City Hall

Not Very Super: The Weather, and Reaction To It, Has Mayor Tom Leppert Very "Disappointed"

No doubt, in coming weeks the Dallas City Council will hold committee briefings during which officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Oncor, Atmos, the Texas Deparment of Transportation, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and various city departments will be asked to explain their responses, for better and worse, to this week's winter storms. After all, the very same thing happened after last February's snow storm, when Oncor was lightly scolded for its inability to keep the lines up and the power on.

Mayor Tom Leppert acknowledges as much: "First off, I think everyone's got to look at ERCOT and the rolling blackouts," he tells Unfair Park this afternoon. "And I think each of the groups you mentioned will say, 'There are things we could have done better, differently ... But having the Super Bowl was an advantage, because there were already a lot of contingency plans in place, and we've moved from Stage One to Stage Two, which involves getting 60 [sanding] trucks out on the road."

On the other side, Leppert talks about the impact of the ice and snow on the city. Long story short: "It's clearly disappointing." (I also asked him about last week's exit of Dallas County Elections Administrator  Bruce Sherbet, since, as Friend of Unfair Park Wylie H. notes below, thus far no elected city official has said word one about it.)

Clearly disappointing for whom?

I feel sorry for a number of the small business that clearly aren't going to see the kind of business everyone anticipated, and for so many people who worked for years on this. The controllable pieces have gone terrific. The feedback at various parties has been terrific, especially from the people from out of town. But the weather is the limiting factor. A number of events have been canceled, and I feel so sorry for so many people who put so much into and expected so much out of this.

Time and again, the number of sand trucks and plows kept by the city has come up -- whether it's from out-of-town media or a local just trying to get to work. Then again, people would be furious if we spent a fortune on those and kept 'em parked 363 days out of the year.

We'll look at all the circumstances and say, "Is there something we can do?" But it wouldn't be smart of us to all of the sudden say, "We'll match Chicago's snow plow inventory." But are there things we can learn from it? Yes. But keep in mind, I think it was ABC News said a few nights ago this the worst winter storm in 40 years. I don't know that we've ever had something like this. We've had snow, and we do get that every other year, but in 2006 we had six inches on a Friday night, and by Sunday everyone was out playing golf. Last year we had that storm on February 11, but it gave up the next day. This is something where we got hit the first part of the week, then the cold set in for four, five days, then the snow fell on top of it. I don't know if we've seen all of these circumstances all at once.

So, then, it's a ... teaching moment?

More like as doggone-it moment.

Honestly -- was there any point this week when you said, "Since I'm not running, maybe I shoulda stepped down, oh, Monday?"

[He laughs.]

That's no answer.

What I am sorry for are the folks, the awful lot of people who spent a lot of time working on this, and I was close enough to see it. The activities, all of the planning elements. I've been to a bunch of Super Bowls, and this was the finest effort by a host committee -- not even close. We lapped people. All of that work will not be overlooked.

What do you fear will most be erased by this whiteout?

We're clearly not going to get the economic activity people hoped for. The thought was, the hope was, people would come in, move around, spend time going from restaurant to restaurant, go to dinner and maybe a bar or two on the way, and during the day go off shopping at Galleria and NorthPark and wherever. But with the weather, we're not having that kind of activity. And people couldn't get in as early as we hoped. You can look at those canceled flights, and the airports did the best they could, but a lot of those flights being canceled are are due to the weather in Chicago and New York and elsewhere. It's not just here. But the combination really hurts. The economic activity will be a lot less than expected.

And we wanted people to come in and move all around and get excited about things happening here. You look at Woodall Rogers [deck park], you look at the [Perot Nature & Science] museum being built, the [Margaret Hunt Hill] bridge being lit up, and hopefully people are going to Oak Cliff for dinner and seeing that. But those things are happening, and we haven't had the chance to show off the great things happening here. It was about exposing the city and region to so many different people.

There was also this expectation that there'd be an energy in Dallas the likes of which we'd never experienced before. And now it's been ... dissipated.

On a personal basis, I am disappointed the same way everyone else is, but I'm more sorry for the ones who took the lead on this. I am disappointed, clearly, but everyone in the community is as well.

Say, while I have you. Some folks, including us, have wondered why no one at the city has said anything about the departure of longtime Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet last week and how that went down at the county. Any thoughts -- especially with the May mayoral election right around the corner?

I was surprised. I don't know the gentleman, but the people who are here [at City Hall] always felt he did a terrific job and was responsive. I haven't done the homework to talk to the people involved and find out what happened.

But shouldn't the city ask the county: What happened?

It's a fair concern, but am not so sure that effort would do much good, given the action has been taken.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky