City Hall

Three Changeroos, and City Council Flip-Flops on Reverchon Giveaway

The three changeroos on Reverchon were Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas II and David Blewett.
The three changeroos on Reverchon were Carolyn Arnold, Casey Thomas II and David Blewett.
A proposal to turn over 105-year-old Reverchon Park to a commercial sports operation — defeated at the Dallas City Council a month ago — passed yesterday after East Dallas member David Blewett engineered a revote. He got his way.

The deal to change the 46-acre park just north of downtown from an antique, slightly down-at-the heels public park to a hyped-up for-profit sports and concert venue was defeated in a tie vote Dec. 11.

The changeroos this time around were Blewett and southern Dallas members Carolyn Arnold and Casey Thomas II. All three voted against the deal last month. All three voted for it Wednesday.

The other factor was North Dallas member Cara Mendelsohn, whose absence for the December vote reduced the size of the council from 15 members to 14 and split it down the middle. A tie vote is considered a no vote, according to the rules.

Mendelsohn showed up this time and gave a classic North Dallas explanation of her vote: She repeated all of the criticism and objections that opponents of the plan had lodged against the way it was developed involving lack of public input and squirrelly manipulation of the procurement process. Then she voted for it.

That has always been the North Dallas way: hold your nose and vote yea.

The other non-surprise was the flip of the southern Dallas members, Arnold and Thomas. Reverchon is outside their districts and not anything their constituents give a damn about. Their reversal was in line with a time-honored tradition of convenient understandings between old southern Dallas and old North Dallas, especially on deals considered all northern anyway.

Some parliamentary horseplay was carried out to try to take Blewett out of the hot seat. Even though it was his quiet up-the-sleeve memo a month ago that called for the revote, the actual motion for a revote Wednesday was made by Thomas.

I don’t think that fooled anybody. A savvy City Hall lobbyist sitting behind me tapped my shoulder at the beginning of the proceedings and pointed out that someone from every single power base in Blewett’s district was present. When the public speakers went to opposite sides of the room to line up to speak, almost all of Blewett’s influential constituents were lined up to speak against him.

The day before the Wednesday council meeting, there was an absolutely crazy kerfuffle over an apparent attempt to bar the public from speaking at all during the normal public-speaker period before the vote. People who had signed up to speak said they were called by the city secretary at the last minute and told they would not be allowed to speak. One person who got the call said she asked what had happened and was told that Mayor Eric Johnson had issued the edict barring public speakers.

When that story went out on social media (including mine), mayoral spokesperson Tristan Hallman vehemently denied the mayor had made any such pronouncement. But by then the situation was so screwed up — people signed up to speak who were told they had been unsigned — that a decision was made, a bit obscurely, to allow anybody who showed up for the meeting to go ahead and speak anyway, whether they had signed up in advance or not.

And that has been the major problem with this Reverchon proposal from the beginning, more even than the nature of the deal itself. Hustled through a dormant Park and Recreation Board by former President Bobby Abtahi, morphed from one deal to another without any public input, virtually hidden from neighborhood groups surrounding the park, the deal smacked of old-style City Hall before a younger, more progressive group opened it up to accountability.

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Omar Narvaez was one of a solid four-vote Hispanic bloc on the council that did not change votes on the Reverchon deal.
That group took a shellacking in the last election, defeated by an establishment-backed ticket promising a return to civility. Wednesday’s flip-flop on Reverchon was civility in action.

The new deal I’m watching at City Hall is the emergence of a coherent Hispanic power center with its own point of view quite outside the traditional black/white co-dependency.

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In this cloud there was a silver lining, however. It’s something I have been noticing for some months. Standing apart from the traditional alliance of North and southern Dallas, the four Hispanics on the council were steadfast in their votes and their remarks. They didn’t assail anybody’s character or accuse anyone of double-dealing. They just stuck to what they said the first time.

Adam Bazaldua and Omar Narvaez both spoke eloquently about the sanctity of parks but also about the sanctity of the process and public input. They won one of the day’s only victories for skeptics of the Reverchon deal when Northeast Dallas council member Paula Blackmon moved unsuccessfully to cut off council debate. Blackmon withdrew her motion.

Sitting in the audience watching the proceedings was Dallas Park and Recreation Board member Jesse Moreno, who had spearheaded much of the opposition to the plan based largely on the backroom way in which it was developed in the Park and Recreation Department. Moreno also objected that the plan was being dishonestly linked for political purposes with a nonprofit plan for a new facility for disabled children at Reverchon.

So that’s the new deal I’m watching at City Hall — the emergence of a coherent Hispanic power center with its own point of view quite outside the traditional black/white co-dependency. It may not emerge to be progressive, exactly, given a certain core tendency toward conservatism and its own strong cultural legacy.

But that Hispanic center will not be a lay-down for the old North Dallas oligarchy. So far at least, the Hispanics don’t enumerate everything wrong with a deal, hold their noses and then vote in favor of it because that’s what the white shoes want. They vote against it if they think it’s wrong, and they don’t flip-flop at the snap of a finger.

That means they will not be allied consistently with black southern Dallas, either. Meanwhile, on the ground in terms of population, southern Dallas is becoming more Hispanic every day. It’s inconceivable that redistricting after the new census will not take away black seats and create more Hispanic ones.

Watch those demographics. I think this is the future.
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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