| Schutze |

Getting Racked By City Hall

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Thought I heard right. I had to get back to the office and listen to it again on tape. But, yeah. At the city council briefing today, your city council agreed to spend approximately $1.2 million of your money getting into the newspaper business. And common sense says it’s going to be tens of millions in the not-too-distant future.

They say they want to regulate newspaper boxes because they think the boxes are unsightly. In a briefing today, council member Steve Salazar asked Theresa O´Donnell, director of development services for the city, how much her proposed news rack clean-up rules will cost the taxpayers. She said, “We think initially for implementation for downtown, we will spend about spend $877,000, plus about $321,000 for new staff, so a total cost of $1.2M for the initial implementation.”

They’re creating a whole new government agency: The Department of News Rack Enforcement. And that’s just for starters, doing it in downtown alone. Then they’re going to fan out and do this thing all over the city.

To begin with, the $377,000 a year for staff will pay for only four news rack enforcers for downtown. Think what it will be when the Department of News Rack Enforcement is citywide.

There will be hundreds of news rack enforcers at a cost of gigahoolians. News rack enforcement will become a career. It will be on the curricula of junior colleges. Law schools will offer courses in how to deal with and influence the Dallas Department of News rack Enforcement.

But, of course, O’Donnell assured the council that eventually the taxpayers won’t feel a thing, because the whole operation will be paid for from fees charged to newspaper publishers. Freedom of the press, turns out, comes with a price tag after all in this town: $174 a year for each box in which a publication distributes its paper, which represents a tenfold increase over current costs.

Sure, and about the time small newspapers really have to fork over that kind of money to the city, the Harvard Business School will start teaching a course called, “How to tell the City of Dallas to kiss your ass.”

At the end of the briefing today the city council voted unanimously to adopt the new law forcing all publishers to put their newspapers in official government-issued news racks -- but even then they're not guaranteed a spot. Something to do with a lottery system. Or just Ron Natinsky's thumbs-up.

Reminds me a lot of those other great moments in City of Dallas law-making history -- the pooper-scooper law, the panhandling law, the rooster ban and the best one, the law that says homeless people can’t use shopping carts to carry their stuff. That one is supposed to be free to the taxpayers too, because of all the big fines the city collects from the homeless. No wonder City Hall’s so rich. --Jim Schutze

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