Heck of a Job, County

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"I said, 'Well, if it's worth something to them, then have them pay for it.' This has been the ongoing battle for me and the court."

Cantrell doesn't dispute the basic facts offered by Keliher. He concedes that the new computer system, mainly his baby, has been the beneficiary of the county's Homeland Security money. He agrees that Dallas County is developing a system it will eventually give away to other counties. But he says that's all a good thing, and Keliher's failure to appreciate it demonstrates that "she has no vision."

"She can dis the system all she wants to," Cantrell told me. "The bottom line is, she does not like to spend a dime of money to benefit another city or another county. And if that's the case, that's a very narrow point of view. She has no vision, period."

Yeah, but, I asked him, if this new computer system is the best thing since sliced bread, homeland security-wise, how come the state's Department of Emergency Management just rated Dallas County near the bottom of its scale for preparedness? And why, in the briefing the commissioners tried to make secret, did the county's own director of Emergency Management give Dallas County four "inadequates," one "minimal" and a "limited" in scoring its preparations so far?

Cantrell said it was the judge's fault for not naming a new director of Emergency Management sooner. Keliher told me there was no point setting up a bureaucracy if all the money it would need to operate on was going to be sluiced into the computer system from here to kingdom come.

But do you get where I'm coming from at about this point? You know, with the extra food and the ammo? I don't mean to dismiss anything Cantrell said. He's a smart guy. I do tend to give Keliher more credence because she's got the agendas and the budget items and the history on paper to back her up: Almost all the money has been going into the computer system that loses the people in the jail. We just had a story in the Dallas Observer in which a lawyer said the only reliable way to find a client, now that the new system is in place, is to walk through the jail calling his name ("The Disappeared," by Jesse Hyde, February 2).

This is going to help us when the big one goes down?

We can take comfort, supposedly, in the much better emergency preparedness rating received from the state by the city of Dallas. But both Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and Dallas Office of Emergency Management Director Kenny Shaw told me the county must play a key role in any disaster that extends beyond the city limits.

"If we had a big event like the Katrina thing where we go to the next level, they're in the chain," Shaw said. "If we have to go to the state for resources, the state asks that we go to the county first and ask them to coordinate between other cities."

So here's what I'm thinking. Let's say the city's telling the truth. They're totally up to snuff. And, hey, they have a good rating from the state to back that up.

But the big one happens. Some son-of-a-bitch toe bomber or whoever sets off a big bioterrorist toe-jam attack or whatever--we don't know what it's going to be--and all of our local units of government are called upon to respond.

The city is ship-shape and ready for war. It calls the county. The county can't come to the phone because a big hair-pulling fight has broken out over who spent all the money. But that's OK, because the state is all spiffed up and ready to roll. But the state has to call the White House, and they're all having a contest to see who can stare at the other guy the longest on the videoconference machine without talking.

He's staaaaaaring at the camera. Not saying a word. He's staaaaring at the camera. Hey. Maybe it's not a game. Maybe the toe-jam guy has done something evil to them, like a trance or a coma!

OK, my big message here is that I do not have faith right now in the ability of government to do a whole lot for me or my family in the event of catastrophe. In fact, it seems to me that government's efforts to prepare for catastrophe--across a broad spectrum from national to local--are themselves catastrophes.

So this is what I see. I see myself and my family on the roof. We've got extra food. We've got bottled water. Quite a bit of ammo. And while we're up there waiting for things to sort themselves out, I plan to pass the time reading my new manual on how to stretch and tan squirrel hides.

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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