Matrice Ellis-Kirk's NTTA Appointment Gets Diversity Without Greasing the Price Machine

So, Lakewood is in southern Dallas now. Either that, or all black Dallasites are residents of southern Dallas, no matter where they live.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price tells The Dallas Morning News in a story today that the proposed appointment of Matrice Ellis-Kirk to serve on the board of the North Texas Tollway Authority is "a southern sector appointment."

Except that she doesn't live in the southern sector. Ellis-Kirk is the wife of Ron Kirk, President Obama's U.S. trade representative and our former mayor, and her home address is on Mercedes Avenue in Lakewood in East Dallas.

In any case, Price can claim credit for this appointment about as much as he can claim credit for the Mavs beating the Heat.

If anything, Kirk's nomination to the NTTA board, which definitely will be approved by Dallas County Commissioners Court next Tuesday, is a workaround to keep Price's hands out of the cookie jar.

Commissioner Price, as you know, is the principal target of a major FBI public corruption investigation focusing on government contracting. That investigation has been an unspoken backdrop for ongoing controversy over the board of directors of the tollway agency and the agency's contracting behavior.

Before getting hit with FBI search warrants, Price was leading the charge to diversify the NTTA board, which was all white forever and ever, and to open up contracting. The Dallas Morning News has done a great job exposing decades of cronyism and insider self-dealing at the NTTA, and now the toll agency itself appears to be the target of FBI investigators.

But there was always this troubling background. How was it a good idea to open up the agency to John Wiley Price? Diversity, sure. A level playing field for contractors, some turnover and some daylight, sure. But not if it meant rendering the place prostrate before the Price machine.

Here is the irony in Price's trying to attach himself politically to Ellis-Kirk: He and she may both be black, but she comes from way over on the other side of the tracks. Her husband was the city's first black mayor, but he was recruited for the job by the city's mainly white business elite. His wife comes from an upper-class banking family.

Ron Kirk disdained the handout culture of old southern Dallas politics more vehemently than most white guys, who were the ones handing out the walking around money to the right kind of black politicos. That's probably because he saw through the system more clearly.

Not that the Kirks didn't get handouts. In 1995, when he agreed to run for mayor, Ron Kirk was given a no-show partnership at the prestigious law firm Gardere & Wynne. Later, when he was negotiating a development deal for the American Airlines Center with financier Tom Hicks, Matrice Ellis-Kirk was handed a board-of-directors appointment with a Hicks company that netted her the better part of half a million bucks.

But here's the difference: Even if some of that had an unpleasant odor, all of it was done within the letter of the law. Those are not actions that earn you a target letter from federal prosecutors. Law partnerships, board appointments and half a million bucks are things that make your mother proud of you.

Ellis-Kirk's appointment is clearly a workaround, and the thing being worked around here is Price. This is a way for the NTTA to diversify its board -- can you believe this still needs to be done? -- without opening the door to the Price minority-contracting machinery.

She's a southern Dallas appointment like I'm an astronaut, but I did just think of something. Instead of waving his race wand and declaring Kirk a resident of southern Dallas, why doesn't Price just wave the wand and declare all of the other NTTA board members black?

He'd have a total victory.