City Hall

Paul Quinn President, Regional Chamber Prez Ask Council to Delay Vote on Flow Control

Anyone who's even glanced Unfair Park in the last few months knows by now that City Manager Mary Suhm and Mary Nix, head of Sanitation Services, are hoping that the city council will vote tomorrow on a proposal that will force all solid-waste haulers to dump their trash at the McCommas Bluff Landfill. That's the so-called flow control proposal -- the "green path from trash to treasure," the city calls it, insisting that the garbage can be recycled as energy and sold for profit. Which it already does, thanks to a deal with T. Boone Pickens.

But City Hall's facing stiff opposition to the proposal -- not just from waste-haulers, who point out in emails to media that the city has been lowering projected revenues with each new PowerPoint, but from folks who live and learn near the landfill off Simpson Stuart Road. Already there's been one protest from students who attend Paul Quinn College. And tomorrow, before the vote, there will be another -- this one attended by the university's president, Michael Sorrell, who has sent out an email to friends and supporters encouraging their attendance as well.

That email follows. So too does my brief conversation with Sorrell, who said, moments ago, that he's not necessarily opposed to flow control. He simply doesn't understand why the city's in such a big rush to rubber-stamp the proposal when there remain so many questions concerning its long-term impact -- both financially and on the area around the landfill, including the Highland Hills neighborhood.

And as Rudy noted this morning, behind the scenes there are some folks are pushing -- hard -- to back-burner flow control for as long as possible. Matter of fact, just moments ago we just received a letter from Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Jim Oberwetter in which he asks Mayor Mike Rawlings to slow his flow control roll. (It follows.)  This morning, I sent Nix emails asking: What's the rush, really? I will update when she responds.

[Update at 2:26 p.m.: Nix responds by saying that "council began considering this topic well over a year ago. It does not appear that there is any unusual timetable in the works to bring a flow control ordinance to Council for their vote. They've heard three separate briefings on the topic since June 1; they have had any number of meetings with staff, community and the waste industry; they have been updated by memo twice in this month. It appears they are ready to consider the item." And Paula Blackmon, Rawlings's chief of staff, says that the mayor supports the flow control ordinance.]

Says Sorrell, "Seriously, the irony of this is they want us to have the largest garbage dump in the Southwest within a mile and a half" of Paul Quinn, "and we don't have a grocery store within six miles? Is that really where we live today?"

What is it you're ultimately hoping will result from tomorrow's protest at City Hall?

All we are saying is: Let's study the issue. There's nothing controversial about that. [He laughs.] All we're saying is flow control may be a good idea or it may not be a good idea, we just don't know. I am very, very proud of our students for standing up for what they believe in, and they have asked us to support them, and we will. And our board agrees: We wish the city would slow down. The reality of the situation is this: This could be a mistake that we can never undo. And I just that's an awfully heavy burden to assume without thoroughly vetting it.

What are your thoughts on the so-called Southeast Oak Cliff Stimulus Fund, which the council would also vote on tomorrow. Seems rather vague -- the promise of no more than $1 million annually for an allotted period of time that'll go ... where, exactly?

I think without adequate study, which allows you to ascertain what is the right path to take at the McCommas landfill, we have no way of predicting that what the city suggests is sufficient for a stimulus fund or equity investment or whatever it's being called. Let's say the city offers $1 million a year, and there are some hurdles you have to get to to reach $1 million, and they cap it at 20 years. Let's really think about this. Suppose the landfill never makes the objectives the city sets forth. If they don't reach those objectives, the community isn't better off than it was before, except you have the largest garbage dump in the Southwest down the street.

Let's say it hits a home run and makes $30 million a year. And we're going to get no more than $1 million? That's not going to build a grocery store. That's not going to do significant infrastructure improvement. This is not how public policy is supposed to work. You're supposed to do analysis and engage the community fully before doing this.

And I hear people say this is just Paul Quinn College. No, it isn't. When my students organized a town hall this summer there were 250 people, and they weren't for it. And there's a petition out there with more than 700 names. Clearly, the community isn't for it.

What would you like the council to say tomorrow?

Here's what we would like to hear the council say: We are going to appoint a citizen-led committee, give them six to eight months to come back with a recommendation for the best option of the transition of the McCommas Bluff Landfill. What will maximize revenues and what will create the best opportunity for sustainable economic development in Highland Hills. And what's so controversial about that?Oberwetter Letter to Rawlings Concerning Flow ControlAnd this is Sorrell's email that went out today:

Dear Friends of the Quinnite Nation:

I hope all is well.

My proudest moment as a college president occurred last Wednesday, September 21st. That was the day when almost 100 Paul Quinn College students stood up for themselves and the people of Highland Hills in protest of the city's unwillingness to appoint a citizen-led committee to study and identify a plan for the McCommas Bluff Landfill. The students and the Highland Hills community seek a plan that will 1) maximize revenues to the city and 2) create the best vehicle for short and long-term economic development along the I-45 corridor and the Highland Hills neighborhood.

The students of the Quinnite Nation created the "I Am Not Trash" movement and organized this demonstration to show Dallas that there are college-age voting citizens who are unafraid to show servant leadership on difficult and complex municipal matters. Our students (and I) don't understand how anyone can make such an important decision without understanding every aspect of the policy change and without intimately involving the affected constituents in the decision-making process. To us, this isn't only about flow control, this is about respect, leadership, and vision. This type of decision-making is how the Highland Hills neighborhood wound up being 1.5 miles from a garbage dump, but over six miles from a quality, full-service grocery store. Southern Dallas deserves a plan for how it will be developed over the course of the next 50 years. Dallas deserves advocates who will approach problem-solving through careful study and an appreciation of all sides of policy decisions -- including the future costs. Simply put, we all deserve better than this.

The students of Paul Quinn College have asked us to join them tomorrow- September 28th- at 8:00am, at Dallas City Hall (1500 Marilla Street) as they continue their objection to this ill-formulated plan. I am hoping that you, your friends, family members and colleagues will stand with us from 8:00am to noon (or any part of that time) to show the city that a hurried decision is a mistake. Let's take the time to fully understand the price we are being asked to pay for becoming the largest garbage dump in the Southwest.

At Paul Quinn College, we are proud of our students and that we don't need to accept any monetary incentives to influence our beliefs.

Please respond to this email if you will be able to join us. Also, feel free to circulate this email to anyone you feel may be interested in supporting our students.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you,