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Meet Jim Schutze, DART Cop

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Sorry, but every once in a while I feel a need to clear the air on blog comments. I recently wrote about a major Dallas Area Rapid Transit screw-up in which alert citizens caught one of the agency’s major contractors tearing up $600,000 worth of new improperly installed train track. I called DART’s response to the situation “sticky.” A Friend of Unfair Park named Flip commented thusly:

“Tree hugging hippies. What seems so 'sticky' or wrong about any of this? Do you honestly believe in all the years this country has been building large civil projects there has never been mistakes or problems?

“If a contractor performs work on anything which the owner does not accept or the work failed to meet specs, any costs associated with rework and repair is the contractors. If you would all stop whining about noise and forest land, maybe you would understand that with all construction problems happen and a project of this magnitude takes time. Quality assurance and inspections from outside agencies are brought in on any heavy civil work to ensure everything adheres to respective codes.”

This is, if I may say so, your basic 1950s Soviet bloc-style thinking: Trust government, trust the big agencies, they know what they’re doing. In fact, the problem here is that no one knows if DART is really going to stick the contractor for this stuff -- and DART is the same agency, by the way, that recently admitted it had a billion-dollar hole in its construction budget.

Other smarter readers commented on my inability to get anyone at Archer Western, the contractor, to comment on the the $600,000 track boo-boo. One reader said he thought he had located an Archer Western spokesman for me, one Eddie Belmarez at their local office. I replied to the reader thusly:

Mr. Belmarez's job title, D/M/WBE & Community Relations Liaison, is not actually that of a p.r. person, but I did call him anyway. He asked me to email him with any questions I might have and said he would contact Archer Western in Chicago to see if anyone could address my concerns. I sent him the message below. My breath is bated.

My message to Mr. Belmarez: “I wrote recently about an Archer Western/DART project. I was unable to get anyone at Archer Western to speak to me prior to writing. Here is a link to the article. Please tell me if you see any inaccuracy in this article. Candor and detail would be much appreciated. Thank you.”

Let me spell out what I was saying to Mr. Belmarez: I was telling him that if he or his people could find one single syllable of inaccuracy in what I had written, this was their chance to point it out and get a correction.

Mr. Belmarez replied to me today thusly: “I am not authorized to comment about your article. Please see Mr. [Morgan] Lyons at DART.”

So let me say this about that. This kind of response, from DART’s biggest construction contractor, is unbelievably unsophisticated, small-time, cheesy, know-nothing and fly-by-night.

No company that had done serious business of any kind on a large scale would handle a press inquiry about a serious problem this way. I think your average beer store could do better.

It always amazes me when people like Flip, who think they are conservatives, fall down on their knees and slaver and profess undying faith in the authorities. This is the basic personality-type that made Communism work as long as it did: the loyal nudnik.

I don’t think Daniel Boone was a loyal nudnik. I don’t think the West was won by nudniks. And I, for one, am getting sick of nudniks. It really is time for a change in this country.

By the way, since I’m already in a certain mood about it, may I just say something about the DART jewelry program that has been so ably reported by my favorite transportation writer, Michael Lindenberger of The Dallas Morning News?

DART has a program to help its employees buy jewelry. From a certain jeweler. The employees buy the jewelry, and then DART deducts the payments from their paychecks. Then the money DART collects is forwarded to a committee. The committee gets a 10 to 20 percent commission on the jewelry. But the committee didn’t pay the money to the jeweler. It spent the money for a party. Then it bounced a check to the jeweler. We are talking total sums in the millions of dollars.

The committee’s defense was that it had a special “slow pay” agreement with the jeweler.

Asked if this was true, the jeweler told Lindenberger, “Hell, no.” The jeweler’s response has the ring of truth. In credit risk terms, I believe a special “slow pay” agreement would be tantamount to a no-pay agreement. That would be sort of a lotsa-luck-gettin’-your-money agreement.

May I just point something out here? I reported on Unfair Park that Archer Western, DART’s main construction contractor, got caught smearing epoxy on the top of holes to fake up a rail installation job so it would look like the rails had been properly installed. In a letter to Archer Western, DART management expressed concerns about trains falling over.

When I tried to call Archer Western about it, a woman who gave her name only as “Kitten” said they never comment on anything. Ever. No matter what.

So here’s what I think is going on. It’s just a guess. I think Kitten is actually the president and CEO of Archer Western. I think a DART inspector caught the thing about the epoxy and went to see Kitten about it, but he was wearing over a million dollars worth of jewelry. Kitten fell in love with him. They went to a lavish DART employees Christmas party in Las Vegas where jewel-bedecked DART employees were doing the backstroke in fountains of champagne. They just forgot about the epoxy. It could happen to anybody.

And, uh, Flip? You trust these people? --Jim Schutze

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