Yesterday I wrote about Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, who were on my mind Tuesday night as I watched the final electoral votes for Obama click into place. Lockey and MacKenzie are real estate developers suing Dallas in federal court over what they claim is massive misuse of federal de-segregation money. I said I was going to check back in with them ASAP after a long silence.
The point was this: Their suit really turns on the assumption that an Obama administration in general and HUD Secretary Ron Sims in particular will be a lot less prone than predecessors to wink at this kind of claim. The plaintiffs argue that over several decades Dallas took hundreds of millions in federal money dedicated to furthering de-segregation. The city swore on official documents they were using the money the right way. The plaintiffs swear the city spent it instead to do just the opposite - promote segregation.
They say Dallas spent the money building condos for rich white people downtown and then jamming more and more all-minority subsidized housing into all-minority neighborhoods. That, the plaintiffs claim, is an official policy of segregation. Swearing on federal documents you're doing the opposite, they say, is fraud.
Well, I did not have a whole lot of luck getting the plaintiffs to talk to me yesterday. Something about being in the middle of a federal lawsuit and not wanting to jam themselves up by being blabbermouths. Duly noted.
But I did look at the court documents. Fairly interesting. The latest thing filed is an agreement by the plaintiffs that the Dallas Housing Authority does not have to give them certain documents that might compromise the privacy of public housing residents. Makes sense that two guy suing to make public housing more fair and just don't want to mess up the private lives of the people who live in public or subsidized housing.
More interesting are the earlier documents, which I revisited. First of all, the city claims that it did nothing in secret or with subterfuge, and that everybody knew all along how it was spending the federal de-seg money. Part of their argument is the Mitt Romney defense - look at my web page: "Information on a publicly available website is a public disclosure either as an administrative report or news media," the city says in its brief.
Wow. You ever try to find something on the city's web site? If I stole an elephant from the circus, that's where I would hide it. Ah, but, anyway: I'm not a lawyer, am I?
It was other arguments that really caught my eye. The city argues in the brief that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, which gave them the moolah, never told them they were doing anything wrong, so they weren't doing anything wrong.
Mmmm. Don't know about that one. My understanding was that Westchester County, New York, where the first really big case of this same sort took place, made this argument when it was sued over the very same claims. Westchester got slammed big-time on that one. The judge said basically, "No, no. You swore on the documents that you spent the money the right way. HUD took you at your word. That's it. HUD had no obligation to check to see if you were lying, which you were."
There's another intriguing argument in the city's brief. They seem to suggest that furthering segregation was what Dallas' minority leaders wanted. I think they've got a point. It's an important aspect of a social tragedy I've been writing about since I wrote my book, The Accommodation, in 1986.
It's true. Dallas minority leaders, especially in the black community, are Marcus Garvey separatists. They have always been distinct from the national black civil rights movement for their continued faith in segregation.
Here's the problem. Segregation is against the law. If Dallas happens to be some kind of bizarre civil rights Brigadoon living in the past, so what? So what if this stubbornly entrenched separation from reality happens to include local black and Hispanic leaders? That doesn't make segregation legal. It just makes Dallas bizarre.
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Reading this brief, I keep hearing the voices of convicted felons and former city council members Al Lipscomb and Don Hill, and maybe even the voices of the ever bizarre closed-door downtown moneybags leadership group called The Dallas Citizens Council: But this is how we have always done it in Dallas. As I once heard a federal law enforcement official say: "Yes, that's the problem."
Why does any of this matter? Last year the Dallas Housing Authority eliminated 117 jobs to deal with a 17 percent cut in only one of its many HUD-funded programs. The theoretical remedy called for in the law, if Lockey and MacKenzie nail their claims, is a cut-off in all HUD funding for the city and related entities. That's pretty much the budgetary equivalent of Hurricane Lockenzie.
Of course, that's not what happens. Instead, we wind up like Westchester, with a settlement and a federal judge running a huge chunk of federally funded city operations. My own two-bit projection is that this case, which has been mired in process for months, is going to start moving forward again. I said yesterday that this case, like Westchester, was premised at least in part on the belief that, "there's a new sheriff in town." Sheriff Obama.
The sheriff just got his mojo back.