City Hall's Notion of Flow Control: Money Flows in, Control Gets Trashed

Last year, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and Mayor Mike Rawlings locked arms to push through a so-called "flow control" law, now locked up in a lawsuit, forcing commercial trash haulers in Dallas to use the city landfill instead of commercial dumps.

Mayor Rawlings was candid about why. He admitted in open debate that the environmental, neighborhood and free enterprise business issues didn't move him much. Rawlings said the city just needed more dumping fees to prop up its costly McCommas Bluff Landfill.

The battle over flow control was rife with accusations that the city was lying about how the whole thing would work, by revelations that the sanitation director was off on European junkets paid for by commercial parties with an interest in the outcome and by the seamy fact that Rawlings only got it done at the last minute by creating a new slush fund of a million bucks a year for southern Dallas preachers, who, of course, enthusiastically betrayed their own community's wishes in response.

So what else is new. Right?

Well, this is new: a mumbly, vague, obfuscating, sheepish new report from the city auditor revealing, in spite of its own best efforts to avoid saying it, that McCommas Bluff is a staggering stinking heap of corruption and mismanagement.

The sticking point for me in flow control was always the city's insistence that McCommas Bluff was such a tight ship, such a closely managed and efficient high-tech paragon of waste-handling that it could out-compete all of the commercial dumps in the region. Therefore, we were told with much smiling, forcing the commercial haulers by law to stop taking their trash elsewhere and bring it instead to McCommas would actually be good medicine for all.

The city auditor's report bends over backward not to name names or connect dots, but it can't help putting so many dots on the page that a 2-year-old could see the pattern: They don't count the money out there at the bluff; they have no idea what's going into the dump or who's dumping it; and any commercial hauler who actually tried to play by the rules instead of slipping a brown envelope full of cash to some guy in coveralls and safety glasses would be a sucker and not in business very long.

So what is the city's response so far? Suhm quietly removed Mary Nix from the sanitation director's job just before the audit came out and put her in a hide-out job somewhere until the heat dies down. The mayor has said not one word about whether he should reconsider pushing flow control in the first place, let alone reconsider the million bucks a year to grease the preachers.

I can tell you exactly what the plan is, because I've seen it too many times at Dallas City Hall. They are going to hold their breath and wait for you to forget about it.

Flow control is an affront to free enterprise in this city -- yet another unmistakable message, like what happened to the Inland Port, that Dallas is an anti-business city unless you're in the family. It says City Hall in Dallas is all about protecting the all-cousin, good-old-boy, depleted-gene-pool gang of cross-eyed, banjo-twanging insiders who have always profited from city business and the permanent staff of bureaucrats who serve them.

Flow control says: "If you're not at least our first cousin, stay the hell out of Big D. If you are our first cousin, how about a date?"

At some point the auditor referred several matters to the city's own police department, where investigators found no criminal matters. We can only hope that some other law enforcement agency at a longer arm's reach will review that very unconvincing finding. You know, usually when six figure amounts of money go missing, it's not like somebody forgot and put it in the drawer for the napkins and the stir sticks. Usually when you have a cash shrinkage of six figures or more for year -- and who knows how much it really is given the auditor's general tone of extreme shyness about it -- it means that somebody is taking the moolah home. The normal reaction to that much theft is alarm and anger.

Do you hear one note of alarm or anger coming from Dallas City Hall about this? A ting-a-ling? Yeah, me neither. Just wanted to point it out before the moment passes.

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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

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