Lots of buzz this week about a bizarre performance on Monday at City Hall by council member Dwaine Caraway. He tried to rattle Joyce Foreman, who was being interviewed by the council for reappointment to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board. Foreman wouldn’t rattle, and Caraway wound up rattling himself.
And I mean rattle, rattle, rattle. I saw it.
The city council’s Transportation and Environment Committee was interviewing candidates to fill a couple of empty seats on the DART board. The whole proceeding was fraught with unspoken tension, because the council had managed to screw up its DART appointments so badly last time around.
A year ago, right after Tom Leppert was elected mayor, he led a coup to take Foreman off the board, just as Foreman was about to be elected chair by the rest of the DART board. That paved the way for Leppert’s political ally, Lynn Flint Shaw, who was already on the DART board, to become DART chair instead.
Lynn Flint Shaw’s brief regime as chair cracked up in a cascade of scandal: a billion-dollar budget deficit at DART; a sleazy side-deal contract between Shaw and Deloitte Touche, DART’s external auditor; revelations that Shaw was using her influence with Leppert to manipulate minority contracting at DART and with the city. On March 10 Shaw and her husband were found dead of gunshots in their home, in what police have described as an apparent murder-suicide.
The Shaw debacle has left the City of Dallas in the lurch at a time when huge transit planning decisions are being made. The suburbs have been quick to capitalize, rushing into seize the chairmanship of the board and putting their own projects first in line, so that badly needed Dallas lines must go begging for funding.
At least half the city council wants to put Foreman back on the board. At Monday’s hearing, she came across clearly as the kind of sharp, decisive but diplomatic person who might be able to repair Dallas’s wounded fortunes. She should never have been kicked off in the first place.
But Leppert has been going to individual council members, asking them to get Foreman to withdraw in favor of Dr. Beverly Mitchell-Brooks, executive director of the Dallas Urban League. Brooks is a smart capable person too, but in her own interview Monday it was plain that she is way behind the curve on DART issues.
Worse, she has all kinds of conflicts, because the Urban league does all kinds of business with the city. She sent a memo to City Hall earlier this week killing a $40,000 a year contract with the city to do HIV/AIDS education, perhaps temporarily, but she still has contracts with the city’s housing repair program, first-time home-buyer’s mortgage assistance program, senior’s program and abstinence education program. (You didn’t know your city cared so much, did you?) And that says nothing about a contract between the Metro Homeless Alliance and the Urban League to build a hotel for homeless people with a million bucks in city tax money.
Some of that stuff may wriggle around the city’s conflict rules, but a lot of it will present the same kind of conflict problems for Brooks as the HIV grant she ditched the day of the interview. When council members asked her about all of that, she told them she will quit the DART board if any of it presents a problem. Not exactly what they wanted to hear.
Councilman Caraway, who has been Leppert’s main henchman on DART board issues, obviously saw that the Brooks interview had gone quite badly -- not because of anything about Brooks herself, but because of her very awkward position. Then he saw Foreman’s interview going very well. So he decided to turn the tide.
Foreman has a reputation for being fiery at times. It’s really more of a suffer-no-fools thing than raw temper. She can keep it under wraps when she needs to. But Caraway must have thought he could needle her into an explosion.
He kept coming at her with off-the-wall questions and veiled accusations, but Foreman kept her cool, even when Caraway tried to suggest she was involved in improper relationships with vendors -- quite an irony, given what happened with Caraway’s favorite, Lynn Flint Shaw.
“A lot of people have lobbied for you to come back to the DART board,” he said to Foreman. “Some of those people that lobbied extremely strong and hard have contracts with DART. I would just like to know, since they walked into City Hall on your behalf and since they made phone calls on your behalf and kind of really, you know, went real tough with it, what’s the responsibility that you may have and how will you handle the relationship with them going forward?”
Foreman started to answer by saying she didn’t know who he was talking about. Caraway lept back in and named four prominent African-American business people. I am not naming them here, because I’m told most of them do not have contracts with DART -- a fact I have not been able to verify yet one way or the other.
But it was obvious Caraway was hoping those names would be the Big Button that would set Foreman off. Instead, she stayed cool and cordial, telling him: “Certainly I have known and worked with each of those individuals. Let me say something clearly to this committee. If you don’t know, my background is procurement. I come from a purchasing background, and I clearly understand conflicts of interest.
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“I personally work with everybody. But I don’t get involved in the purchasing process at DART or anywhere else that I have served.”
At about that point, Caraway became so frustrated and flustered that he walked out of the room. It’s deeply ironic that Leppert and the Citizens Council wound up working with Lynn Flint Shaw and against Foreman on the DART board. During his campaign for mayor, Leppert promised to “build strong companies” in Southern Dallas. That’s exactly what Foreman was already helping to do on the DART board, but without the cronyism.
So they tossed her out and put their money instead on Shaw. And we see how that worked out. Now the Leppert-Caraway team is trying to move Heaven and Earth to keep Foreman from being put back on the board, because they don’t own her.
Did they ever hear of working with somebody, even if you don’t own the person? --Jim Schutze