Who Really Got the Ball Rolling in the Stupid City Hall F-Word Fight?

City Hall folks should take care these things don't blow up in their faces.
City Hall folks should take care these things don't blow up in their faces.
SFerdon/Shutterstock

Last week brought renewed uproar over the Scott Griggs F-word matter (only in Dallas), in which a City Council member was accused of attempting to coerce a public official by threatening to break her “fucking fingers” if she did blah-blah-blah with some documents.

F.

Three-weeks ago, a grand jury found that no crime had occurred, but last week, presumably after much enterprising reporting and investigation, the city’s only daily newspaper produced other city staff members who said Griggs had used the F-word in their presence, as well.

Just for grins, let me mention right away that I have at least one witness of my own who says he heard Griggs’ end of one of the alleged F-word chats, heard no F-word from Griggs and is willing to call Griggs’ new accuser a liar.

In addition, I have to say again as I said last week that in the big F-word incident, the one for which the Dallas city attorney tried unsuccessfully to get Griggs convicted of a felony, all of the witnesses interviewed by police except for the alleged F-word victim told police they did not hear Griggs utter the F at the heart of the coercion accusation — nothing about fingers, nothing about fucking, nothing about fucking fingers. But they did hear Griggs use the word bullshit. And several said Griggs had called them liars.

Well, yeah. Now we’re getting somewhere. In fact that word, liar, which I was taught back in Detroit was actually pronounced fuckingliar, is what this is all really about.

Late last week I reached Griggs’ colleague and political ally on the City Council, Philip Kingston, who was out of town on family business. He said: “This is a pattern.

“I don’t understand why the Morning News is all heavens-to-Betsy on this stuff. These are the same folks who Griggs caught with the secret agreement with Trinity East [drilling company]. These are the same folks who were siccing the vice cops on Uber.

“They have a pattern of lying to council members, and Griggs has a pattern of digging until he finds the truth. I don’t know why that isn’t the narrative," Kingston said. “Why are we talking about bullying and yelling? Why aren’t we talking about lying and deception?”

The Trinity East story three years ago was an excellent example of what Kingston is talking about. The City Council had expressly ordered former City Manager Mary Suhm not to agree to any gas drilling in city parks. Suhm, her own staff and the city attorney all looked the council in the eye and promised to obey.

Then Suhm, her staff and the city attorney promised Trinity East they would make it possible for the company to drill in city parks and eventually signed a contract with them allowing just that. But they kept that part secret from the council.

Griggs and former council member Angela Hunt caught them. They caught all of them, the city’s top hired executives and their underlings, lying to and deceiving the city’s elected rulers. And they exposed them.

But that’s not the important part. For me the really important part was a subsequent City Council meeting in which Griggs and Hunt were pilloried by fellow council members — pilloried — because many on the council were outraged that they had shown disrespect to the city manager and city attorney. Former council member Vonciel Hill likened Hunt to a Biblical figure, Haman, “Killer of the Jews,” whom I’ve still got to Google someday. Maybe.

That is the context, the atmosphere, the culture in which Griggs must operate, along with his fellow independents Kingston, Adam Medrano, Mark Clayton and Adam McGough. Almost any day at City Hall they may confront staff members who will lie to them and do it serenely, because those staff members are serene in their service to the Old Guard and know that the independents don’t deserve the truth.

In the F-word caper at the City Secretary’s Office, it seems certain that some kind of F may have been uttered and probably a bullshit or two. The supposed target of the F, Assistant City Secretary Billierae Johnson, told police once and then told the city attorney twice that she had not felt threatened or coerced by the F.

Other witnesses told police they heard an F but thought it was directed against City Attorney Warren Ernst. One witness said she thought Griggs had Mayor Mike Rawlings in mind when he said the F, even though Rawlings was not present. Several witnesses told police they had heard the F-word before and some suggested that F’s are not uncommon around City Hall.

But make no mistake. Documents released last week made it plain that Ernst, the city’s top lawyer, aggressively pushed for a felony indictment of Griggs, based on a rarely invoked state law against threatening violence in order to get a public official to do something.

Ernst went back to Johnson and told her that other witnesses were talking. He told her another council member had heard Griggs confess to the F. When his own top assistant called the allegation “weird” and an assistant police chief told him there was no there there, Ernst went weirder and propounded a theory that Griggs could be prosecuted for threatening Johnson even if Johnson did not feel threatened and refused to be a complainant.

That theory, weird though it may have been, was enough to persuade police Chief David Brown to send the matter on to the district attorney. And let’s pause, please, to consider what that meant.

The district attorney at the time was just about to disappear from office on a secret hiatus, denied by her staff, for mental health problems. According to Griggs’ lawyer, early attempts to negotiate some face-saving end to the matter disappeared into the void like the DA Susan Hawk herself.

Try to imagine what it would feel like to find your fate cast into the cauldron of the county courthouse under those conditions, with a possible outcome of years in prison, loss of a law license and essentially a ruined name forever, all for the utterance of an F, which you deny and none of the other witnesses heard.

The great mystery around City Hall last week was why. Really, why? Is Griggs some kind of famous, drunk cigar-butt who goes around City Hall looking for women to say F to? No, no, he’s famous for being the opposite — a civil young man, very bright, intense at times, not one to suffer fools or back down before a bully, but a guy whose mother taught him good manners.

One theory, which I thought was silly, was that Ernst was still mad at Griggs because Griggs didn’t vote for him two years ago when Ernst was up for the job. Oh, come on. Ernst is a smart, sophisticated guy, too. He wouldn’t play that way. It has to be something else. But what?

I got an interesting call-back at the end of the week from the mayor. I had sent his media guy, Scott Goldstein, a query, quoting from one of the documents released by the City Council last week. It was a time-line of L’Affaire F prepared, apparently for the police, by Ernst.

It included this line by Ernst: “Thursday, April 16: I met with the mayor at 10:30 a.m. for our weekly meeting. He raised the issue of wrongful behavior by the council member towards Lindsay and Sana.”

Lindsay Kramer is a top assistant to City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. Sana Syed is director of the city’s public information office. Both have claimed that Griggs said F in front of them. Council member Kingston, who was in the office with Griggs when he had the conversation with Syed, told me Syed was “a liar.”

But back to Grownup Land: I wanted to know if it was Rawlings who was squeezing Ernst to go after Griggs. Rawlings called me back within 45 minutes of my email and told me his memory of the chat with Ernst was different. It was his recollection that Ernst brought up the topic of Griggs and the F, not he. The mayor said he just wants the whole thing to go away. He sounded persuasive.

“This whole situation obviously is upsetting to me,” he said, “and I have told several people including Scott Griggs that I wish this would go away and that we could get on to running our city. People like yourself who write newspapers want to know more information, so that’s naive, I guess.”

Yes. Well, on that wanting-to-know-more front, I asked if the Griggs criminal investigation was his ball that he set in motion or was it “something that was rolling independently of you that you were aware of?”

“This was totally independent of me,” he said. “It’s not my job to get that ball rolling last time I looked in the charter, and I try to make us look as civil as possible around here, so I was not anxious to bring this up.”

I believe him. But then what? Does that mean that a hired staff person or staff persons cooked this all up in order to get rid of an elected official they were mad at?

On April 21, two weeks after the alleged F-cident, Assistant City Secretary Johnson signed a statement for police saying that she would not pursue charges against Griggs. In the weeks just after that, Ernst pursued those charges harder than ever on his own.

F.

Note: Chris Bowers, top assistant to Ernst, quoted above, has asked me to offer readers what he calls a correction, which I will offer instead as a different perspective on his email characterizing the charges as "weird." Bowers says he was not calling the charges themselves weird but was offering editorial assistance to a public relations person who was composing a press release. Bowers says the charges sounded weird in early drafts of the press release because the press release did not offer enough qualifying description to make sure readers would understand that attempting to influence the actions of a city employee and using the F-word in the way Griggs was accused of doing were very serious crimes. Getting that point across, Bowers says, took more forceful writing.


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