Is the Morning News Just Not Going to Cover the HUD Segregation Story?

Hey, I think I have waited about long enough for The Dallas Morning News to weigh in on the racial segregation complaint lodged against Dallas by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development in early December. A month. Even allowing for Santa Claus and all, a month seems a bit long for the city's only daily newspaper to acknowledge the most important national story about Dallas since Larry Hagman died.

Could it be ... no! ... that the ownership of the paper is a bit chary of where this story might go, if they were to go somewhere with it? Given that the core of the HUD accusation is about downtown development, and given that top executives of the paper were major players in many of the events chronicled in the HUD complaint, it couldn't be the case ... could it ... that someone might have a big fat thumb on the scales?

To be fair, to be fair: Yes, the paper did do the unavoidable breaking news coverage the day after the HUD complaint hit the fan, with an absolutely adequate story by the new City Hall guy and former cop shop reporter, Scott Goldstein, laying out the basics. A day later in what I thought was a promising effort, Reese Dunklin did an interesting blog piece analyzing implications of the HUD investigative report in light of the city's previous history of federal litigation related to segregation.

But that's it? Oh, now, c'mon folks. You know better than that. This is a major story that cuts to the very nature of the city. Nobody quite gets where it came from. It's the sort of thing readers might gobble up.

In the old days when we had two dailies competing with each other in Dallas, they both would have assigned entire teams of editors and reporters to this thing the day it happened. And the best you can do in a month is a press release story and a blog item?

Let me tell you what I am worried about here. The four-year federal investigation that produced the scathing 29-page report released a month ago was kicked off by a set of accusations brought to HUD by a Dallas developer, Curtis Lockey. After his deal to redevelop a downtown tower was killed by the city in 2009, Lockey went to HUD and said Dallas killed his deal because he wouldn't agree to engage in racial segregation.

Since then and to this day, City Hall has maintained a united front and company line on the issue, insisting that Lockey's deal was killed because it was a bad deal, especially in its financial structure. A few days after the report came out when I spoke to former City Council member Angela Hunt about her own opposition to the Lockey deal -- a major factor in its defeat because the deal was in her district -- she was still insisting it was a bad deal.

The point here is that the federal investigators who produced the HUD report went over that accusation with a toothbrush and a microscope and came to the conclusion that it was bogus -- a pretext and a subterfuge to camouflage a policy of racial segregation downtown.

Am I saying I know who's right? No. But, look, it's pretty interesting. You've got everybody at City Hall insisting the Lockey deal was transparently bullshit. And then you've got a four-year federal investigation telling Dallas, "No, you're transparently bullshit. You killed Lockey's deal, because you wanted to keep black people, Hispanics and the disabled out of downtown while you misappropriated vast sums in federal money to build fancy condos for rich white people."

It's worth a story, what? Just to explain what got us here, which decisions put us in this position and who the people were who made those decisions? So now I get to my real concern.

On June 10, 2009, the death knell for the Lockey project was delivered by an obscure appointive board that controls downtown property tax incentives. The motion to kill Lockey's deal was made by Dallas architect Larry Good, who was chairman of the body.

Good gave his reasons that day. He said, "First is the design of the project itself. I don't believe that this is the right concept for this project at this point in time. Second I think the developers' lack of equity in the project, inability to service the note they already had, status of the project, lots of what ifs, are a concern, and I think we ought to steer clear of that. And third I think the request is simply too much money for one project at this point in time relative to the other things that are going to come before the [tax incentive board] and will be priorities for the [tax incentive board]. So I'm going to recommend that we send it on to council suggesting that they not approve this project."

Thing to know now: All of Good's justifications for killing this deal are rebutted in the HUD investigation and a related civil case. In fact the civil case presents evidence that Good's group was deliberately fudging its books to make it look like it had less money in the kitty than it really did.

Good sought a second for his motion. It came quickly from board member, Daniel J. Blizzard, a top executive of the company that owns The Dallas Morning News. The rest were all ayes and no nays. Lockey's deal was dead.

For years, Blizzard has been the executive assigned to carry out the downtown policies and dreams of recently retired Belo CEO Robert Decherd. Through Blizzard and Decherd, Belo has been perhaps the single most aggressive and important private party in a position to influence downtown development policy in the period covered by the HUD report. So we see where the sticky comes from, eh? This is a story any major daily newspaper worth its salt would jump all over, if it weren't afraid of jumping on its own tail.

I have a call in to Blizzard, but I think Belo may do one of those Park Cities things where they shut down for about a month in honor of Santa. I will let you know what I hear.

I'm not saying who's right, who's wrong. I am just saying, c'mon. You're not going to cover it? Are you kidding me?

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