The Envelope, Please

I want to tell you, this town is a gypsy fortuneteller's paradise. Give me a turban and a blue bathrobe, and I could make a million bucks here as "The Great Schutzkin." It's sooo easy.

Two weeks ago I put the envelope to my forehead, concentrated real, real hard, and a vision came to me of Mayor Laura Miller and Dallas Morning News owner Robert Decherd cutting a personal deal to share control of the city ("Surrender Now," November 11, 2004).

Wait a minute. I had a lot more detail than that. And I don't appreciate the snickering, by the way.

I said in particular that this little campaign would be kicked off with the unveiling of a baloney consultant's report designed to promote Decherd's concept of a private government for downtown. Right? That was Detail No. 1.

Detail No. 2: I said that simultaneously with this, a certain person close to Decherd would launch a campaign to give Dallas the "strong mayor" system that Miller craves.

Detail No. 3: With the envelope pressed tight to my forehead, I had a vision of this person possibly being not merely close to Decherd but actually being his first cousin.

So what more do you want from me? I didn't predict the color of shirt he'd be wearing. I could have done that, but the Great Schutzkin deplores cheap parlor tricks.

Last week a much-ballyhooed report was made to the city council by management consultants McKinsey & Company--supposedly the result of six months of study of our city government. When she announced it last June, Mayor Miller said it "would have cost $1 million" had McKinsey not agreed to do it for free.

Let me tell you something. We paid exactly the right price for this dog. The report suggested, for example, that the city's code enforcement staff is getting way too much pressure and interference from city council members and that the council needs to know that citizens are supposed to call the city's 311 operators, not council members, to complain about code issues.

"Council and mayor must publicly reeducate constituents to use 311," the McKinsey report said.

When this pearl was presented to the council at its November 17 briefing, the response was polite but hilariously withering. District 10 Councilman Bill Blaydes (far Northeast) graciously thanked McKinsey for its "pro bono" efforts and then said, "It is an ideal world when 311 works as it is supposed to and everything gets handled when the call goes in. That has yet to occur.

"And when it gets to be the third and fourth and fifth call, and the complainant has not received any kind of a comment one way or the other, then I'm gonna pick up the damn phone and call. You can bet I will."

I had also predicted the report would include platitudes about "being nice." It did. It said the council should "agree to avoid public criticism of staff and businesses." (Really, you don't have to interrupt with applause for me over something like that.)

A second portion of the report dealt with economic development downtown. I had predicted McKinsey would present three options, two of which would be no good and the third would be exactly the "limited government corporation" or LGC that Decherd has been seeking.

Indeed, the McKinsey report offered three options for downtown: 1) Do nothing. 2) Add a new layer of bureaucracy to City Hall. 3) Turn downtown over to the Decherd LGC. (A small drum roll, please, and I shall bow.)

Decherd is chairman and CEO of Belo Corp., which owns the Morning News. He is also chairman of a downtown business group called the "Inside the Loop Committee." In that role he has been pushing for creation of an LGC, an entity allowed under Texas law that would operate like a private company but take over key governmental functions for downtown, especially planning and zoning.

Decherd has even been quoted in his own newspaper recently as sounding exasperated by how long it's taking to get the council to give up downtown and turn it over to his LGC. "The private sector has been awaiting a decision," he said in the paper last week, "and there's certainly a considerable amount of pent-up energy that needs to be applied to downtown's development."

I have suggested in the past in very broad terms that McKinsey's offer to sweep in and do an extreme makeover for Dallas City Hall may have been less out of the blue and pro bono than it first appeared. But in an in-depth analysis of the Morning News' business situation in last week's Dallas Observer, "At the Ripping Point," staff writer Eric Celeste neatly tapped the nails into this particular coffin.