Best Development in Dallas Politics 2015 | Vonciel Jones Hill's City Council term limit | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

No politician, no matter how cosseted, would dare rail against transparency. And yet former City Councilwoman Vonciel Jones Hill — her colleagues referred to her as "Judge" because of a long-ago position in the municipal judiciary — did exactly that. Repeatedly. She was wrong about just about everything else, too, in particular transportation, in which key city and regional appointments gave her particular sway. She was outspoken about homosexuality, publicly condemning it. In addition, her swimming pool, as the Observer discovered last summer, was a fetid mosquito swamp. And yet Hill was elected four times. But that's it. Because of term limits, she has left the council.

When musicians in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra donned white jumpsuits for a concert in May at the Winspear Opera House, they probably knew they were in for something exciting. The sold-out audience, on the other hand, could not have predicted how magical it would be to see Dallas-raised singer-songwriter Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, take the stage with the DSO led by assistant conductor Karina Canellakis. With the support of new orchestrations, Clark's music was elevated to heavenly heights. It was part of the inaugural Soluna International Music & Arts Festival, planned by the DSO to blend the performing, musical and visual arts. This auspicious and audacious night successfully united two different musical worlds.

The area north of LBJ Freeway is supposed to be no-man's-land for anyone seeking culture or a good time. North Dallas may technically be part of Dallas, but it may as well be Plano for all we care. Well, that's how we used to feel. But then something odd happened: North Dallas got really cool. Blame it on the affordable housing, but once Josey Records went in, the signs became clear. All of sudden making the trip to Velvet Elvis didn't seem far-fetched, and the compound emerged as one of Dallas' most exciting DIY spaces. It may not be Deep Ellum, but it sure ain't the 'burbs either.

No member of the Dallas City Council was quite as theatrical as Dwaine Caraway. Whether urging young folks to pull up their pants, doling out absurd economic development incentives to a (fantastically delicious) fried-chicken joint or proposing that the Trinity River be rerouted through downtown, Caraway never stopped being awesome. The best part: He really genuinely cared. No one at City Hall fought harder for constituents. Term limits have ended his time on the council, but in what may prove to be his most exciting and entertaining move yet, he is challenging embattled County Commissioner John Wiley Price for the office Price has held with an iron grip for almost three decades. Get your popcorn ready.

For years, Dallas has pushed city-sponsored low-income housing into heavily poor minority areas on the rather flimsy pretext that a shiny new apartment complex might spur revitalization. This was the norm, despite reams of research showing that poor people — kids especially — in mixed-income neighborhoods fare far better than peers in exclusively low-income areas. The Dallas housing nonprofit called Inclusive Communities Project has been trying to change the way Dallas, via the state government, allocates low-income housing tax credits, but to little avail. They had minimal leverage to change things until the Supreme Court's decision this summer in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, in which justices ruled that the way Dallas does affordable housing is discriminatory. Undoing what's been done will take decades, but they now have the nation's highest court on their side.

Dallas benefited from an influx of top-notch record stores at the end of last year, with Off the Record and Spinster throwing out some fresh twists on the tried-and-true brick-and-mortar concept. But it was Josey Records that really raised the bar for North Texas record stores, and they did so by focusing on the fundamentals — namely, a massive inventory hand-picked by some of the most respected crate diggers around. The addition of live music and seal of approval from no less than DJ Shadow helped, but the array of used and $1 vinyl were all any record head needed to fall in love.

Recently departed DISD Superintendent Mike Miles' legacy is complicated and controversial, but he leaves behind a handful of successes, chief among them Mata Montessori in East Dallas. The first in what was intended to be dozens of "schools of choice" — neighborhood-focused campuses with the specialty programs of a magnet but without the competitive admissions — Mata did a remarkable job of fitting the Montessori model of carefully guided self-direction into an often rigid DISD structure. Teachers and administrators there are passionate, energetic and wholly committed to students' success. A-plus.

Pregame: It's the name of the, uh, game when it comes to "pro" concert-going. If you have real-ass adult responsibilities — like a kid you've arranged to be babysat — when you go to a concert you want to make a night of it. And knowing where to get a beer and a buzz before the show is a crucial part of the plan. Good Records has you covered there and then some, bringing in bands like TV on the Radio, Sylvan Esso and Waxahatchee for free in-store performances ahead of their in-town gigs as part of their Live from the Astroturf series. Oh, and they offer free craft beer and sometimes even free food — which (almost) creates a whole new problem: Why go to the show when you can go to Good Records?

UNT-Dallas opened its new law school at a shaky time for legal education. Tuition-hungry law schools had been convincing far too many students to rack up far too much debt in pursuit of jobs that didn't exist. And yet, despite the glut of lawyers, there remained huge segments of the population who were legally underserved, unable to access or afford necessary legal help. UNT-Dallas is focused on correcting that gap by curating public-service-minded students and giving them considerable hands-on training with the help of downtown law firms and the courts. Key to the school's mission is its cost, just north of $14,000 per year, which is less than half of other law schools. Without the crushing burden of six-figure debt for a degree, turning out lawyers willing to work serving underserved populations might actually be a possibility.

Catherine Downes

When it comes to the Bard, our theater critic Elaine Liner is emphatic: If William Shakespeare were alive today, he'd write for The Daily Show. Too often when contemporary actors are tangling their tongues around iambic pentameter, it's all so classical and reverent. Pish posh, say the players of the much more informal Shakespeare in the Bar troupe. Much Ado about Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost have never been so infectiously amusing as they were when watched with a beer in hand from the porch of The Wild Detectives bookstore in Oak Cliff. The young troupe of actors who romp through Shakespeare in the Bar tackle a new (old) play about once per season, giving us a Will to live for.

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