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A Diddle for the Middle As the City Council Tries to Fill the DART Board

Talk about a long and winding road. Tomorrow the city council finally votes to fill the seat on the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board left vacant when the late Lynn Flint Shaw resigned under a cloud last January 30.

Shaw and her husband, writer Rufus Shaw, died March 11 in what police called a murder-suicide. Ever since then the city council has been deeply divided on the issue of a replacement. Half of them want to put Joyce Foreman back on the DART board. Of course, she’s the person Mayor Tom Leppert and Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway did in -- they got her dumped from the board to help Shaw become DART board president -- which was a huge and embarrassing mistake, as things turned out.

Leppert and Caraway are determined to see anybody but Foreman take the empty seat. First they tried to set it up for Dr. Beverly Mitchell-Brooks, head of the local chapter of the Urban League. She bowed out when the bullets got flying.

Then they nominated former mayoral candidate Edward Okpa, a successful Nigerian immigrant. Apparently that one fell a bit flat with the council. Last week Caraway and council member Dr. Elba Garcia came up with a guy nobody’s ever heard of: Dr. Claude R. Williams, a dentist, who sounds pretty much like a lamb to slaughter, if you ask me. Which, by the way, no one did.

The council's Transportation Committee of the council job-interviewed Okpa and the dentist this afternoon. It was clear that neither one of them has been interested enough in DART to keep up with local news coverage lately. Okpa seemed to think DART was facing a $9 million budget shortfall, until council member Angela Hunt corrected him and pointed out the money shortage at DART is more like $900 million.

The dentist I actually felt sorry for. This is a man who is clearly very uncomfortable in a public setting. Had I been able to ask a question of him, it would have been, “Sir, forgive me for asking, but are you sure you know what DART is?”

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I called Elba Garcia last week to ask her why she was traipsing into the big middle of what is basically a black-politics issue. The seat is deemed to be black. Everybody knows that. She says she’s going to run for Dallas County Commissioner. Why does she want to get half the black community mad at her? I asked her only because Latino leaders had called me and expressed puzzlement about it.

She said we need to pick the best person and rise above politics. That means no comment.

The city has huge irons in the fire right now at DART. So far the suburbs have outsmarted Dallas on dealing with DART’s big billion-dollar budget boo-boo, cutting a deal to let DART CEO Gary Thomas keep his job as long as Dallas gets screwed in favor of the ‘burbs on future construction.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the city council wanted to resolve this is in a way that would promote the city’s interests? Wouldn’t it be nice if the council knew what the city’s interests were? Wouldn’t it be nice of the council were interested? --Jim Schutze

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