Look back in anger

What a difference a year makes. And if we only knew then...
For example. Last winter, the majority of the Dallas city council balked at the idea of letting the voters decide whether or not to build a sports arena.

It was a ridiculous idea, they said, a stupid concept, an insult to their intelligence.

"The only concern I have," said councilman Glenn Box, who has since left the council, "is there's been a huge amount of misinformation this year. Like the idiotic poll this week."

The idiotic poll, if you recall, was conducted by a local marketing company that, on a slow business week, independently decided to quiz 500 registered voters in the city of Dallas about whether or not they wanted to spend their tax dollars on an arena.

Sixty-four percent said no.
But did Box and the other arena zealots--most particularly Mayor Steve Bartlett--get the message? Heck no. Instead, they dismissed the results out of hand, saying that the question itself was idiotic. Because we were not going to spend tax money on this thing.

To this day, I truly admire Box and Bartlett for sticking to their guns on this one--I mean, can you imagine their gall, telling people that the city was going to construct, operate, maintain, repair, staff, heat, and cool a cavernous, $141 million, publicly owned sports palace at no cost to the taxpayer?

Since this concept is a bit tricky to sell on the average dope who knows how to balance a checkbook, the mayor took a bold step last year and endorsed a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News--written by a political consultant and paid for by the bidness boys in town--to get this tricky point across.

"Q: Will taxpayers foot the bill for building a new arena?" the ad read.
"A: No. The cost of building a new arena would be paid by the teams and their fans."

In truth, the very week that Bartlett was publicly trumpeting this myth, he was privately beseeching area lawmakers to introduce legislation in Austin that would have generated millions in tax dollars for the new arena.

In retrospect, the whole arena debate was incredibly condescending in the dismissive way the elected officials viewed their public.

One particularly revealing comment came from councilmember Sandra Crenshaw, who said, "I don't think the voters understand the economics of all this."

Two months later, those stupid voters threw her off the city council.
Our city fathers told us, if you recall, that there was simply no time for such nonsense as a public vote--even a nonbinding, citywide straw poll. After all, they said, Mav's owner Don Carter was only giving the city until Feb. 24 to cut a deal--or he was out of here.

That's Feb. 24, 1995, mind you.
"I'm never opposed to allowing the voters to vote," mayoral candidate Ron Kirk said last March, "but I don't think we have the luxury of waiting until May [1995] to get the voters' input."

Ten months later, Carter's still here. With no new arena in sight.
Fear not, however. With absolutely no input from the public on this and a mayor who would rather massage Paul Fielding's feet than disappoint a millionaire looking for a handout, I predict a 1996 groundbreaking--using funds stripped from the convention center, which will therefore not get the facelift it needs on the old half, which will reduce convention bookings, which will lower the hotel-motel tax income (which goes to pay off the debt on the convention center expansion and Reunion Arena), which--listen up here math majors--will not generate enough income, even with both sports teams, to break even.

Happy New Year.
Speaking of Fielding, the fall of 1995 brought him an unexpected tonsillectomy. Which, as you can well imagine, is just about the worst thing that can happen to the man.

I mean, what is Fielding without his mouth?
What's Finlan without Venable? Caraway without Mallory? John Wiley Price without the 10 o'clock news?

To the mayor's credit, we did not see him celebrating while his No.1 nemesis was convalescing at home. Nor did we even detect a tiny, mayoral smirk when Fielding finally returned to city hall--orally crippled, sitting in on only parts of meetings, unable to toss out, with his usual abandon, his cynical two cents on most every city issue.

On the other hand, we must note here--for future biographers of the mayor, surely destined for higher office--that taking the thorn out of the mayor's paw does not necessarily result in a corresponding increase in productivity.

Perhaps it's the holidays. Perhaps it's the new restaurant Joey's. (I saw Kirk there just last week enjoying a leisurely two-hour lunch with a friend while mayoral chauffeur-bodyguard-slave Larry Conner stood outside in a leather jacket trying fruitlessly to warm his Christmas chestnuts.)  

Whatever the reason, we'd just like to take this opportunity to remind the enormously popular mayor--and we really do like you a lot, even though you're not doing anything--that the taxpayers do have a few desires. Here, then, is the taxpayers' modest--downright unsexy, even tin-plated, we know--wish-list for 1996 (we were able to compile this, incidentally, thanks to the "idiotic poll" and the series of town-hall meetings the city held a year ago on the May 1995 bond package): Street and alley repairs; recreation-center renovations; longer library hours; more park maintenance; a facelift at Fair Park; a bona fide recycling program; and (drum roll)--the No.1 thing the taxpayers of Dallas want from their city--a thorough dredging of White Rock Lake.

Now. Go build that sports arena.
We pause here--speaking of mismanagement--to bring you a quick news update on a classic example of the way in which your city spends your $1 billion a year.

Last January, we told you a story about dead trees. The trees were a small, itsy bitsy part of the big, expensive facelift the city gave Farmers Market. If you recall, the city beautified all the fruit, flora, and vegetable stands in the Farmers Market to the tune of $15.4 million. For all that money, there is not one additional incentive for people to actually go down there and spend their money and time--no restaurants, shops, fountains, plazas, just nicer sheds and kiosks and sidewalks.

And a lot of dead trees along Marilla Street.
We found out about this because the guy who planted the trees, a city subcontractor named Darold Molix, called us one day out of sheer frustration. He had been hired, among other things, to plant 38 baby red oaks and seven baby pear trees in 95 percent compacted soil--hard enough to bounce a shovel off of--and then completely surround the poor, fragile things with 18-foot-wide concrete sidewalks.

Molix told the general contractor on the job that if he planted the trees the way the landscape architect (another city subcontractor) envisioned, they would die. The general contractor told him to shut up and do it anyway.

Molix went over the contractor's head and complained directly to the city public works department, which was overseeing the job. City employees told him to shut up and do it anyway.

After all, First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley--now gone from city hall--was cracking the whip, insisting that all the work be done in time to impress the tourists and international media who were coming for the World Cup soccer games.

Sure enough, the trees looked fabulous for World Cup in the summer of 1994. But by last January, when Molix came to me, more than half the trees he had planted were dead. And the rest were destined to go that route.

They're just as dead 11 months later.
What's amusing about this is that now that the international spotlight is not shining upon us, our city bureaucrats could care less if all these trees are dead. Clearly, the project architect, Dallas-based HOK Architects, screwed up. The architects ought to pay for the work to be redone; after all, the city requires them to have insurance just for these types of mistakes.

But the public works department and the city attorneys have yet to make a move to assess blame, collect damages, or redo the work.

"I'm working on different things right now," says Steve Parker, the public works employee who supervised the Farmers Market project. "I'll get back to it."

That's essentially what he told me 11 months ago--when he was on top of the thing.

Chances are pretty good--since HOK denies it did anything moronic--that we will never collect a dime.

Eventual cost to the taxpayers--that is, if we bother to correct the problem?

"We have an $85,000 estimate, which is on the high side," Parker says. "Depending on who bids it, what the work involves in the end, and how much they want for the job--it could be $85,000, it could be $100,000, it could be $30,000 to $40,000."

God, I love these guys.
Speaking of tax-supported travesties, there comes now the Hon. Justice of the Peace Thomas G. Jones, who earlier this month was dragged downtown by his black robe to a Dallas County grand jury, which he visited three times this past year.

You remember Jones. He's the Oak Cliff judge who has been accused of: 1) wrongfully arresting people when he feels like flexing his muscles for friends; 2) summoning people to court even though no case has been filed against them; 3) summoning people to places other than his court, which Texas government code does not allow him to do; 4) convicting people of hot-check writing without proper evidence; 5) hearing criminal cases that occur outside his district, which he has absolutely no jurisdiction over; and 6) lying to grand juries that are investigating these fast-and-loose judicial activities.  

We must say here--loud and clear--that Jones has not been indicted for any crimes. He is a regular Harry Houdini when it comes to answering for the absolutely off-the-wall things he does to people--sadly enough, mostly low-income blacks and Hispanics. But then, it helps that Jones employs the legal wizardry and political clout of his personal friend, state Sen. Royce West, who has miraculously gotten him out of these jams.

Like on this last go 'round with a grand jury. Jones was summoned before the grand jury on Dec. 5 because several members of a grand jury he previously testified before believed--quite strongly--that he had lied to them about the circumstances surrounding an apparently unlawful, unethical arrest Jones made of an Oak Cliff woman named Inez Clark over a year ago.

One grand jury had already looked into whether or not Jones perjured himself on this--but that grand jury, conveniently enough, had a family acquaintance of Jones' on it, and so he was cleared.

This month's grand jury had no family acquaintances (or at least none that we know about) on it. But it did have Royce West intervening on Jones' behalf, brandishing what West described as an an official document from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that cleared his client of all possible wrongdoing.

"The only thing I can tell you is we presented some information to the grand jury from the Commission on Judicial Conduct that exonerated our client," West said last week. "I can't get into the particulars."

What's fascinating about this is that the commission--which received Inez Clark's complaint over a year ago--hasn't completed its investigation yet. So says its director, Robert Flowers, with whom I spoke last Saturday, two days before Christmas.

When the commission completes an investigation, he says, it sends official notification to the complainant and the judge in question.

"If a judge was exonerated, that would be a conclusion of the matter," Flowers says, "and at the same time, the complainant would get a letter so stating."

Inez Clark hasn't gotten any such letter. That's because there isn't any such letter at this point, Flowers says.

"I don't know what the senator has," Flowers says. "I haven't spoken to him. You'll have to ask him what document he's referring to."

But West isn't saying. The commission "hasn't released it to the public yet," West says. "It's a confidential document."

Really? Gee, that's interesting. How does a state senator get his hands on a "confidential document" that hasn't yet been disseminated to the public?

West is offended by this question. Then again, he isn't exactly giving me any information that would lead me to a better conclusion either.

"I am his lawyer, and needless to say, they've corresponded with him," he finally says cryptically, referring to some unknown letters between the commission and the judge.

West also peddled this doo-doo about official exoneration to The Dallas Morning News on the day the grand jury no-billed Jones. "Mr. West said...he presented the results of a recent review of Ms. Clark's complaint by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that found his client had done nothing wrong," the newspaper story read the next day.

Nine days after Inez Clark cried foul--explaining to the reporter who wrote the story that no such "results" existed--the paper printed the following correction: "An attorney's comments were reported incompletely regarding a judicial panel's action in a citizen's complaint against Justice of the Peace Thomas Jones," the paper stated. "The attorney, state Sen. Royce West, said the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had found no intentional wrongdoing by Judge Jones but had ordered him to receive 20 hours of mentoring from a more experienced judge."

It doesn't really matter when Inez Clark gets her official letter--the commission is not only slothful, it's grossly weak, rarely ever disciplining a judge. (Mentoring for a justice of the peace who's been in office for five years? Get rid of the guy!)

Nothing is going to happen to Jones unless the voters wise up when he comes up for reelection in three years. It's all enough to make Inez Clark--a proud, tenacious, smart black woman who is a topnotch former county probation officer and now owns an Oak Cliff funeral home with her husband--downright sick.

"It's the same ol', same ol'," Clark says. "People like Jones and West just have more connections than people like me to keep things like this from being pushed out in the open. And when they are pushed out in the open, they just say it's a race-based situation.  

"I'll put it like this," she adds. "Black people can do all the wrong in the world, but as long as they're black and elected and you have KKDA telling folks 'you're being raped, you can't make it, you're oppressed by the white man'--and John Wiley Price is the worst one of all on that--then whatever wrong a black elected official does is OK. It's covered up. It's allowed to go on. It's a double standard."

Have a great 1996, Inez Clark. And go get 'em.

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