I have been writing about Dale Davenport, proprietor of Jim’s Car Wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Fair Park, for 14 years. Monday for the first time in all those years, I heard him say something I didn’t believe was true.
Speaking in reference to a new initiative to shut down his business, Davenport told a meeting of the Dallas City Council’s Public Safety Committee, “I have no idea what we’re talking about here today.”
No way. Davenport always knows what’s really going on. He just can’t say it in public yet. But he will.
For 14 years Davenport has been the target of a political vendetta so egregious that it has actually made history. In 2006, a special investigative committee of the Texas Legislature issued a report saying the campaign against Davenport had exposed a citywide shakedown scam by Dallas City Hall.
After extensive investigation and public hearings, the committee ruled that Dallas City Hall was blaming surrounding crime on business owners, threatening them with shutdowns, then forcing them to hire off-duty Dallas cops as security. The committee co-chairman told the Observer at the time his investigators had found "ward politics run amok," especially in the South Dallas/Fair Park area: “There seemed to be cronyism, and if you didn't play the game, you got retaliated against.”
Davenport’s car wash is a major meeting place and social gathering spot for the very tough neighborhood surrounding it. It would be naive to suggest that bad things don’t happen there sometimes. But bad things happen all around it.
For all these long years, Davenport has been doing every single thing the city asked him to do to abate crime, from installing cameras to reporting crime to running off drug dealers himself. Meanwhile, the street behind him is lined with drug houses that never seem to get shut down.
And yet today, just as the legislative committee found in its investigation 12 years ago, Davenport’s car wash is still being singled out by South Dallas political leaders as the cause of all the crime in the area. Meanwhile, the drug houses and rampant prostitution surrounding the car wash go untouched by the same leaders.
That familiar line was front and center again Monday when District 7 council member Kevin Felder told fellow members of the Public Safety Committee why the car wash needed to be shut down: “This property is no stranger to many of the departments, from the police department, code compliance, city prosecutor,” Felder said. “It has gained a reputation as being basically the wild, wild west on MLK.
“You could drive down MLK at any hour of the night, and you will see 20, 30, 40 cars on the parking lot at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. As a matter of fact, a high-ranking Dallas police officer went there, and they were physically shaken to see what they saw.
“This has to stop,” Felder said. “And so we have a number of organizations, businesses and residents that are ready for it to go.” On Oct. 24, Felder will ask the full council to begin proceedings to shut down the car wash as a public nuisance.
I called Felder the next day. He did not return my call. He never does.
Felder did not name the neighborhood organizations eager to see Davenport lose his business. I am aware that for some months Davenport has been filing open-record requests and asking the city to produce financials for one organization in particular, a city of Dallas entity called the South Dallas Fair Park Public Improvement District or PID.
As a city-sanctioned entity, the South Dallas Fair Park PID has been authorized to levy a special tax on property within its boundaries, ostensibly to improve the area. Davenport pays that tax. He believes he is spending more on anti-crime measures than anybody near him, so he inquired whether the PID could give him a grant of some kind to help with that expense.
He was distraught, he told me some months ago, to learn from the city employee in charge of the PID that its six-figure annual budget had been exhausted halfway through the budget year and that there was no money available for him or for anyone else.
I tried to reach Dorcy Clark, the city of Dallas senior coordinator for the PID. She and I are negotiating, I believe, about whether we can negotiate my request for information. I do not expect a speedy response to my emailed questions. In fact, I do not expect a response.
The actual operation and management of the PID have been contracted out to an entity called Hip Hop Government, run by Jeremy “Jay” Scroggins. The message at Scroggins’ phone number said he was no longer accepting calls. On Facebook, Scroggins describes himself as a graduate of “Street University” with a “Ph.D. in common sense.”
Scroggins filed a certificate of formation with the state of Texas for Hip Hop Government, a nonprofit, in 2007, listing its address as Rockwall, Texas. In 2018, the Texas Secretary of State rescinded Hip Hop Government’s charter, apparently because it had never been granted nonprofit status by the state or federal governments.
Funded entirely from taxes collected for it by the city but operated by Hip Hop Government, whose sole employee is Scroggins, the South Dallas Fair Park PID had a total annual budget of $110,247 in 2017 and is slated to have an annual budget of $262,037 by 2023.
Davenport is an acting bank president and the owner/operator of several businesses. He tells me he doesn’t get how any entity operating under the sanction of the city charter can just throw up its hands and say it has run out of all its money half a year early and City Hall not know, not ask and not tell anybody what happened to the money. Davenport has been poking around and asking a lot of questions, none of which, he says, have been answered yet by the city.
Maybe the attack by Felder is City Hall’s answer. Ask a lot of questions, make things uncomfortable for the wrong people, and City Hall will come after you in all its glory.
One of the most transparently dishonest things brought up by Felder at the Monday meeting — and there were a bunch —– was his anecdote about the unnamed “high-ranking Dallas police officer” who supposedly went to the car wash at night and was shaking in his boots because of all the cars he saw parked there.
From the beginning, the South Dallas politicians seeking to shut Davenport down have attempted to enlist the cops in their efforts. The rank and file police officers who do know the car wash, in my experience, resent being shanghaied into what they see as a strictly political battle. Most of them are grateful to Davenport for doing more than anybody else in his area to fight crime and help the police.
Monday’s council committee meeting was attended by Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, the largest of the police labor organizations. I assumed he was there for another of the items being taken up that day by the committee. But I noticed, when Davenport’s deal came up, that Mata leaned back in his chair and whispered something to him.
So I called Mata later and asked if he could share with me any of what he had told Davenport at the meeting. He did.
“I had never met Mr. Davenport,” Mata told me. “He says we met a long time ago when I was on patrol. I don’t remember.”
Davenport always remembers.
“I told him, I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I made a lot of drug arrests in that car wash.’ I said, ‘But you know, I don’t think it’s fair, if you are doing what you are supposed to do, if you are abiding by city code, if you spent the money that is necessary for security and lighting and whatever, for them to try and take your property.’”
Mata put his finger on a key issue here. It is what Davenport has been saying to me since he first learned of this new effort. “This is not about crime,” Davenport says. “This is a taking.”
By a taking he means taking his land — an attempt to use politics and the power of government to force him to sell at a lower price than what he wants for his land. He has always told me that anything and everything he owns is always for sale — but at his price.
I have observed his car wash day and night for years. It’s true it’s busy all hours. But most of those dozens of cars on his car wash lot day and night are getting washed. That’s all money jingling in his coin boxes. It’s a really good business. I am confident that Dale Davenport is making more money per square foot of dirt than anybody else on MLK.
His value, the price he puts on his own land, is not the ambient land value in the neighborhood. It’s what he makes from his own land. What he makes, what he’s going to make in years ahead, that’s his price. He says it doesn't make any difference. In 14 years of battling City Hall, Davenport says the city has never once offered to buy his land.
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I’m uncertain what’s really going on. It seems plausible to me that when Davenport started asking a lot of questions about the PID, he may have turned over too many rocks and made too many bugs scurry. That could be why this is happening again.
But John Carney, the attorney representing West Dallas landlord Khraish Khraish, tells me that recent changes in the federal tax code have hugely incentivized development in the Fair Park area. The city may not want the land, but all of a sudden, Carney says, it may be worth somebody else's while to bump Davenport off it at a cheap price.
I asked Davenport why he doesn’t just shut down the car wash and redevelop his land as something else. He said redevelopment would be a fool’s errand, because the same South Dallas politicians who want to shut down the car wash show no interest or capacity for reducing crime in the area. Whatever his new development might be, he said, it would still be prone to all the same social and political problems.
Might as well stand and fight where he is, he says. And he will. He always has.