If Dallas Thinks It Can Bluster Its Way Around HUD, We Should Visit Our Sister in Sin

We should be doing what we can to keep up with news about our sister community, Westchester County in New York. It's the other local government entity in the nation, along with the city of Dallas, formally accused by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of practicing deliberate racial segregation. The news from there is not good.

Last year HUD stripped $7.4 million from its annual allocation to Westchester County -- not much in a total county budget of about $1.7 billion but real money nonetheless. This year Westchester is looking at losing another $10 million. A few weeks ago a federal judge shot down Westchester's most recent attempt to pry the money out of HUD.

Westchester County and Dallas share an ignominy -- both have been targets of four-year federal investigations that found them guilty of lying to cover up policies of segregation. Like local governments everywhere, Westchester and Dallas receive large subsidies from HUD, much of it as community development block grants. Dallas gets about $25 million a year in CDBG money.

The most recent development in Westchester was a swat-down from a federal judge when Westchester went to court to argue that HUD shouldn't be allowed to just shut off the money arbitrarily. U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said yup. They can. It's their money. They can decide not to give it to you.

After HUD said its investigation had proved Dallas was misusing HUD funds to carry out deliberate racial segregation, Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst fired off a so's-your-old-lady letter to HUD, mocking the agency for lacking any clear national policy on segregation. I always thought the national policy on that was pretty clear. Did we think they hadn't quite made up their minds?

See also: Dallas to HUD: Stuff It!

I also spoke with an attorney who has represented many clients before regulatory bodies. He said it's simple, and if you want to do your client any good it always works the same way. First you say thank you for allowing me to be alive. Then you say maybe we might have a few small quibbles about certain interpretations of certain facts, Your Regencies. But the big wind up is always, "Our principal desire and motivation in coming before you is to come into full compliance with all law and regulations that govern our activities."

Why the groveling? Look at what just happened to Westchester. They went to court and said all kind of stuff about how the court must not allow HUD to act arbitrarily. The court answered that it lacked any authority to stop HUD from doing what it wanted to do with its own money.

The lawyer for Westchester complained later that, "The district court's determination that it lacks judicial authority to consider the illegal actions alleged to have been taken by HUD renders HUD to be a self-ruling, authoritarian agency completely impervious to any legitimate form of scrutiny."

Pretty much yup. That's why you grovel. Or you can kiss off the CDBG money, tell HUD to kiss your ass and keep on keeping on. But of course it doesn't stop there. In Dallas, for example, two whistle-blowers are in the federal appeals court trying to reinstate an action against Dallas over segregation claims that could involve money with a theoretical reach into the billions of dollars.

It's just never a good idea to go to war against somebody who gives you money every year, especially if there is any way to avoid the argument and keep the cash coming. The real secret is that HUD wants a good way out of the fight, too. When HUD brought similar charges against the state of Texas over hurricane relief funds, Governor Rick Perry went the grovel route and patched things up as fast as possible. HUD punished him by giving him even more money and telling him to spend it better, which he agreed to do.

Rick Perry. Smarter than Dallas. Smarter than Westchester County, apparently. I will keep you posted on news of our sister government as it comes in. Maybe we should send them a cowboy hat.

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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