City Hall

How Mary Suhm's Departure Could Help Usher in a New and Improved Dallas

Tons of talk already, of course, about this morning's announcement that City Manager Mary Suhm is stepping down. I tend to go with the end of the spectrum that's viewing it as ushering in the End Times. But I would.

Oh, not my End Times. Their End Times! The Citizens Council! I'm talking about the Dallas Citizens Council, the behind-the-scenes elite moneybags group that should not be confused, please, please, whatever you do, please do not confuse the Dallas Citizens Council with the old White Citizens Councils of the past, because, really, there is no connection whatsoever. It's just this unfortunate confusion that happens, like if we had a group in Dallas that called itself The Qu Qlux Qlan and everybody went around confusing them. Unfair!

See also: Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned

What were we talking about? Oh, yes, Mary Suhm quitting. Just got the memo. And, look, I'm not at all one of those Suhm-raggers. I have enormous and genuine respect for Suhm, whose job is sometimes impossibly challenging, mainly because of this stupid buck-stops-nowhere system of city government we have. In terms of her raw ability to manage complexity, I have always believed Suhm could take a simple little thing like American Airlines, pop it in and out of bankruptcy quickly and turn it back into a blue chip with her hands tied behind her back.

So why the End Times? Because in the end, I have always been wrong about the buck. When it needed to stop, it did. In the pocket of the Citizens Council. But there was a certain social compact involved. The Citizens Council had to get the right city council elected to support the city manager on things like secret fracking contracts, golf courses for the rich on city land and underwater toll roads.

As long as there was just one maverick on the council, that person could be isolated and shunned as a nutcase. City managers, with their Citizens Council backing, have always been good at that, starting way back before Angela Hunt, before Laura Miller even, when the single gadfly on the council was a guy named Max Goldblatt. He was actually both gad and fly, but that's another story.

When it became Hunt holding up the opposition on the council, it got harder to do, because she was way too smart to let herself get gadflied. Then it was Hunt, Scott Griggs, Sandy Greyson and sometimes Pauline Medrano, so all of a sudden it was exponentially harder to marginalize the opposition. Now with this incoming council it may be Griggs, Greyson, Adam Medrano, Philip Kingston and Lee Kleinman. Kleinman is sort of an X factor but he has shown dangerous signs of independence and integrity before as a member of the park board.

Kingston's not elected yet, I know. But I think District 14 in East Dallas is going to scent the dawn of a new day just ahead, and that excitement will bring people out to vote against Kingston's opponent, Bobby Abtahi, a hand-lad of the Citizens Council if there ever was one.

So what does all this crap mean to anybody? Oh, man, if we could get the Citizens Council off our backs? Think about it. Drive McKinney Avenue through Uptown on any weekend night, ride the bike trails through the Great Trinity Forest, take a look at Lower Greenville lately, have dinner in Bishop Arts: There's a whole new very exciting city just waiting to happen out there. All it needs to come into full bloom is to get the mossbacks off its back.

That's what I mean by End Times -- end of the old days, beginning of the new. And, look, the Citizens Council folks can always find something else to do with their time and money. Maybe they could form a new group called the Kaydo Institute or the Ego Forum and get themselves confused all over again.

Happy Days aren't here yet, but they are not far off, either.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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