This morning Rudy Bush and Tanya Eiserer posted a great story on The Dallas Morning News's Web page about Dallas city council member Dwaine Caraway pressuring the Dallas Police department to lay off a gambling house where Caraway and his father play poker. The story includes a strong quote from former police chief David Kunkle saying it's hard enough to motivate the troops without some jackass council member out there jacking with the cops' careers because his dad got a ticket.
The story provides an important window on Mayor Pro Tem Caraway's character. He is a man who just does not understand or get the concept of the rule of law. Sometimes he has good intentions, sometimes bad, but it's always all about Dwaine, 24/7.
The irony for me, of course, is that The News' editorial page thinks exactly the same way. I sometimes wonder if Councilman Caraway and Morning News editorialisto Tod Robberson were separated at birth.
What I have been treated to, in dealing with Mr. Caraway on the contentious issue of Oak Cliff Metal recycling yards, is the other side of his personality. Today's story is about what he's like when he doesn't want the law enforced. You really want an earful, you should hear him when he does.
In the presence of council member Pauline Medrano, an Oak Cliff businessman and myself two weeks ago, Caraway said -- and I believe he was sincere -- that he didn't understand why the city couldn't just fire up the bulldozers and go scrape any houses that appear to have code violations. Medrano, who does understand the rule of law, tried to suggest diplomatically that life is a bit more complicated than that, but Caraway wasn't listening.
Instead, he was busy on his cell phone calling a newly appointed "community prosecutor" -- a lawyer who works for the city attorney -- and ordering him around.
"Find out who owns this property," He said, staring at an illegal dump site. "I'll hold."
A few minutes later he called the guy back. "You need to get over here."
Clearly Councilman Caraway believes that this is his personal prosecutor to sic on people.
I wrote later about an invitation someone at City Hall intended to send out announcing the creation of the new prosecutor's post. On the back of the expensively printed invitation was campaign literature for Caraway.
City Hall spokesman Frank Librio told me in response to a question: "A staff member in the City Attorney's Office prepared the announcement regarding the opening of the City's third community court. That person should not have included the background information contained in the card."
I wrote a column for the paper on March 29
about Caraway showing up at an Oak Cliff recycling business with a van-load of code inspectors - including the chief of code compliance - and demanding that the owners come out and negotiate with him. That business was then and is still now involved in a complex city appeals process. Some sidebar sidewalk negotiation with Caraway would have completely abrogated that process. They didn't come out.
The News editorial page, devoted to sprucing up Southern Town, has linked itself arm in arm with Caraway. Robberson especially has penned multiple diatribes insisting that any appeal to property rights by the recycling yard owners is racist and that they need to damn well do what Councilman Carried-Away tells them to do.
Robberson insists that he can use city zoning maps as a smoking gun to prove that Oak Cliff Metals, the main target of all this, is in violation of its zoning. But just like knocking down houses with bulldozers, life is way more complicated than that. Oak Cliff Metals has moved its operations around on various lots on Pontiac Street at least a couple of times. The city waited 13 years to tell the company that a recycling yard it purchased across the street from its main location was not properly zoned. That conclusion depends on an interpretation of zoning regulations that did not exist when the original owner got zoning for the original operation.
When people get their zoning all crossed up after the fact this way, the city has entire process by which they may or may not get themselves grandfathered under the old zoning. It usually involves some negotiation. All of that is what's underway or supposed to be underway at City Hall.
Robberson wrote a recent editorial under the headline, "Enforce the law against Oak Cliff Metals." Well, first point, Tod, there is no law against Oak Cliff Metals. That would be a law that said, "It is against the law for Oak Cliff Metals to exist." That law does not exist.
In the meantime, if we enforce laws against people, those really are not laws. Those are what we call vendettas. First we have to enforce the law. Just the law. Then we see who's on the short end.
The editorial starts out: "What Oak Cliff Metals has gotten away with is so offensive that it's hard to know where to begin. A legal free-for-all seems to exist for this Cadillac Heights metal salvage company. Code enforcers and police are letting the operation get away with blatant abuses, and this must stop."
No, no, sorry, not true. The code enforcement officials have been going over there in droves. They aren't writing tickets, because they aren't finding violations of the law. By not writing tickets, Tod, they are actually enforcing the law. The law says Oak Cliff Metals isn't doing anything wrong. So no tickets. That's how the law works. What is this? Second grade?
What Councilman Carried-Away and Mr. Robberson really are saying is: The law isn't doing what we want it to do, so we want the process abrogated. We want what we want, the law be damned.
This is all against a backdrop of land speculation in the area by the likes of Dallas Very Very Rich Person Mark Cuban.
In the end, it doesn't matter what a man's intentions are if he doesn't understand the rule of law. A bully is a bully. I believe that's why we have laws. Otherwise we could just give Mr. Caraway a cape and a Glock and turn him loose. And Mr. Robberson too, of course. Then the only question would be: Which one's Robin?