City Council Heroes Are the Ones Who Get Rude When the People Get Screwed

The Dallas Morning News had an editorial this week about how City Council members need to be more polite, under the headline, “Yelling and Hurling Insults Is No Way To Lead.”

Wrong. Sure it is. Depending on what you’re leading. If you’re leading the Sunday school class out onto the lawn for a picnic, well, no, probably not.

If you’re leading the charge against a bunch of dug-in, stubborn, passive-aggressive, disingenuous, fifth-column, bureaucratic saboteurs, then yelling and insults are at the nice end of the scale. Baseball bats and brass knuckles would be the over-the-top end. The brass knuckles anyway.

And talk about disingenuous. This whole disinformation campaign by the mayor about naughtily outspoken council members didn’t start when former member Tennell Atkins, an ally of the mayor, actually laid hands on a lady who is a city employee.

The mayor’s politeness crisis wasn’t declared until council member Scott Griggs, not Rawlings' ally, allegedly yelled at and threatened a city employee – a threat other employees in the room at the time did not hear – on the very same day Griggs had forced the angry Dallas city manager to release emails about the mayor’s Trinity Toll Road plan.

Get it? Mayor’s ally lays hands on a lady. No crisis. Mayor’s adversary accused of saying something to a lady that other people didn’t hear on same day adversary forces out mayor’s emails. Mayor and city’s only daily newspaper call for citywide tent revival.

Atkins has already been convicted on his charge. The charge against Griggs is still languishing at the district attorney’s office two months later like an evil charm while the mayor cackles and continues to drop eye of newt and toe of frog into his bubbling cauldron of politeness.

Now, wait. Am I saying people should yell at Dallas city employees? Of course not. Nor would council members Griggs or Philip Kingston, both of whom were given bad grades for deportment in the Morning News editorial. Both of them have excellent reputations in their own districts for working with city staff to resolve problems for constituents.

I just finished a two-day personal engagement with the water department, Dallas Water Utilities, over a mud-hole in my alley, and I have to say I seldom get to deal with people as thorough and professional as they were. It makes me wish I had mud-holes more often, just because dealing with line-level Dallas city employees is so refreshing after a life of big box stores and the cable company.

City employees actually know what they’re doing. Even when we disagree on whose mud-hole it is, at least they’re not gazing heavy-lidded at me for 30 seconds and then saying, “Are you a lawyer? I need a lawyer.”

But that level of operation in which services are actually delivered is an entirely different realm from City Hall, where the City Council lives and breathes. Let me remind you.

Two years ago we told you here how the council had told the city manager there was to be no gas drilling in city parks. The city manager agreed. No drilling in parks. Then the city manager signed a secret deal with a gas drilling company to help them get permission to drill in parks.

That deal only went public because council members Griggs and Angela Hunt got their hands on the documents and pushed them out there. In that kind of fight, council members like Hunt, Griggs and Kingston are warrior heroes fighting for the taxpayer, and, yes, every once in a while they may let out a war whoop. Better believe it.

Take Kingston. I hear this murmur around town – I think it comes originally from the room where they keep the politeness cauldron bubbling – about how Kingston gets too mad about things. Well, yeah. It makes him mad that the city, after vowing for 17 years it would never spend more than $246 million  on the Trinity River project, now has been forced to admit it has already spent $609 million, and the damned thing is still unbuilt. Meanwhile, the streets in this city continue to be Third World axle-crackers.

He said to me the other night that council members are supposed to be satisfied with the work the city staff does for them on basic constituent services but keep their mouths firmly shut when, as he put it, “it’s the real money.”

But that’s where the big fix is in. The problem is not that the people who work in Street Services don’t know how to fix a street or don’t want to work hard. The problem is that basic priorities have been shifted away from street maintenance toward pet “big ticket” projects like the Trinity toll road, and that shift has taken place in the same back room where the gas drilling in parks deal was done.

In this city, special interests have immediate access to and more or less free rein with the very top level of city staff under the city manager system, while elected members of the City Council are expected to lower their gaze and stick to the small stuff, especially if they are not allies with the mayor or the Dallas Citizens Council, an elite private lobby.

That pisses off people like Kingston and Griggs, and every once in a while they let somebody know in no uncertain terms that they’re pissed off.

The Dallas Morning News and the mayor say that makes them bad. I say it makes them heroes. I don’t want to see my elected representatives standing around hat-in-hand kicking the dust and aw-shucksing when I’m getting screwed big-time. It pisses me off, too.

Being nice is entirely appropriate when you’re dealing with nice people. But only an ass is nice to his swindler.

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