Sour Town

Think of it as Garland's version of the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel, only this suburban showdown didn't hinge on honor or ambition, and no one got shot. At least not yet.

In 2003, City Council member Harry Hickey wanted to pass an ordinance restricting citizens from parking recreational vehicles in residential neighborhoods. The Garland transplant had received several complaints from constituents, among them Edie Kirkbride, who bemoaned the redneck sensibilities of her next-door neighbor. That gentleman bulldozed part of his front yard to make room for his RV, a move he would later defend before the city council with an irrelevant tale of woe about his invalid wife. (Kirkbride, however, says that on one July Fourth, she saw the wife gallivanting in the front yard--dressed in a red, white and blue bikini--in the shadow of the offending behemoth.)

In any case, Hickey struggled to gain support for his ordinance, so he suggested to his council colleague and political adversary Randall Dunning that the city consider banning the larger RVs because they dump more raw sewage.

Dunning and Hickey have different versions of what happened next, although both accounts offer a hint at the level of tension in Garland. Dunning says he jokingly asked Hickey if RVs get "incontinent like wiener dogs," and somehow that silly remark set off Hickey. A former defensive tackle for the Stephen F. Austin State University football team, Hickey cuts an imposing, lumbering presence that belies his career in accounting. As Dunning tells it, Hickey asked him if he wanted to step outside City Hall to the loading dock, presumably setting the scene for a winner-take-ordinance fight.

"I told him no," says Dunning, who is both older and considerably smaller than Hickey. "I said, 'You're bigger than I am, but I'm faster than you are, and you will never catch me.

"He said--and this is the exact quote, I'll remember this to my grave--'You can't outrun my Glock.' How would you interpret that?"

One of the more prominent and polarizing people in Garland, Dunning is never at a loss for words. By his account, he told Hickey to shoot him in the head "because I wear body armor." At the next council meeting, Dunning wore a bulletproof vest, "just to pull his chain," he says.

When told Dunning's story about how he came to wear the vest, Hickey became irritated, sounding like the Ving Rhames character in Pulp Fiction after realizing that Bruce Willis has out-hustled him. "That's how the good ol' boys in Garland do it," he says. "They take a statement you made and totally twist it."

Hickey says that Dunning made some sort of comment about a gun, and Hickey added, somewhat conversationally, that nobody could outrun a bullet. It wasn't an intimidating exchange or even a personal one but a random discussion, the particulars of which he forgot. "To my grave, I would never threaten him in any way," Hickey says. "I'm not stupid."

In any case, Hickey never passed his RV ordinance, in no small part because of Dunning's entrenched opposition. Dunning frequently expresses skepticism of government, particularly about how it can affect private property rights, but that's little comfort to Kirkbride, who reluctantly gave up her opposition to her neighbor's RV and planted bushes to block the offending view. "I've been in the military, and I've never seen anything like this guy," she says of Dunning. "We're talking about a simple ordinance, and he gets so carried away it's crazy...Even Balch Springs has ordinances."

Like many older suburbs, Garland has hit a fork in the road and seems caught between two worlds. There's the one it's been, a freewheeling hodgepodge of working- and middle-class neighborhoods where you can park your RV on your front lawn with impunity. And the one it is slowly becoming, a more regulated, traditional bedroom community where the sensibilities of the woman next door are starting to matter. Once a white flight refuge following the integration of Southern Dallas, Garland is now a city where Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans don't just live in the same part of town but on the same street--contently it seems from the way they talk to one another along the tidy front yards of their homes. But if the middle-aged city is wiser, it's also a little grumpier and confused about what it wants to do with the rest of its life.

For a few years now, members of the Garland City Council have tinkered with how and whether to use the power of local government to help improve neighborhoods, public safety and business conditions. On most matters, they've worked together, begrudgingly. But for whatever reason, several issues along the way wound up fracturing the City Council into two warring, sniping, scheming camps, culminating in a dramatic election this month that swept the dominant clique out of power. This not-so-civil war has turned Garland into what may be the most entertaining political theater in North Texas. Dallas City Council may have cornered the market on unethical behavior, managerial incompetence, financial recklessness, racial bickering, anti-Semitism, patronage...Where were we? But the end result of that is a rather dreary, demoralizing spectacle that makes you want to lease an Infiniti and move to Collin County. There's no fun in that.