It's January again, time for us to take one last gratuitous unkind swipe at the various adults who spent the past 12 months doing the grown-up stuff that keeps Dallas a functioning city, such as it is.
Maybe it's because we're getting older, but Buzz is feeling kind of bad about it this time around. Could it be that we're developing a conscience? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical question; we want to know. Never had one before, so we're not sure what it's like. Is it kind of a nervous, gassy feeling, or is that just the burrito and large latte we had for lunch?
Perhaps what's troubling us is that picture of Terrell Bolton on the cover, his face tracked with tears. Last summer, the man was unexpectedly fired from his well-paying job as chief of police then broke down in tears while speaking to his supporters, and now here we come to give him one more swift kick while he's down. Really, now, is it so wrong for a grown man to blubber in public? At long last, does Buzz have no sense of decency?
Poor ol' Terrell. Poor, poor Terrell.
Listen, buddy, let Buzz try to make it up to you with a tiny, embarrassing confession concerning the one thing that without fail puts a catch in our throat. It's a poem, and not even a good poem at that, but rather "Barbara Frietchie" by John Greenleaf Whittier, about Confederate soldiers shooting at an American flag while marching through a town in Maryland. "Bowed with her fourscore years and ten," Frietchie grabs the tattered, falling flag and shouts to the rebels. "'Shoot, if you must, this old gray head/But spare your country's flag,' she said."
Gets us every time. Sniff.
So really, Terrell, sorry about the cracks about your weeping. Turns out we're just a big softie, too. If it makes you feel any better, just consider this: Even Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who's tougher than a $2 steak, reportedly shed a tear or two in the locker room after the team's upset victory over Carolina in November. Of course, the Pokes lost the next two games after that by a combined score of 76-31, so maybe that's a bad example.
Oooh, oooh! Here's one: Last fall, one of the people falsely arrested by your department in the fake-drug scandal--you remember it; it's the one you failed to investigate--broke down in tears on the witness stand during the trial of narcotics officer Mark DeLaPaz and...no, wait...DeLaPaz was acquitted. Those tears were fruitless, too, which likely is also a pretty good word to describe the city's long-delayed investigation into the scandal.
You know what, Terrell? Forget what we said. It is wrong for a man to cry in public--especially in undeserved self-pity--and Buzz, at long last, has no sense of decency. (A trait we might share with a certain former Dallas civil servant.) We're going to have a Tums to put our "conscience" to rest, and you can take your lumps along with everyone else. But that whole "Barbara Frietchie" thing--let's just keep that between us. We'd never live it down at the office.
For the rest of you, here it is, Buzz's look back at the local news of 2003. Read 'em and weep.
Fresh air: In January, the Dallas City Council votes 10-3 to ban smoking in restaurants, effective March 1. Outraged smokers gather to rally against the ban, but their effort fizzles when wheezing protesters halt halfway up the steps to City Hall, complaining of shortness of breath and rapid, irregular heartbeats. "This...huh, whew, give me a sec...is an...hack, hack...attack on our...cough, cough...oh, screw it, I need a cig to settle my nerves," complains one of the rally leaders, the late Chester Field.
Blind leading blind: A police anti-narcotics "street squad" that was once home to two officers implicated in the city's fake-drug scandal, in which Mexican immigrants were planted with ground-up billiard chalk and gypsum and framed for drug possession, is dissolved, The Dallas Morning News reports. One of the remaining squad members is reassigned to training within the narcotics unit. "We figure if anyone in the department knows the difference between chalk and cocaine, it would be him, and he should share that information with the rest of us," a police spokesman says.
Rolling billboards: The Denton County community of Hickory Creek becomes the first in the Dallas area to sign up for a new service that provides low-cost police patrol cars featuring commercial advertising on the vehicles. Dallas city officials consider a similar deal but reject it when the only advertisers willing to take part are a billiard-chalk manufacturer and a Sheetrock supply company.
Tuna salad: Coach Bill Parcells comes out of retirement to take the helm of the struggling Dallas Cowboys, eventually leading the team to its first playoff berth since 1937. In a successful effort to refocus the team's attention on the game and remove pointless distractions from the clubhouse, Parcells bans loud music and games from the locker room, revokes owner Jerry Jones' season tickets and parking pass and changes all the locks at Texas Stadium.
Mr. Smith goes to Phoenix: The Cowboys release running back Emmitt Smith, the National Football League's all-time leading rusher. In an emotional farewell, the aging Smith tells fans that he did not wish to be a burden to the Cowboys, but he hoped to continue his career in professional football. His hopes are dashed, however, when he instead signs with the Arizona Cardinals.
Bad sign: Dallas County commissioners vote 4-1 to retain a "Whites Only" sign above a water fountain in the Records Building downtown. The sign, a remnant of Texas' Jim Crow days, had been covered, but commissioners decide it should be revealed and remain as a reminder of blacks' struggle for civil rights. The decision prompts black protesters to gather near the Highland Park home of County Judge Margaret Keliher in April, but the rally is broken up when Highland Park police inform the protesters that the affluent suburb remains for whites only.
Party poops: Embarrassed Texas A&M officials cancel a "ghetto-themed" dormitory party at which students were expected to dress to mimic black stereotypes on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. News of the party breaks a week after A&M President Robert Gates promised to improve diversity at the school, where only 3 percent of the students are black. Not to be outdone, students at Dallas' Paul Quinn College announce they will celebrate Confederate Heroes Day with a "get-drunk-and-hump-your-cracker-sister dance."
Off and running: Mayor Laura Miller kicks off her campaign for re-election, which will pit the former Dallas Observer columnist against her longtime city council rival Mary Poss. Miller's campaign soon runs into opposition from City Hall workers, who begin wearing yellow buttons emblazoned with the numeral "5" and the words "I have mine! Do you?" The buttons refer to a drive among city employees to find five other staff members who vow to vote against Miller. Their effort flags, however, when it turns out that only four City Hall employees actually live in the city and are eligible to vote. "I don't like Miller, but I'll be damned if I'm going to move to Dallas from DeSoto," says one of the anti-Miller campaign organizers. "There's just too much crime there, and the streets and city services suck."
One for the birds: Dallas County prosecutors credit a cockatoo with providing crucial evidence leading to the capital murder conviction of Frank Torres in February. The 18-inch bird pecked and bloodied Torres' head as he attacked the bird's owner, and Torres' blood was left behind at the crime scene, leading to his arrest, the Morning News reports. Mayor Miller attempts to contact the bird to discuss taking an unspecified "leadership position" with the Dallas Police Department but is disappointed to learn that it died in the attack as well. "Looks like we'll just have to stick with the same old birdbrain for now," Miller says.
Beggars, no banquet: The Dallas City Council votes 12-1 to ban panhandling on public property near city streets and within 25 feet of banks, automated teller machines, gas pumps, car washes, pay phones and bus stops. Violators of the ordinance face fines of up to $500, payable in the form of cash, aluminum cans, discarded bottles or 3 gallons of blood plasma.
Fit the profile: Dallas police issue a report revealing that black and Hispanic motorists stopped for traffic violations are roughly two to three times more likely than whites to be subjected to searches. The data was compiled under a new state law intended to end the practice of racial profiling, though police Chief Terrell Bolton says the results do not necessarily mean that city officers were engaged in profiling. "Everybody knows that black folks and Mexicans like sedans with big trunks and white folks like to drive big honkin' SUVs with lots of glass and no trunks," Bolton says, "So, sure, we don't have to search them as much. That's not racial profiling. You can just look inside." The data also shows that blondes under the age of 30 are 14 times more likely to receive warning tickets than males or "fat, old or ugly chicks."
Schlock and awe: With American troops engaged in combat in Iraq, the Texas Rangers kick off the baseball season at home with a morale-boosting patriotic extravaganza featuring a flyover by a B-1 bomber from Dyess Air Force Base. Unfortunately for the fans, the plane passes overhead without dropping anything, forcing the Rangers to continue playing the remainder of the season.
Boobs: Jacqueline Mercado and her boyfriend, Johnny Fernandez, regain custody of their 1-year-old son, who had been taken from them by the state after the couple was indicted in January on charges of sexual performance of a child. The Peruvian couple had taken photos of Mercado breast-feeding her son, and Richardson police arrested the pair after they had the pictures developed at a drugstore. Prosecutors later drop the charges upon discovering that images of breast-feeding mothers are not generally considered whacking material except to sick twisted deviants and members of the Richardson Police Department.
Just the facts: A tempest erupts when the Mary Poss mayoral campaign mails out a flier that erroneously states that a proposed $555 million city bond issue would lead to a 20 percent increase in property taxes, rather than the 5 percent calculated by the city. Chagrined, the campaign issues a correction that also notes that Poss did not invent the Internet, is not a decorated Vietnam War veteran, did inhale and did not "shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
Wing and a prayer: American Airlines' efforts to avoid bankruptcy hit a snag when union members learn that the airline intends to maintain lucrative bonuses and retirement perks for top executives while asking unions to approve more than $1.6 billion in wage and benefit cuts. "Let them eat cake," American's chief executive Donald Carty tells irate union leaders when they demand an explanation for the disparity. Bankruptcy is avoided after Carty resigns and union members agree to the concessions, which include giving foot massages to senior executive staff.
Ruh-roh: Laura Miller handily wins re-election as mayor, outpolling Poss 56-40 percent. Miller's campaign is boosted at the last minute by a troupe of teenagers and their anthropomorphic talking dog, who pull a mask from Poss' face to reveal she is, in fact, disgraced former city council member Al Lipscomb, Miller's longtime nemesis. "It would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids," Lipscomb/Poss says.
Movin' on up: The Park Cities People draws fire when it publishes a story announcing the arrival of the first black homeowners in Highland Park. Some readers complain that the story is racially insensitive and places the suburb in a bad light. "Highland Park is actually a very friendly place," the head of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce says. "We welcome all races and creeds as long as they're rich and not, you know, Irish." (With apologies to Mel Brooks.)
Cattle call: As part of an effort to improve its sinking business, American Airlines announces that it will add coach seats to about a quarter of the company's jets, reversing the airline's 2-year-old "More Room Throughout Coach" campaign that removed some seats. "We considered adding hanging straps like on buses, but apparently there's some persnickety FAA rule that requires seatbelts even for the unwashed rabble back in coach," an American spokesman says.
Hah-effing-hah: A federal grand jury indicts former police Senior Corporal Mark DeLaPaz on six charges of filing false reports stemming from the city's fake-drug cases. DeLaPaz is later acquitted, which means that no one in any official capacity has ever been held accountable in the scandal that led to the false arrest and imprisonment of dozens, mostly immigrants. Following DeLaPaz's not-guilty verdict, and nearly two years after news of the scandal broke, the city convenes its own panel to get to the bottom of the incidents. (If you're wondering where Buzz's joke is in this item, just reread that last sentence.)
Peep show: Prompted by parents' complaints, Shands Elementary School in Mesquite removes video "cameras" it had installed in two boys restrooms to cut down on "horseplay" and "unsanitary conditions. " Police in nearby Richardson had requested copies of recordings from the cameras for what officials there termed "a related investigation and, um, stuff" but were disappointed to learn the cameras were in fact fakes and recorded nothing. "Looks like we're gonna have to keep renting our videos," a Richardson PD spokesman says.
Free at last: U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders declares that the Dallas Independent School District is officially no longer segregated, ending more than three decades of federal court oversight of Dallas schools. "Well, all the white families have moved out of the district or shipped their kids off to private school. I guess you can call that desegregated," Sanders writes in his ruling. "Shoot, what am I supposed to do, bus the little snots in from Plano?"
Eye of the beholder: Laura Miller begins serving her first full term as mayor in June, telling the Morning News that she wants to restore the city's grandeur. "I ran for this job because I want to live in the city of my recollection--the most beautiful city in America," Miller says. "Whazzat? You say I'm mayor of Dallas, not Seattle? Holy shit, what have I been drinking?" Undeterred, Miller pledges to go ahead with her civic-improvement schemes. "We've nailed the bums and the smokers. Next we're going after fat guys and women who wear white after Labor Day."
Gay old time religion: Meeting in Arizona, the Southern Baptist Convention unveils an effort to reach out to gays and lesbians through the denomination's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals. "Sure, we still think they're abominations in the eyes of the Lord and destined for an eternity of hellfire and pain, but that doesn't mean we won't welcome them," a convention spokesman says. "We're really hoping they can bring some style to our congregations," he adds. "We're getting sick of Jell-O molds and chili-mac at church suppers, plus too many deacons still wear short-sleeved shirts with clip-on ties. Yuck."
All their fault: In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Texas' anti-sodomy law. "We were going to uphold it, but then the Baptists decided to welcome gays, signaling a change in the culture," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes in the court's decision. "Got that? Gay sex is OK, and you can blame the Baptists."
Will march for food: A group of homeless people march on City Hall to demand services and an end to what they call harassment by police and code-enforcement officers. Bearing signs reading "Jesus was homeless" and "Liberté, Egalité and a cold 40," leaders of the march say they want to remind city officials that homelessness is not a crime. "Not yet," Mayor Miller tells them. "Not yet."
Pleased to announce: The Dallas Morning News begins publishing announcements of same-sex unions on its wedding and engagements pages. "This is a big break with tradition for us," Publisher Jim Moroney says, "but with the Baptists reaching out to gays and all, we thought the time was ripe. Got that? Gay marriage is OK, and you can blame the Baptists."
Land of disenchantment: Texas' Democratic state senators flee to New Mexico in an unsuccessful bid to halt GOP efforts to redraw the state's congressional districts. (House Democrats had bolted to Oklahoma in the spring in a similar move to deny the Legislature a quorum.) The Senate impasse is broken when Houston Democrat John Whitmire returns home. "Sorry, fellas, but my wife called to tell me I got a letter from Publisher's Clearinghouse that said I might already be a winner, and I just had to check that out," Whitmire explains.
Where angels fear: Former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders wins a civil suit filed by an auto-repair shop owner who claimed that Sanders stiffed him by saying Jesus told Sanders not to pay more than $1,500 of a $4,200 bill. Sanders says he never made the Jesus comment, and a spokesman for the King of Kings denies any involvement. "Jesus doesn't have anything to do with the auto-repair industry," the angel Gabriel says. "That's Satan's line of work."
Wanted: One fig leaf: Police in Pilot Point threaten to take action against a gallery owner who commissioned a mural depicting a nude Eve on the side of his building. "It's not that we object to the art per se," the Pilot Point police chief says, "but it's attracting a bad element. All these Richardson cops keep hanging around the gallery now, and they're kinda creepy."
We're No. 1: Dallas police release statistics that rank Dallas as the most crime-ridden big city in America. Responding to calls from the city council for an explanation, police Chief Bolton prepares a PowerPoint slide presentation with data that suggests Dallas is, in fact, safer than New York City. Bolton's plan goes awry, however, when his projector is stolen from the trunk of his city-issued vehicle.
The fox and the henhouse: Former city council member Al Lipscomb, whose federal bribery conviction was overturned by an appeals court on a technicality, is nominated for a seat on the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board, which hears residents' complaints of police misconduct. Lipscomb, who also had once been implicated in a scheme to improperly influence police enforcement at Dallas topless clubs, vows to bring the same high-minded ideals of honest, selfless community service he possessed as a councilman to his new position. "When it comes to rooting out corruption and official misconduct, you have to go with an expert," Lipscomb says. "That's me all over."
Suckahs: Attempting to boost revenue from flagging lottery ticket sales, the Texas Lottery Commission votes to join 10 other states offering "Mega Millions" lottery games, in which prizes top $100 million. "Apparently, there just aren't enough damn fools willing to piss away money in Texas anymore, so we're hoping to develop a revenue stream from other states' idiots," a commission spokesman says.
What's in a name: A city council committee recommends that Dallas consider selling corporate sponsorships and naming rights to city events and facilities to raise money. Council members balk, however, when they learn that the two leading prospects for naming rights are the "Baby Dolls" City Hall and "Acme Billiards Supply Co." Central Police Station.
Return to sender: Federal authorities file stowaway charges against Charles D. McKinley after he ships himself from New York City to Dallas inside an air-cargo crate. The move prompts a review of airport security, though McKinley insists he's not a terrorist, and simply wanted more legroom than what is available on a typical coach flight on American Airlines.
Buh-bye now: In a surprise move, City Manager Ted Benavides fires embattled police Chief Bolton, sparking outrage among supporters of the city's first black police chief. A stunned and emotional Bolton breaks down in tears as he meets with backers to demand an explanation for his dismissal and is led from the gathering draped in a fur-trimmed purple cape once worn onstage by the king of soul, James Brown. In response, Benavides issues a list of 20 reasons for Bolton's firing, which includes, as items 11 through 20, "Generally being a mendacious butthead." A defiant Bolton vows that he will not "bow down" to his dismissal and promises a lawsuit, though he had hoped to "ride off into the sunset." He changed his mind when a friend pointed out that the last thing visible when someone rides into the sun is a horse's ass. "That just hit a little too close to home," a sheepish Bolton says.
Springtime for Hitler: Charles Grissom, director of the Paris High School band, apologizes to parents and students of Dallas' Hillcrest High after the Paris Blue Blazes Band performs a football halftime show titled "Visions of World War II." The show includes a rendition of "Deutschland Über Alles" and a student running across the field bearing a Nazi flag. The Paris band performs the show at Hillcrest--once known as "Hebrew High" for its large body of Jewish students--on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Grissom says the band did not intend any disrespect and was unaware that the performance might be considered offensive, since "no self-respecting Jew would live within 50 miles of Paris, Texas."
Good luck: Phillip Jones, the former secretary of culture, recreation and tourism in Louisiana, is appointed head of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. Jones vows to restore the city to the tourist mecca it once was. "Whazzat? You say I'm in Dallas, not Orlando? Holy shit, what have I been drinking?" Jones says of his new job. He nevertheless vows to push ahead with touting Dallas' many visitors attractions, which at last count included Dealey Plaza, The Sixth Floor Museum and...um...did we mention Dealey Plaza?
No peeking: Dallas city officials consider a proposal that would outlaw lap dances and any form of physical contact between customers and dancers at the city's numerous strip clubs. "These are whorehouses," community activist Sharon Boyd tells Observer columnist Jim Schutze. "For somebody to say he has a right to a lap dance, well, no, he doesn't. If it's something he wants, then he needs to get his wife or girlfriend to do it." A representative of the city's sexually oriented business responds that "if wives and girlfriends did that sort of thing, we wouldn't even be in business." News of the prospective ban soon reaches the ears of Phillip Jones, who is found curled up in a fetal position and weeping underneath his desk at the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Damn Baptists: The Episcopal Diocese of Dallas votes to withhold $512,000 from the national denomination in response to the church's appointment of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. "This whole country is going to hell in a handbasket when it comes to gays, and frankly, we blame the Baptists," a spokesman for the diocese says.
For lease: A defiant Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles meets with the Morning News' editorial board in response to a series of stories in the daily documenting Bowles' cozy relationship with Jack Madera, head of the company that was awarded the commissary contract at the county jail. Bowles denies reports that he and Madera are close friends, though the paper had earlier reported that the sheriff had accepted thousands of dollars in meals and travel before the contract was awarded to Madera's Mid-America Services Inc. "I am not for sale," Bowles tells the editorial board. "For rent, maybe, but definitely not for sale."
Cover up: The long-awaited Nasher Sculpture Garden, featuring a $70 million museum and gardens housing the $400 million sculpture collection of developer Raymond Nasher and his late wife, Patsy, is unveiled to fanfare downtown. Opening festivities are marred, however, when security guards catch Sharon Boyd draping a nude bronze in a full burqa. "If men want to see that sort of filth, they should get their wives and girlfriends to strip at home," Boyd tells reporters.
Cut-ups: Surgeons at Children's Medical Center Dallas begin a groundbreaking and arduous procedure to separate a pair of conjoined twins. After 34 hours of surgery, doctors announce that the operation to separate Jim Bowles and Jack Madera was a "complete success."
We shall underwhelm: Political foes of Mayor Miller fail to garner enough signatures on petitions seeking her recall, an effort begun in response to the firing of Terrell Bolton. Organizers fall more than 25,000 short of the necessary 72,873 signatures but vow to press ahead with the drive. "We think we can pull it off," a leader of the recall effort says, "but it's gonna be tough. Apparently, people who live in DeSoto aren't eligible to sign the darn things."
Go jump in a lake: The city unveils a revised plan for parks, roads and flood control along the Trinity River near downtown. The new plan for spending $246 million in bond money approved by voters in 1998 scales back on promised lakes, parks, promenades and boating facilities, and shuffles more money to building a tollway along the river. "We will still include several smaller amenities," Mayor Miller vows. Those amenities include an abandoned plaid couch overlooking a bog and a vintage 1967 Amana refrigerator with doors removed for handy storage of swimming gear.
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Joe Rodent: Responding to complaints from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a fourth-grade teacher at Sunnyvale School cancels plans to demonstrate the dangers of smoking by confining the class' hamster in a jar filled with cigarette smoke. "We certainly don't want to do anything cruel to the li'l feller," teacher Jane Wheeler says. "But with state budget cuts, we can't justify keeping a hamster simply as a pet, so I guess Mr. Nibbles will be paying a visit to the toilet for a demonstration of burial at sea."
Lamming it: Dallas city marshals complain that fired police Chief Bolton is ducking their efforts to serve him a subpoena to testify at a police officer's employment hearing. Marshals claim that Bolton had sped away from them in his SUV at speeds of up to 100 mph and that he refused to answer his door to accept the subpoena. Bolton's attorney, Bob Hinton, denies the charge, saying Bolton is perfectly willing to accept service at his current location, a 6-foot-deep "spider hole" beneath a rhododendron bush behind the toolshed in Bolton's back yard.
Fit to print: The Morning News unveils Quick, a full-color "commuter tabloid" filled with shorter news stories and features intended to attract younger readers. As part of its youth appeal, Quick features a special Gen Y version of the comic strip "Family Circus" in which the character "Billy" is a pierced, bisexual goth kid addicted to crystal meth.
Toy story: Police in Burleson arrest a former teacher on obscenity charges for selling "marital aids" and erotic toys at gatherings fashioned after Tupperware parties. Police claim the parties violated state laws that prohibit selling--but not owning--such items as sexual devices. "It's not that we're against dildos and lube per se," a Burleson police spokesman says, "but those parties were attracting a bad element from Richardson."