PID on You

This is a photograph of the people from Preston Hollow North who came to City Hall last week. OK, that's not true. But this is sort of what they looked like.

When they come down to City Hall for council meetings, why don't the white people know how to behave? As a white person myself, I find it very embarrassing.

I'm not talking about people getting mad and acting up over an issue. Everybody does that. Human nature. I've tossed off a few catcalls of my own when things weren't going my way in a meeting. No, no, that's not it. I'm talking about people who don't even know how a public meeting works.

Last week a large crowd of white people came down to City Hall in support of a special city police force for the "Preston Hollow North" area, bounded by Preston, Royal, Hillcrest and Walnut Hill streets, in Councilman Mitchell Rasansky's district. The ones against it got to talk, and then the ones in favor had their chance. Then it was sit-down-and-shut-up time.


PID on You

You know? It's like court. In court you don't bounce up off your bench seat in the back and tell the judge what to do. You don't get to do that at a city council meeting, either. The people who are members of the council get to talk, because they ran for office, and there was an election, and the votes were counted, and they won.

One guy in a starched blue shirt stood up when he heard something he disagreed with and just marched up to the front of the room to tell the council off. When they ignored him and continued their debate, he stood there glaring at them and tapping on his watch, as if he thought they were the ones who had to shut up.

No, you. You shut up. And sit your big ass back down. You can't talk, buddy, because this is a city council meeting, and you ain't on the council.

Then we had the arm wavers. Several women moved to seats right up by the rail and sat there waving their arms while the council debated, as if they thought somebody needed to call on them. You know, like, "Teacher! Hey, teacher! I have something I want to tell you. Hey, teacher!"

I'd like to know where they went to high school. Kids in my school got kicked out of class for that. And not to be catty, but I might mention some decades have passed since most of these ladies were in high school.

They must sit in church and pull that stuff: "Hey, waaaait a minute! HE never said, 'Blessed are you who are poor.' C'mon. Can you prove that?"

You have to hope a crowd like that never breaks into the Merlot supply. Scary.

I should probably say that the people opposed to the Preston Hollow issue behaved pretty well. It was the proponents who were exhibiting extreme hyperactivity and "acting out" behavior, as they call it in the schools. I know they had to wait a while for their issue to come up on the agenda. Maybe their Ritalin was running low. But I suspect their behavior also expressed a certain sense of entitlement, which actually gets us to the issue itself.

The people from Preston Hollow North want permission to set up a special police force just for their neighborhood, manned by city of Dallas cops but paid for with a special tax they would impose only on their own neighborhood. The arrangement for collecting this special tax is called a "Public Improvement District" or PID.

The basic idea is that it's OK for this one area to have a higher level of police protection, if this one area is willing to pay for it. It's sort of like plague villages in the 17th century: They said, "We can't do anything about the plague, but we can sure build a wall and a moat around ourselves and pull up the drawbridge if we feel like it."

From what I saw at the council last week, many people in the Preston Hollow North neighborhood understand exactly what is wrong with this kind of thinking. One of the opponents, John Tiholiz, told the council that the PID plan "may be good for Preston Hollow, but it isn't good for our city. And it's not good public policy.

"The citizens of our community want more police protection from the Dallas Police Department," Tiholiz said. "Let's have it for everybody, not just for those of us in affluent neighborhoods who can pay for it. This proposal is divisive, and it encourages people to vote for their own narrow self-interests rather than the overall good of our city."


I might almost be able to excuse the thinking behind things like the Preston Hollow North PID, if I hadn't seen the attitude. Maybe we give them an inch and say it's understandable for people to feel frustration and even fear in a context of apparent government failure all around them. But then I put that thinking together with the arrogance of manner and the obvious lack of experience in the ways of democratic governance. And I think I get the picture.  

We want ours. We can pay for it. Screw the rest of you.

And it's not as if this whole business of hiring off-duty Dallas cops is squeaky-clean, either. Two weeks ago the Office of City Auditor published a report on the way the police department administers off-duty employment, and the results were pretty nasty. Basically, the police department maintains a paper shell of rules and regulations cops have to follow in order to work off-duty--permissions, reviews, all kinds of monitoring. The auditors found that virtually none of it gets done.

Off-duty work by Dallas police officers, a huge industry, is almost totally unregulated. The audit found that the Dallas P.D. really has no idea if its cops are working off-duty for drug dealers, whorehouses or strip joints. And guess who provides the vehicles and holds the liability for all of that? You and me, pardner. Us taxpayers.

I've had some personal experience with off-duty patrols in my own neighborhood and with the whole concept of PIDs. Scratch one of these operations, and you'll find somebody pimping for the off-duty cops, eager to create another money machine to support off-duty employment.

I have to admit there were things I liked about having off-duty cops working for me when I was on the neighborhood patrol committee in my own part of town. The cops who worked for our neighborhood came to our monthly patrol meetings because, after all, we were the juice. We paid them. So they got to know our faces.

One day I was speeding pretty badly, a good 20 mph over the limit, on Skillman Street about a mile and a half from my neighborhood, and they zapped me with the laser. That's the one that's worse than radar: The second they hit you with that sucker, you're dead to rights. I was already calculating my new insurance premiums as I slowed down to pick up my ticket.

But it was one of our cops! One of the ones we owned! He looked sort of disgusted, but he waved me on. No tickee! As I proceeded up Skillman, I thought, "Cool! I can break the law! Why am I messing with this newspaper job? I need to go knock over a couple banks."

But the magic wore off. We have this upstairs/downstairs thing going on in our neighborhood--a boulevard of grand mansions with little side streets lined with lesser homes, all of us mashed into the same historic district by law. It was OK when we were all ex-hippies fixing up our own houses, but some years ago the suburbanoids started moving into the big houses, and they didn't understand why they had to have little-house people in their same neighborhood.

The big-house ladies formed a tea party guild and deliberately excluded women from the side streets. Bad blood ever since.

Most of us had always paid voluntarily into the off-duty cop fund. We didn't have a PID with power of taxation. It was like everything else we were used to doing in the 'hood: strictly volunteer.

Imagine how unhappy we were one summer evening when the off-duty cops kept slow-patrolling us on our side street. We were all just out there chilling, strolling door to door, some people with beers and glasses of wine, some not. I flagged the car down and said to my friend, the cop, "Tell me you're not patrolling us."

He looked really embarrassed. He said, "Well, some of the ladies in the guild are worried you guys might get out of hand."

When you put things on that small a scale, everything starts to operate like a hick town. You better hope some neighbor who doesn't like you doesn't get authority over the off-duty patrol.

You can imagine how unenthusiastic we were on my street when the tea party guild proposed a PID. Good grief. Then the tea party would have a full-time military wing. We got it killed.

The Preston Hollow North PID wound up in a bizarre middle-ground status after last week's meeting, maybe enacted and maybe not, depending on the results of a survey by City Hall that's supposed to be going on right now. But PIDs are springing up all over town.

You can count on this. Once an affluent neighborhood is able to enact its own private government in this way, the majority of its residents will never again support improved services for the rest of the city. They've already got their own.  

How much community-mindedness do you expect? These are people who don't even know how to act at a community meeting. If you suspect the problem there is lack of experience, I suspect you are probably right.

To be fair, it's not always these white people's fault. Some of them may have grown up in far-flung suburbs, small towns and other enclaves where it wasn't easy to gain political experience. But didn't they have student government?

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