and it meanders? The council members all change their names and move to Ohio at midnight?

This was a moment when somebody needed to step in and bring focus. And maybe a bucket of cold water. That's exactly what Kingston was doing. That's all he was doing. Well, and he may have been having a little fun, too. I know I was, just watching.

Kleinman became totally unhinged, at one point slamming a stack of paper on the table like it was Nikita Khrushchev's shoe, at another point giggling. He introduced additional motions designed to muddy the waters. Finally, when the whole thing devolved into legislative nothingness, Kleinman couldn't stop grinning. I wanted to shout, "Call Nurse Ratchet!"

The final position of the city council was that they want to pursue the meandering road but they also want to pursue the toll road. I believe that just means they want to pursue the toll road and lie about it.

Whether you agree with them or not, at least the people on the anti-toll road side had the guts to say where they stand. Sorry if that was "aggravating" for the others.


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