What This Town Needs is Some Good Ward Heelers.

Jim, Jim, Jim: At the risk of getting crosswise with the Observer's own Jim Schutze—a man who files a memo with management every time we call him venerable—Buzz must say something we'd really rather not say: Maybe Mayor Tom Leppert and City Councilman Dave Neumann, who have complained bitterly lately about delays by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concerning repairs on the Trinity River levees, have a point. Sort of.

Look, Buzz doesn't like defending the Trinity toll road boys, but Schutze put our back up last week when he wrote on this paper's blog Unfair Park that Dallas was joining ranks with "a bunch of ward heelers" in Southern Illinois to push back against the corps' new, more stringent levee standards, which leave Dallas and other metro areas nationally facing expensive levee repairs and the threat of large swaths of property being designated flood zones by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Such a designation would mean a huge boost in the costs of flood insurance and impinge on development and property values.

It's not that we don't appreciate Jim's happy sense of "told-you-so" concerning our levee woes. He's earned his schadenfreude. You've never seen a man smile so at the sight of a raincloud.

But Buzz is from Southern Illinois, where we take pride in our "ward heelers." They may not be the most honest pols in the country, but they know how to get things done. For instance, leaders in the St. Louis Metro East area in Illinois won support for a quarter-cent sales tax in three counties to pay for an estimated $180 million in levee repairs along the Mississippi River. "Local communities have taken the initiative to make the repairs necessary," says Steve Tomaszewski, spokesman for Illinois Congressman John Shimkus. But a 2011 deadline for new flood maps is still looming, so Illinois congressional leaders have also sponsored bills that would delay increases in flood insurance requirements in communities undertaking necessary repairs—giving them five years after FEMA issues new flood zone maps to get their levees in order before new and costly flood insurance premiums could hit businesses and homeowners.

The notion is that the corps and FEMA have given communities too little time to renovate levees to new standards before threatening them with new, potentially debilitating flood-zone maps. Dallas is in the same johnboat. So, yeah, Leppert and Neumann have a right to carp. The pity is that when it comes to ward-heeling, they're rank amateurs.


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