Molix, his head shaking in dismay, runs one finger down a long crack in the tree's gray bark--the first clue, he says, that this young red oak isn't alive any more. He points, too, to the mushroom-shaped fungus running up one side of the tree trunk. Then he gets down on one knee, in his nice gray flannel slacks, and takes special note of the green mold creeping along the soil at the tree's base.
"It's completely rotted," Molix says, pulling off bark as though he were peeling a tangerine. "It's a shame. All of these were beautiful trees. When we dropped them here we were so happy because they were such good-looking trees."
This is not a story about some dreaded tree disease that is striking the city. Nor is it a story about the ravages of unpredictable Texas weather, or the greed of some tree-insensitive developers.
This is a story about the esteemed handiwork of the people at Dallas City Hall--the same august group that manages to find a half-million dollars to spend studying a $200-million arena after recommending the shutdown of four inner-city swimming pools because the city can't scrape together $65,000.
This summer, when City Manager John Ware recommends closing more swimming pools, remind him about the trees.
Darold Molix's trees.
When the tourists came to Dallas for World Cup, they saw a city that was all gussied up.
The homeless had been airbrushed from downtown, the Cotton Bowl had a $12-million facelift for its last national hurrah, and the boulevards from downtown to Fair Park were widened, waxed, lit, and landscaped.
A big part of the pizzazz was the Farmers Market, the recipient of $15.4 million. The money was earmarked largely for cosmetic changes. The bulk of the money, $10.6 million, would be spent beautifying the streets. Another $2.3 million was for improvements to some of the fruit and vegetable buildings; the city built a new shed, a fancy trellis to cover an old one, and a kiosk to house food vendors.
The city is now spending another $2.5 million on a 10,000-square-foot administration building that will house city employees who oversee the market. (What do they do--make sure the tomatoes don't roll out of their bins?)
Anyway, when World Cup arrived, the Farmers Market looked spiffy--never mind that for $15 million there was not one new reason to come down to the market. No new restaurants, or plazas to enjoy at lunchtime, or fountains--no fresh drawing card at all. Just prettier houses for the fruits, flora, and vegetables.
Not to mention rows and rows of nice-looking new trees.
Which brings us to Molix.
As the owner of a small landscape and irrigation company, Molix was hired as one of the subcontractors on the Farmers Market project. His piece of the job totaled $1.2 million.
Molix did what he was told. He installed a sprinkler system and did irrigation and electrical work on Canton, Young, Marilla and Central Expressway. He ordered thousands of multicolored concrete pavers that, when laid side by side in a decorative pattern, created distinctive 18-foot-wide sidewalks along Marilla Street between Harwood and Central.
And he planted trees.
Sounds straightforward enough. But from the beginning, there were problems.
"This job was so bad," says Molix, who is no rookie when it comes to government work; 99 percent of the business his three-year-old company does is for the city of Dallas, its suburbs, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit. "You couldn't tell anyone about a problem and get anything done about it because there were too many go-betweens. The project kept bogging down for no good reason, running way behind schedule, and then, way before it was completed, it ran over budget and out of money. Which is why we all stopped getting paid last May."
But they all kept working--had to, they were told--because World Cup was coming.
Molix and his men worked every night and every weekend to get the work done, hustling like crazy to meet the June soccer-fest deadline.
The directive had come from the top, Molix and the others were told--from First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley, who wanted the city in perfect shape for World Cup. "Mr. Keheley had been pressing for completion," Public Works employee Steve Parker, the project manager on the Farmers Market improvements, told me last fall, "and we did want to have as much done as possible for World Cup."
Unfortunately for the taxpayers, the city staff was more concerned about meeting deadlines than getting the work right.
When Molix first started work in August 1993, he took one look at the design plans executed by Dallas-based HOK Architects and balked. Some of the landscaping and tree-planting was fine. But the work along Marilla Street was not. This is a strange way to plant trees, he told the general contractor who had hired him, Ed Bell Construction.