Please let me say that to my knowledge the Dallas Police Association (DPA), the main police union, is not responsible for the placement of a photo of a dead wildebeest on the mayor’s desk to intimidate him in labor talks like the scene in The Godfather where the guy wakes up with a severed horse head in his bed.
But somebody is.
I am responsible. Sort of. I think. Indirectly. I found the dead wildebeest photo. I called it to people’s attention. I am distantly responsible for its winding up on the mayor’s desk. This is all going to make perfect sense in a minute. Maybe.
On Tuesday night, WFAA Channel 8 ran a story saying Dallas District 11 Lee Kleinman was responsible for the dead wildebeest photo. That was not only not true, it was stupid. I can explain all of this. I promise. A wildebeest, by the way, is a type of African antelope also known as a gnu.
Yesterday when I wrote about this flap – part of a labor dispute between Dallas police and the city manager – I told you that the DPA had cut a radio ad slurring District 11 City Council Member Lee Kleinman over the recent murders of five police officers. The union is angry with Kleinman because two weeks ago he declined, temporarily, to meet with them on a pay issue.
I have discussed the meeting tiff with both sides. Kleinman says he objected to the meeting over a technical issue having to do with whether the DPA people had registered as lobbyists, as required when people meet with council members on certain kinds of issues.
Both sides agree that Kleinman relented a few minutes later and invited the DPA representatives back to his office, but the DPA refused his invitation. Instead, the DPA made a public announcement that it was withdrawing its endorsement of Kleinman. He’s not running for office, so the DPA action has the effect of withdrawing a kind of seal of approval.
Enter Yours Truly. I thought the dis-endorsement was weird. Why do it? As far as on-the-street police issues are concerned — basic questions of police authority and respect for police — Kleinman is their philosophical homeboy. So why the harsh public denunciation over the kind of two-bit office tiff that’s part of a negotiation about money?
At that point I learned that the DPA had hired a national consultant, Ron DeLord, to oversee and direct their negotiations with the city. By the way, we’re about to get to the wildebeest, so please if at all possible keep your shirt on.
I looked up DeLord, who has represented law enforcement organizations all over the country in compensation negotiations. He has a blog he calls “The Gospel According to DeLord.” He clearly has the same tough sense of humor a lot of cops have.
Somewhere on his website I found a PowerPoint presentation that I would guess is from some time ago — nothing recent. And in that PowerPoint is the wildebeest.
I wrote about this a week ago at the time of the Kleinman dis-endorsement. The wildebeest graphic is a sort of rough-edged tongue-in-cheek illustration of a strategy it seemed to me the DPA was pursuing in its dis-endorsement of Kleinman.
In the graphic, a cheetah is devouring a dead wildebeest while other wildebeests look on. A caption over the cheetah says, “Union.” A caption over the dead wildebeest says, “Elected Official.” A caption balloon over a wildebeest in the background says, “Wow, that could be me next time.” A headline over the whole slide says, “Not lost on the rest of the wildebeest.”
I wrote about this, because I thought it explained the otherwise inexplicable attack on Kleinman. In my interpretation, confirmed later by DeLord, the DPA was attacking Kleinman to put the fear of God in the rest of the City Council.
At that point, I’d say the whole thing fell within the normal confines of labor/management negotiation. But things took a gigantic tilt Tuesday night.
WFAA aired a story about Detective Katrina Ahrens, widow of Officer Lorne Ahrens, one of the five policemen slain in downtown Dallas on July 8. In the piece, Detective Ahrens was shown taping a radio ad in which she accuses Kleinman of cowardice related to her husband’s death.
“When the TV cameras were around,” Ahrens says, reading from a script into a microphone, “Councilman Lee Kleinman talked of backing first responders. But just days after our officers ran toward the gunfire, he ran away from his promise.”
Ran away from his promise? He had a two-bit tiff with union representatives, which he offered to resolve in two minutes, over an issue called “step pay,” having to do with raises.
Now, please think about this. In a city still reeling from the slaughter of our police officers in front of our very eyes — a city still weeping in the heart — this detective makes a radio ad accusing Kleinman of betraying those dead officers, and it’s all about an issue called step pay.
I said two weeks ago, when they dis-endorsed Kleinman over nothing, a muffed meeting, that it looked as if they were going to pursue the DeLord wildebeest strategy and use Kleinman as their prey. Two weeks later, they did exactly that, in the most brutal and unfair fashion imaginable.
Apparently after my piece ran two weeks ago, Kleinman looked up the DeLord PowerPoint, found the wildebeest graphic and saved it. On Wednesday morning, when the council was to meet with top Police Department brass to hear their offer on a pay deal, Kleinman printed out the wildebeest graphic and circulated it to the mayor and some on the council.
Think about this. The night before, he sees a piece on WFAA calling him a coward who doesn’t care about the slain police officers. He already knows about the strategy – take one wildebeest down, the others will scatter. He wants his colleagues to know this is what is going on.
At the Wednesday meeting, Mayor Mike Rawlings held up the wildebeest photo, clearly very angry about it. He denounced the concept conveyed by the graphic – going after one member of the council to intimidate the others. He did not express any opinions about wildebeests.
He did say he thought the wildebeest strategy was “naïve” and “insulting” and would not work: “It’s insulting to say that somebody’s vote on an issue as important as this can be swayed through intimidation or that somebody who supports the associations was supporting them because they were intimidated. They’re not that way. They want to do what’s right.”
I spoke yesterday with DeLord, the consultant. He said he had nothing to do with producing the Katrina Ahrens radio ad, but he defended it as a legitimate attempt to sway public opinion.
I asked him if invoking the deaths of the five dead officers in an attack on Kleinman, especially so soon after the event, may not cross a line.
“No, it doesn’t,” DeLord said on the phone. “That’s malarkey. They got kids starving on TV, begging you to send 50 dollars. They got puppies in the pound that have been abused. They put that ad up.”
He said the wildebeest graphic was intended to be funny, but he defended the underlying strategy — choosing a single target to get the attention of the rest of the herd.
I said his strategy sounded like, “Pick one of them, get one of them, get him down good, and the others will see it.”
He didn’t disagree.
“Pick up any political book,” he said. “I didn’t invent the game. I didn’t invent democracy. The fact that you, sitting where you sit, don’t like the tactic doesn’t make it wrong, evil or immoral.”
And, look, he’s right: I can’t tell you that he has no right to urge the DPA to play hardball or that Detective Ahrens can’t say what she wants to say on the radio. Really, all I can do is try to explain what’s going on, so that you see who’s on first, who’s on second and who’s got the spitball.
There is one area in this, however, where I feel confidant calling a definite violation, and that’s the WFAA piece that followed the council briefing where the mayor held up the wildebeest graphic. You’ve got the back-story point on that by now, right? You see what the issues are.
So the night after the council briefing on the 10 p.m. news, Channel 8 runs a story making it look as if Kleinman has engaged in some kind of fraud by putting a dead wildebeest picture on the mayor’s desk and then accusing the DPA of doing it. Intimidation by imitation of wildebeest, I guess.
Anchor Cynthia Izaguirre, with her best sour-milk-taste expression, says, “New development in the fight over police pay tonight. Dallas council Lee Kleinman admits he had the staff place a photograph of a dead wildebeest on the desk of the mayor and every other city council member. … Today the mayor blamed the consultant hired by the association for the gesture. Kleinman sat quiet.”
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So, basically, none of that happened. Nobody ever said the DPA put the wildebeest picture on anybody’s desk. Why would they? What does that even have to do with anything?
The story is about using the dead officer’s widow and the deaths of the five officers to bloody up Kleinman, as a means of intimidating the rest of the council on the police pay issue. The wildebeest picture was a joke.
The accusation against Kleinman of cowardice and some kind of complicity in the police deaths was not a joke. And WFAA? Somebody there was just stupid.
Does that help?