A.C. Gonzalez, Obvious Shoe-in for City Manager, Now Possible Shoe-out

An editor around here once suggested I could probably blackmail people by threatening to lend them my support. I wonder if acting City Manager A.C. Gonzalez ever thinks about that.

Last month I wrote a column saying the so-called search for a new Dallas city manager was a sham because Gonzalez, a longtime assistant city manager now acting as the interim, was already a shoe-in. Things apparently have shifted since I wrote that. I'm not saying he's been shooed out already, but whatever major momentum he may have had a month ago is suddenly looking less monumental.

I made some calls last week after reading a blog piece by Mike Hashimoto, who writes for a local daily, saying he could count 10 council votes against Gonzalez out of a total of 15. The last I heard the job was still Gonzalez's to lose. But Hashimoto made it sound like he's lost it already.

See also: There's No "Search" for a City Manager. Are You Kidding? It's A.C. Gonzalez.

He may be right. The people I talked to last week told me Gonzalez was reacting the wrong way to pressure associated with a string of recent crises, ducking for cover when he needs to be showing his mettle. I do get the feeling the basic momentum has shifted maybe not so much away from Gonzalez personally as in the direction of bringing in an outsider. He's kind of taking the hit for that so that everything he does, even nothing, looks wrong.

Of the remaining candidates, Gonzalez is the only insider, the only one with personal history at City Hall. Most of the others are professional public management types from far away. One would come directly from a company that has been long on the tit at City Hall.

But here is the great unknown, the invisible hand yet to write upon the wall. City government in Dallas is set up to shield the bureaucracy from the voters. From the outside, the city manager system looks like a buck-stops-nowhere deal, because there's nobody voters can fire for lying to them.

But City Hall is only shielded from voters so that it can be that much more easily manipulated by manipulators -- real estate developers, engineering and construction firms, supplier/contractors of varying stripe. The tit people. The system seals up the front door only so it can open the side-door to the titters.

All of those tit deals are done through the city manager. The city manager is the one with the keys to the treasure room, and the people who spend the most time buzzing around City Hall smacking their lips are the ones hungry for treasure.

For those entities already in on the gravy train, the idea of starting over on their deals with an outsider is anathema. And now that it's clear Gonzalez is in trouble, those folks are going to be burning up their phone batteries.

A careful trip through the City Council campaign finance reports will show you that the same cadre of people who share in the booty -- the big engineering companies, land speculators, contractors and so on -- are the primary source of campaign money for people who get elected to the council. So when they do call, the council members will take their calls.

We have to assume those conversations will be serious. To sell them on any kind of shake-up, the council members have to persuade their cash supporters that their deals will be as good or better under a newcomer as under A.C., who knows where the bones are buried. I think that's a hard sell.

But there are more people who can call the council than just the tit parade. For one thing, in every old-boy insider deal that gets done at City Hall, some set of people get left out and screwed. The promise is always that they'll get a piece next time if they play along and keep their mouths shut. But there may be people out there who have given up on next time or they're just pissed off about the way things get done. They could pick up the phone, too.

And then there's us. Are we allowed to talk? Speaking through our elected representatives -- or so we imagined -- we told the city manager, "No gas drilling in parks." She said sure. Then she did a secret deal to allow gas drilling parks. It was like, "Sure, Honey, we're married, but that's just for day-time." Do we get to weigh in on that at all?

Anyway. Here's the big thing. Wanta make some money? Wait for me to say somebody's a shoe-in or they've got it in the bag or anything like that. Go get the house mortgaged and bet it on the opposing team. You could get rich.

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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