Look back in confusion
Dallas 1998. Think back with us to the unique, exciting moments over the past year. Really, we mean it. Think back with us. Better yet, think back for us, because, frankly, Buzz's memory is not what it was before we discovered beer many, many years ago.
Let's see. We recall that it was hot--that damn El Nino thing. City Hall's attention was focused on several big-ticket projects while code enforcement lagged and ever-growing potholes ate our car alignments. The Dallas Independent School District was a mess. The Cowboys needed coaching. Big business was in charge of city government. Mayor Ron Kirk and Laura Miller were starring in their own Punch and Judy Show at 1500 Marilla.
Wait a minute. Was that 1997 or 1998? Or, God forbid, tomorrow?
Don't fret. After spending several hours hanging with the winos at the downtown library reading back issues of the Dallas Observer and The Dallas Morning News, Buzz is here to sort out The Year That Was. Actually, only we were reading old copies of the Morning News. The winos had better taste.
Unfortunately, trying to grasp a full year of history by reading newspapers is like trying to watch an opera by peeping through a keyhole. You miss the grand sweep of things. To provide a sense of perspective, Buzz took the liberty of filling in a few blanks here and there.
In other words, we made some stuff up, so read at your own risk.
Of course, no serious year-end chronicle--or even one like this--is complete without a theme. We considered several: "Going for the Gold" (too obvious); "Purple Haze" (Remember the smoke from Mexico?); "Mooned River" (for the Trinity Project).
In the end, we turned to the city staff of Carrollton and copped their name for the suburb's disastrous decision last summer to bulldoze a poop-fouled egret rookery. So strike your best Pete Townshend air-guitar pose, shout out a few choruses of "Won't Get Fooled Again," and dive into this:
Operation Remove Excrement.
What are the odds?
Dallas rings in the new year with the birth of two boys who tie for the honor of being the city's first newborns of 1998. The news is doubly good when it turns out that neither child is the illegitimate offspring of any member of the Cowboys--as far as we know.
Let them eat hockey
Giving Marie Antoinette a run for the money in the gall department, media gazillionaire Tom Hicks announces he will buy the Texas Rangers for more than $250 million--just weeks before Dallas residents will vote on whether to raise hotel and car-rental taxes to pay the city's $125 million share of a new $230 million sports arena, a place where millionaire athletes will compete on teams owned by Hicks and fellow gazillionaire H. Ross Perot Jr.
Does such a vulgar display of avarice enrage the populace to reject this bit of corporate welfare? Of course not, you silly. This is Dallas, where if you've got it, you flaunt it, baby. Then you get some more.
The pro-arena campaign, largely financed by Hicks and Perot, outspends opponents by around 25 to 1 and wins by less than 2,000 votes. The two million bucks spent to purchase the more than 62,000 "yes" votes comes out to just under $32 per vote, giving new meaning to the phrase "chump change."
Among those endorsing the arena is the Dallas Police Association, which comes out in favor of the proposal a day after Mayor Ron Kirk, the chief arena booster, says he favors adding more money for a new police headquarters to a May bond proposal. Kirk and DPA officials say this is just a happy coincidence.
"There is a thing...by the name of pitch: This pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile."
That's right. Buzz reads Shakespeare, and not just the comics versions either. After beginning this essay with mentions of moons, poop, and excrement, allow us to class things up with a touch of Henry IV as it applies to Matthew Harden, former chief financial officer of the Dallas Independent School District.
Harden, one of DISD's casualties in the fall of Yvonne Gonzalez, spent much of the past year fending off accusations that he took kickbacks from a roofing-contract scam at the school district. Contractor William Risby and former DISD supervisor James Hargrave will be sentenced to prison later in the year for their part in the scheme and will implicate Harden, irrevocably tarring his reputation. (Pitch, tar, roof. Work with us. We'll get back to being lowbrow soon enough.)
Harden, who would resign in February, rings in 1998 facing allegations that he gave his homebuilder nearly $20,000 in cash for improvements to his house, making the payments in amounts just under $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements for cash transactions--a process known as "smurfing" among money launderers. Harden claims that he was unaware of the law and weeks later turns up a check receipt that he says shows he did not make all cash payments.
Did we mention that he was chief financial officer at DISD?
Despite the allegations, lawsuits, and damning leaks from federal investigators, Harden to this day has not been charged with any crime. That makes him a criminal genius, a lucky idiot, or a man done more wrong by the authorities than The Fugitive's Richard Kimble.
We did what?
Of course, it doesn't take a Meyer Lansky to float financial shenanigans past DISD's crack board of trustees, as they prove in January when they approve the sale of Crozier Tech High School for more than $6.1 million. Trustees also agree to pay a 6 percent commission to the real estate broker on the deal, despite the commission's being in violation of district policy. The board claims they unknowingly OK'd a contract for the sale without being told by district staff that the commission was included. In an effort to make up the $366,000 commission, the board, on staff's advice, votes to invest the $6.1 million in a "really hot bridge property in Brooklyn." The investment will be made in payments to a guy named Sid in cash amounts of less than $10,000.
Quid, yes, but no quo
DISD trustee Don Venable says that the law firm of Bickel & Brewer, Matthew Harden's attorneys in a lawsuit against former board President Kathleen Leos, offered to help finance his school board campaign. Venable claims the firm was trying to influence his vote in favor of a settlement with Harden.
Taking a page from the police association's playbook, a firm spokesman swears that their offer and Venable's potential vote were just a happy coincidence. "It's totally absurd. We're interested in being good citizens," the spokesman says, presumably with a straight face.
Trustees will eventually pay Harden $600,000 to settle the lawsuit.
We wish this were true
In what becomes known as the "Dallas Police Association defense," one Wanda Delatouche pleads not guilty in a Dallas court to charges of prostitution, explaining: "Yes, there was money exchanged. And yes, I had oral sex with the man in question. But the two events were just a happy coincidence."
Former DISD superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez, who in January filed for personal bankruptcy, is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $16,279 in restitution for misappropriating school district money to purchase a collection of froufrou furniture for her home and office, including an ivory-inlaid pagoda for displaying knickknacks. In addition to her prison time, which Gonzalez will begin serving in March, the judge orders her to read Town and Country and Martha Stewart Living "to correct her really tacky taste."
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Chan Gailey is named Cowboys head coach, replacing Barry Switzer, who was fired in January. Why did the Pokes' owner Jerry Jones pick Gailey? You weren't home when Jones called.
City council members Don Hicks and Al Lipscomb announce that they are under investigation by federal authorities.
As the year passes, the investigation purportedly focuses on Lipscomb and whether he received money from Yellow Cab in exchange for favorable votes.
"I'm not in the business of buying political influence," Yellow Cab's owner Floyd Richards says.
The relationship between the money given to Lipscomb and his council votes is purely a coincidence--though not a happy one for Lipscomb.
Real men don't sue
Former Cowboys coach Barry Switzer returns to Dallas to face a civil suit alleging he assaulted two larger, younger men at the Melrose Hotel in 1994.
Plaintiff Randy Mayes tearfully testifies that the incident, in which Switzer tapped Mayes on the chest and called him a "big son of bitch" who could play pro football, left him so emotionally bruised that he has trouble concentrating at work. Fellow plaintiff Stephon Bolton claims Switzer attacked him and called him a "black expletive." He testifies that the incident left him prone to panic attacks and fits of crying.
The men want money--at least $400,000--to calm their nerves and dry their eyes.
A weeping Switzer testifies that he loves black people and only meant his actions in a playful "guy" sort of way.
A jury finds in favor of Switzer and recommends in their verdict that all three men should "buck up and act like they've got a pair."
Stop it, you're killing us
Laura Miller formally files to run for the District 3 city council seat. As an Observer columnist, Miller at various times called Ron Kirk a "soap salesman" and "chief water carrier" for big business and referred to assorted city council members as pompous ignoramuses, clueless, and lazy. Nevertheless, she quickly shows promise for having what it takes to serve in Dallas politics--the ability to say patently ridiculous things without flinching. She tells the Morning News:
"Am I going to sit around the [council] horseshoe and yell and scream and be vitriolic and accuse people of things? No. I'm going to get on the council--hopefully--and work with everybody, have good relations with everybody."
Three Observer staffers are rushed to local hospitals to repair hernias caused by violent, uncontrollable laughter.
When neutering isn't an option
In what its officers swear is an honest mistake, the Dallas Rotary Club gives travel bags to DISD board members attending a luncheon, only to find out that club members left a pack of Trojan-Enz condoms in the bag given to trustee Don Venable.
This clever, noble attempt to keep the DISD board from breeding fails when Venable--a.k.a. The Horse--notes that the rubbers aren't extra large.
On a happier note, the Rotary Club later announces that attendance at subsequent luncheons is up 300 percent.
God phone home
Members of God's Salvation Church gather in Garland to await the coming of the Lord, who they believe will appear on Channel 18 on March 25, a week before he arrives in a UFO to take the faithful home.
On March 24, TCI cable announces a new channel alignment under which Channel 18 will be made pay-per-view, available to subscribers for a nominal, one-time fee of $300,000. God doesn't show. His L.A.-based agent will later claim that "the whole deal fell through when those bloodsuckers at TCI tried to screw us on the video rights."
The Observer opens the month with a cover story profiling the Dallas law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, attorneys for Paula Jones. The story describes at length how the feisty firm single-handedly breathed life into Jones' moribund sexual harassment suit against President Clinton.
The day the story hits the streets, an Arkansas federal judge dismisses Jones' suit. Deciding to play it safe, editors at the Observer put on hold plans for a follow-up story, tentatively titled "Monica Lewinsky, the virgin intern."
What a Dick
U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey tells Coppell High School students that he believes President Clinton "is a shameless person." Armey should know. Two months later he will lead his party in kowtowing to the religious right by declaring that gay people are sinners.
An embarrassed scoutmaster apologizes to angry parents after members of Lake Highlands Boy Scout Troop 890 are turned loose on a flock of terrorized chickens, whose necks the boys are expected to wring in order to teach the scouts how food is acquired.
"We should have known better," the troop leader says. "There's not a Boy Scout alive who needs to be taught how to choke the chicken."
The day before the vote on a $543.5 million bond package that includes $246 million for the city's portion of the $1.2 billion Trinity Plan of levees, roads, parks, and lakes, Mayor Kirk writes an op-ed piece in the Morning News urging passage:
"I'm not saying the Trinity will be the same as Town Lake in Austin or Central Park in New York or the River Walk in San Antonio...Dallas deserves something unique."
Voters, after being lured with images of sailboats on a downtown lake and people frolicking in a tree-filled riverside park, approve the Trinity Plan by roughly 2,300 votes. As the year wears on, they learn exactly what "unique" means.
The new, improved Trinity will be a bit like Town Lake, except there may not be a lake. Or, if there is, it might be too tiny for sailing. If it's big enough for sailing, you might want to think twice about hopping in, as the water may be too polluted.
It will be a lot like the River Walk, provided you don't mind walking along controlled-access freeways that will buzz alongside the park, which you may have to dart across to get to the park, as building exit ramps might be too expensive.
It will be much like Central Park, except that it probably won't have trees, since you can't plant those in a floodplain. It will, however, have one thing in common with Central Park: muggings. Namely, of the 38,000 people who voted for the project.
Buy a shredder, Mike
Notes written by Republican state District Judge Mike Keasler during the 1980s and recovered from the trash are leaked to the press. In them, Keasler suggests removing blacks from a jury pool and refers to someone as "the national tearduct of Mexico." Keasler, a candidate for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, apologizes.
In a rare show of unanimity, black and Hispanic legal and civil rights organizations urge him to resign and nominate him for "the state sphincter of Texas."
Keasler is elected to the appeals court.
David Schwarz, designer of Fort Worth's Bass Performance Hall and the Ballpark at Arlington, is chosen to design the new arena. A competing architect complains that Schwarz's design looks like a "historical train station."
The train-station comparison proves prescient, as arena developer Hillwood Development spends much of the summer trying unsuccessfully to persuade the city council that the best place to build a future DART rail station and line is on the west side of the arena, where it will serve Hillwood's development and essentially cut off the neighboring West End.
Show them the money
Two months after being given an 8 percent pay raise by the city council, City Manager John Ware announces that he is resigning to run an inner-city investment company financed by Tom Hicks. The Stars owner, who suffers from a deficient sense of irony, says that he was impressed by Ware's skills during negotiations over public financing for the arena deal. Days later, the Morning News reports that the wife of Mayor Ron Kirk earned $500,000 over the past two years on stock options she received while serving for one year on the board of a Hicks-owned company.
City Attorney Sam Lindsay states that neither deal violates the city's code of ethics.
Outraged, council member Laura Miller calls for revamping the ethics code, which is currently contained on a 3-by-5 index card and merely prohibits city employees or officials from dealing heroin on city property during business hours.
President Clinton attends a fund-raising dinner at the home of Dallas arts patron Ray Nasher, where he raises at least $500,000 for Democratic causes. Viewing some of Nasher's sculpture collection afterward, Clinton notes that a female figure by Rodin "is kinda fat, but she's got a great pair of hoots."
The Downtown Improvement District and the Belo Foundation announce plans to "upgrade" Ferris Plaza by chopping down and replacing 21 mature live oaks. The plaza is located near the Morning News and Belo offices and is a roosting spot for those winged pooping machines called grackles. Tree preservationists, who will eventually succeed in blocking the plan, suspect that getting rid of the birds is the real motive for whacking down the trees. Their suspicions are confirmed when it is revealed that volunteers from Lake Highlands Boy Scout Troop 890 would have been in charge of clearing the trees.
Father of the *#@&! year
Less than a month after being named the YMCA's Dallas "Father of the Year," Mayor Ron Kirk is caught on tape in an unguarded moment as he returns a telephone call to Craig Flournoy, a Morning News reporter. Flournoy isn't in, but his voice-mail recorder continues to record Kirk after the mayor thinks he has hung up the phone.
"Fuck Craig Flournoy," the mayor says as he begins a tirade aimed at bothersome sons-of-bitches and his secretary's "up-and-down fucking attitude."
The religious right realizes they have lost a possible family-values candidate.
Just plain goofy
The state board of education votes to divest the Permanent School Fund of $43 million in Walt Disney Co. stock. Conservative board members say they are protesting Disney's distribution of violent and racy films. More likely, Disney is targeted for daring to defy homophobic Southern religious groups by offering Gay Days at its theme parks and health insurance to same-sex partners of its employees.
In response, Disney announces two new animated characters to join Mickey, Goofy, and the gang--Andy Armadillo, a wacky trailer-dwelling redneck, and Alice, his cousin and wife.
Operation Remove Excrement
A bitter controversy erupts in Carrollton after the city hires members of Lake Highlands Boy Scout Troop 890 to bulldoze a densely populated egret roost that officials say poses a health hazard.
Braving the cudgels of bloodthirsty Webelos, outraged residents gather injured birds from piles of brush and turn them over to a local animal-rescue agency. In response to hundreds of complaints, the Carrollton City Council suspends three city staff members and agrees to pay $126,000 to rehabilitate the surviving injured birds.
After dodging questions about his educational background for weeks, DISD school board candidate Richard Evans finally admits that he does not have a high school diploma, despite his previous claims that he graduated from Roosevelt High School. His support rapidly evaporates, but Evans stalwartly stays in the race, providing an example to at-risk students everywhere: Stay in school. Get a good education. Get a good job, or else you, too, might end up running for the Dallas school board one day.
Evans loses in a runoff to Se-Gwen Tyler.
Wanted: loaves and fishes
Dallas' Roman Catholic Diocese announces its intent to sell the historic St. Ann's school to raise money to pay its more than $23 million judgment to compensate the victims of pedophile priest Rudy Kos. The sale is delayed indefinitely after angry Hispanic parishioners attempt to have the building in the city's Little Mexico neighborhood declared a historic landmark.
In response, the diocese announces that bingo cards at Catholic charity events will now cost $3,000 each.
Takes one to know one
In a speech at the Reform Party's national convention, Ross Perot Sr. calls President Clinton "mentally and emotionally unstable," says he has a "defective brain," and likens him to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, and Saddam Hussein.
Buoyed by the news that a defective brain isn't a block to serving in the nation's highest office, convention delegates urge Perot to run for president in 2000.
The blue candidate
In a speech at City Hall's Flag Room, Mayor Ron Kirk announces that he will seek another term in office.
Moments after he exits the room apparently unaware that he is still wearing a wireless microphone, Kirk's voice is broadcast to stunned reporters saying, "God, I hate talking to those sons-of-bitches with their up-and-down fucking attitudes."
Don't let it happen again
In a bit of happy news, Rend Marine finishes dredging White Rock Lake a year early and $400,000 under budget. The joy is cut short when the company officials begin receiving death threats from other private contractors with government business, who warn Rend that if they "ever pull a stunt like that again, somebody will dredge you up from the bottom of a lake."
Close, but no cigar
It turns out the God's Salvation Church was off only by five months and a few miles, as God finally makes his metroplex appearance: Ray Hunt shows up at Dallas City Council chambers.
Hunt appears to defend public investment in his Reunion Hyatt development weeks after a divided council grants him a $3 million tax abatement for a planned expansion of the hotel. His appearance sparks a reaction that the Morning News describes as a "tizzy."
Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss leads the faithful in genuflecting before the godfather of Dallas' big developers, thanking Hunt for the bountiful blessings he has bestowed on the city in exchange for their tithing of tax breaks and cheap land.
"Gosh, we're sorry we didn't thank you sooner," Poss tells Hunt.
Only Laura Miller, whose heart verily is hardened, expresses some skepticism at Hunt's benevolence. She returns home later that evening to find her yard swarming with toads and locusts.
Wanted: one messiah
DISD trustees begin soliciting opinions from the community about what qualities they desire in Dallas' next school superintendent.
Board member Jose Plata says, "I want the Messiah. I want someone who is incorruptible."
Ray Hunt isn't available, so trustees set their sights a bit lower, saying they're looking for "someone who can add and won't steal much."
One banana, two banana
Researchers at Columbia University announce they have found evidence that some monkeys have a rudimentary sense of numbers and are able to roughly count up to eight items.
DISD trustees turn their search for a new superintendent toward the Dallas Zoo.
Long Don gone
Don "Boogie Nights" Venable resigns his seat on the DISD board to "explore opportunities in film."
Going, going, gone
DISD auctions off the furniture purchased with stolen district funds by former Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez. The items sold include Ming Dynasty reproductions and ornate cherrywood pieces--among them a six-piece bedroom set in a French flower design.
The winning bidder, at $8,100, is Madame Latour's Goodtime Nookery just outside Reno, Nevada.
The U.S. Olympic Committee tells organizers of Dallas' private bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics that they must show the city council all significant paperwork involved in the city's bid, after chief Olympics booster Tom Luce refuses to turn over the proposed bid agreement to council member Laura Miller.
Several city council members will later complain that they fear they will be inundated with paperwork to read, and say they only want to be given "the important stuff--as long as it doesn't have any real hard words."
A child shall lead them
Mayor Kirk holds his first town hall meeting with Dallas children at City Hall, shaking hands, signing autographs, and fielding questions, including one from an 11-year-old boy who asks what it's like to be mayor of a big city.
His reply: "I'll tell you, kid, sometimes it can be a real kick in the ass, dealing with all of these sons-of-bitches and their up-and-down fucking attitudes."
Three banana, four
More than 41,000 votes are not tallied on election night because of a glitch in Dallas County's new $3.8 million tabulation system. County commissioners order election officials to look into acquiring some monkeys.
Tempers flare as the city council debates whether to require Dallas Olympic organizers to provide council members with copies of all documents related to the bid.
Laura Miller and fellow council member Barbara Mallory Caraway get into a shouting match after Caraway accuses Miller of needless bickering and Miller says, "Let's get personal," asking Caraway how much money she receives from the Dallas Citizens Council, a business lobbying group.
The next day, TCI cable and boxing promoter Don King announce a joint venture to begin airing the city government's access channel on pay-per-view.
City council members begin nominating appointees to a new ethics committee. Created over the objection of Mayor Kirk and at the insistence of Laura Miller, the panel will review and recommend changes to the city's code of ethics.
In what we suspect is an effort at payback for Miller, council member Don Hicks nominates former council member Chris Luna to the panel, and Barbara Mallory Caraway names her husband, Dwaine Caraway. Both were targets of Miller's acid-dipped pen when she was an Observer columnist.
Not to be outdone, other Miller opponents on the council begin sifting through her old high school yearbooks, searching for jilted former boyfriends who might be willing to serve on the ethics committee.
The fat lady warms up her voice
Capping a year of fruitless negotiations and legal wrangling, the U.S. Department of Transportation endorses federal control over Love Field flights. The decision is at odds with an earlier ruling by a Fort Worth state district judge that restricted long-haul flights from Love because, he said, they would violate a contract between Fort Worth and Dallas intended to protect DFW International.
The move is good news for upstart Legend Airlines, which prompted the fight when it began plans to start flying jets from Love in a direct challenge to behemoth American Airlines.
Showing that crush-'em-at-all-costs spirit that made it so beloved among Dallas air travelers, American announces that it will begin equipping all its flights at DFW with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
Must be that new math
City officials announce that a shortfall in the municipal pension fund has reached $26 million because managers overestimated returns on investments. The news comes despite years of declarations by former City Manager John Ware that the fund was in fine shape.
A nervous-looking Tom Hicks, worried about the accounting savvy of his new business partner Ware, offers the Dallas Zoo $25 million for "every monkey you've got."
And that's the way it was in 1998--sort of.
This is the point where, if Buzz were Don Rickles, we'd become all mealy-mouthed and tell you that all the mean things we said here and over the past year were just jokes. You've been a wonderful audience, really, and we love each and every one of you--the mayor, the politicos, business people, the Boy Scouts (but only in a platonic sense), and Don Venable (really only in a platonic sense).
And each and every person Buzz has buzzed over the past 12 months would understand, and smile, and promptly tell us to go screw ourselves, because who are we trying to kid?
Then they might ask, Why? Why do we each week take random potshots at authority? Well, mostly because we're paid for it, but partly because in Dallas the distance between what is said, what is unsaid, and what is true is sometimes so great and so absurd, we feel compelled to point out that the emperor is, in fact, buck-naked.
So on whom will we set our mercenary, cynical sights in 1999?
Let's see, work on the arena should be speeding up. The search for a DISD superintendent will likely be heating up. The Trinity Project should begin creaking along. Dallas most likely will continue to be managed by and for developers. The fight over Love Field should continue.
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