City Hall

Investigation into Uber Crackdown Reveals Extent to Which Yellow Cab Called the Shots

The highly anticipated investigation commissioned by Mayor Mike Rawlings has dropped. And, as expected, it boils down to this: Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Most significantly, the report reveals that the charges against Uber drivers snared in undercover ops by Dallas vice officers have been tossed. Given the circumstances, it's the right thing to do, and it's also probably the smart thing, since the city is 0-1 when it comes to facing off against Uber before a jury.

But chief among its findings is the mayor's conviction that the city manager's office is innocent of illegal or unethical conduct. Yet to the extent that this report constitutes daylight shed on the hand-in-glove machinations between the city and Yellow Cab to crush a competitor, this looks even uglier than it did before.

See also: Uber Investigation Blames Interim Dallas City Manager, Finds No Illegal Conduct

The most fascinating revelation is that Interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez was apparently suffering from a horrendous bout of kidney stones in the weeks leading up to the draft ordinance's placement on the consent agenda. If civil or criminal charges were ever levied, the stones are an affirmative defense, in my opinion. They're just awful. If I were laid up for two weeks like that, there's no telling what kind of crazy shit I'd place on the consent agenda. Meanwhile, he's in charge of the city budget for the first time.

None of that, however, explains the June 2013 strategy meeting attended by city staff, Dallas Police, public works and John Barr, Yellow Cab's attorney, apparently to discuss the crackdown on Uber. That just looks bad. It looks like industry serving as a de facto arm of city government. Ditto for emails sent from Barr to assistant city manager Joey Zapata regarding an Uber advertisement: "We need to ticket this for advertising and avoidance of code."

It becomes even more troubling when paired with the admission from a city attorney that a number of the citations issued to drivers were based on information obtained by a private investigator who was hired by Barr. We reported this in a cover story last month.

We also reported that Barr met with the city regarding the ordinance, but this report brings specifics. Apparently Barr gave Zapata a regulatory wishlist, which he then turned over to the city attorney's office. Some of the requested regulations, the city attorney said, were "not enforceable."

The report also confirms the deep misgivings police Chief David Brown had about deploying vice cops to sting possible code violations.

Rawlings thinks Gonzalez and his staff were blind to a changing "marketplace dynamics" and "naive" to think that running Uber out of town wouldn't draw a response. He characterized the whole sorry affair an "overreach" of his office.

And maybe that's it. The whole affair wasn't a wildly unethical case of city staff working under the table with a virtual private monopoly to use the power of the police to eliminate a competitor, all without consulting Dallas' elected leaders. It was just a man who suddenly found himself in what is arguably the most powerful seat in the city (at least when Mary Suhm occupied it), juggling a budget, demon kidney stones and the attorney for the region's biggest taxi conglomerate crawling up his backside -- a man who simply made a series of bone-headed-but-innocent moves that happen to look really bad in context, and would have stood coincidentally to benefit one company long known to have significant pull in City Hall.

According to the mayor's report, that's it and that's all.

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Brantley Hargrove