Laura and the Little People

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John Loza is one of several past and current council members I have spoken with in the last week about the problem of briefings and information.

"You would have to do your own research in order to prove anything to the staff," Loza said. For that, he said, council members would have to have their own staffs far beyond the single assistant per council member now hired for them by the city manager.

Many people who have served or are now serving say it would take a small personal staff merely to read the briefing papers that the city manager typically dumps on them five days before they have to vote on Wednesdays. A developer who spoke to me on a not-for-attribution basis said he thought council members would have to have access to their own certified public accountants and lawyers in order to get any decently independent view of things like the private bonding and taxing authority the arena developers are now seeking.

On no issue does this stuff get more serious than it is with the Trinity River project, a multibillion-dollar public works fiesta that has been the beneficiary of more intensive lobbying at City Hall, in Austin and in Washington than any other local issue in my memory.

One little detail the city manager has failed to communicate to the council or to the new mayor--a thing that has not been reported in The Dallas Morning News, by the way--is that the president of the United States, formerly of Dallas, recently killed this project from his 2003 budget. In fact, the Dallas Floodway Extension Project (its official name) is now a high-priority target in a White House war on pork. The city manager hasn't thought to mention this to the mayor or to the council for whom he supposedly works.

Why? Because the boys, the people the manager really works for, want this project done, president or no president. It's money for them.

And by the way, why are the presenters at all these big briefings only the people who want money from City Hall? Why wouldn't the city council want to hear from the League of Women Voters, for example, which has amassed a great deal of wisdom and scholarship on the case against the Trinity River project?

In fact, there are early hints that Miller may seek to open up the information stream in exactly this way. Her reporter's instincts are going to tell her that one side of a story, no matter how brilliantly told, is always only one side.

Meanwhile the game will be this: Can the Lilliputians seduce her with enough minutiae, trick her into enough hat-pin fencing matches over side issues to keep her away from opening up the big picture?

Benavides says he won't try. He says he will work to make her successful.

I still don't believe it.

I think his strategy will be to find a way to keep her from exposing the rest of the council to too much daylight. And in a war of a million tiny pricks, he is definitely the one with the army.

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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