A Dash of SALT, or: Inside the Infamous Inland Port Proposal

Santa came to my desk a day early. I have been papering City Hall with public-records requests for several weeks, and today, just in time, I finally got the one document I was hoping for: the written proposal to developer Richard Allen from three businessmen who wanted to be his Southern Dallas consultants.

It's an eye-opener. And the whole thing's after the jump. A little history, though, before you make the leap.

In last week's paper version of Unfair Park I explained how three African-American businessmen approached Allen three years ago and asked for $1.5 million and a 15 percent cut of his 6,000-acre shipping hub development in Southern Dallas. In exchange, they offered to help him with his Southern Dallas relations.

Allen said, Thanks, but no thanks. Immediately after, his Southern Dallas relations got real bad, especially with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

As you will see in the document, the would-be consultants said they thought they should "participate in 15 percent of the development opportunity." When that didn't get done, Price started showing up at public meetings shouting, "Equity! Equity!" He also used his office to hold up a key bridge project and tried to throw a monkey wrench in an important trade zone designation.

The men whose names appear in this document -- Pettis Norman, Willis Johnson and Jon Edmonds, referring to themselves as the Service and Leadership Team (or SALT) -- all are well-known and have solid reputations in Southern Dallas. One of the conclusions I think you will draw by looking at the document is that they did not think there was a thing in the world wrong with what they were asking. Why else would they have put it in writing?

But that's also the problem.

The hero in this saga was Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents Southern Dallas and Dallas County. She's the one who told Allen to keep his money in his pocket. As far as she was concerned, a man bringing the biggest economic boon in history to beleaguered Southern Dallas shouldn't have to pay through the nose to do it.

I have another column in this week's Dallas Observer in which I try to put some of this in perspective with the world beyond Dallas -- or, as I think of it, The Real World. Companies capable of bringing thousands of jobs to communities are accustomed to being given free land, generous tax breaks and all of the additional help those communities can muster. In the real world, they throw the gate open.

In Southern Dallas they slam it shut and put their hands out.

The idea that a business should have to pay a sort of bounty or tax in order to enter upon the territory of Southern Dallas is peculiar to Southern Dallas. It is not the way of the world, and it is not the road to success. But white business leaders here have enabled and collaborated with that mentality from time immemorial.

You may remember Johnson as Mayor Tom Leppert's Southern Dallas consultant, for example. You may also remember him as the man described as the "go-to-guy in Southern Dallas" by the late Lynn Flint Shaw, chairperson of Leppert's political fund-raising committee, shortly before her death with her husband, Rufus, in an apparent murder-suicide.

Willis Johnson, Royce West, John Wiley Price -- they're today's versions of the late S.M. Wright, the preacher who collected the money from the white boys downtown to make sure it didn't fall into undeserving hands. It was never enough to go around anyway. S.M. was a gate-keeper. These guys are all gate-keepers too.

What this city needs is a gate-burner.

This whole business of "consultants" in Southern Dallas will be front and center when the federal corruption trials of former city council member Don Hill and others get under way, probably next June. Some of these arrangements are legal, some not, but they're all based on the same morally corrupt idea: that white Dallas and black Dallas are nations separated by a river and that white people who come south should pay a toll.

See what you think. --Jim Schutze

SALT Inland Port Proposal

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze