Are They Angels or Grinches at Dallas City Hall? Depends Which Project You're Discussing.

Sometimes I think city staff may be demon-possessed. I'm sorry, I know it's a very weird thing to say. But I can't come up with another explanation.

One day they're so bouncy and positive and totally can-do. The next day they've been taken over by the negativity goblin.

I attended a city council briefing yesterday where Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan was talking about dirt bike trails in the Trinity River bottoms. Oh, my God, you'd have thought she was recounting tales of The Plague.

Long faces. I imagined sad violins in the background. It would cost millions of dollars to mark off a dirt bike trail in the disused floodplain, she said, and there would be terrible waste and duplication of effort. Though she didn't go quite this far, one sensed there would be awful tragedy and possibly even loss of life -- slow, agonizing loss of life -- if the city staff were compelled to mark off dirt bike trails in the Trinity River bottoms.

Earlier in the day Theresa O'Donnell, director of the City's Department of Helping Developers, sneeringly characterized the desire of certain council members for more bike lanes in the city as resembling her daughter's Christmas wish list.

Oh, ouch! That was negative right in the gut! See how they can be!

But not always.

Sometimes they are sweet as honey. I can't help noticing the incredible difference of tone when the staff is talking about a Park Cities lady project like the Calatrava bridges.

When Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and her underlings are talking about stuff the Park Cities ladies want, like decorator bridges over the Trinity River, Suhm and her minions sound like little enchanted angels on a Christmas tree.

Back in April, City Manager Mary Suhm said she thought Congress would give the city an extra $92 million for the Calatrava bridges because the Dallas was earning so many brownie points by aggressively building bike trails. I never quite got that, although it sounded very cheerful -- much more cheerful than the staff sounded yesterday about actually building the trails.

I hope we're not getting credit for something we're not going to do. That would be naughty and at a very bad time of year for that.

At the same time an unnamed Suhm deputy was quoted on a News blog saying it didn't really matter how much money the city gets from various sources, because the staff can just sort of schmeer it all around and do what it wants:

"The Texas Department of Transportation or the North Central Texas Council of Governments could bring additional moneys to the table," the unnamed staffer told the paper, "and literally we kind of swap the purposes for the money out. The $92 million goes for main lane reconstruction; TxDOT, state money, or COG regional money could go to the Calatrava portion."

So easy. So sweet. That's how they are when they're talking about projects they like -- when that nasty old negativity demon isn't in them.

Just last April when the city had to admit the decorator faux suspension bridges were under-funded by an amount between $50 and $150 million (or, as I might put it, "About $50 million, give or take a hundred million") Suhm wasn't discouraged at all. She told The News: "I really believe, with Calatrava's capability, we will have a very striking bridge that we will all be proud of."

Isn't that special? I remember, a little more than a year ago, being so cheered up when Suhm told The News that we shouldn't even worry about the money for stuff we just really badly want: "It's not about a set of rules everybody has to follow all over the city," she said. "It's what makes for a good quality of life in an area."

That's just what I told Santa in my letter.

But there you have it. Sometimes the staff is nice, sometimes naughty. Sort of depends, doesn't it?

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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