Thank you, Leo Chaney, for giving us one of the more undignified moments in recent local history yesterday. I’m talking about the city council debate about the proposed Leo Chaney Memorial Leo Chaney Park of Chaney Family Heroes Namely Leo Chaney and his Parents, the Chaneys. (It’s actually called “Opportunity Park.”)
You know the deal by now: City council member Chaney wants the city to fund a park full of statues, including a larger-than-life statue of himself and memorials to his parents. In quotes in The Dallas Morning News today, he seemed to invoke the hand of the Almighty as justification for the giant statue of himself that he thinks the taxpayers should pay for.
On the other hand, this is a South Dallas deal, so of course it’s terribly awkward for a bunch of white people on the council to be telling the people behind this effort how to do their park. Look, don’t accuse me of being a bend-over-backward liberal about it: I can foresee a day when black elected leaders might decide to toss a rope around the neck of that gigantic statue of J. Erik Jonsson in City Hall and drag it out to the reflecting pond. We all view history differently.
But by putting himself in the center of things, Chaney sure created a mess. My favorite moment was this: Chaney recuses himself for a conflict of interest and vacates the room. Then citizen activist Roy Williams gets up at the microphone and calls him “asinine” and accuses him of leaving the room not due to any conflict but because of cowardice.
So Chaney comes roaring back in from the back room, where he’s been listening to all this, and tries to take his seat again. City Attorney Tom Perkins runs over and puts his hands on Chaney’s chest, literally pushing him back out. I guess once you’ve recused you can’t un-recuse, excuse me.
I can’t hear what’s being said, but the un-recusingly recused Chaney is stabbing his finger toward Williams in the universal gesture of “J’accuse!” And Williams is J’accusing back at him. Finally Perkins gets Chaney back out of the room.
No, wait. That wasn’t my favorite moment. My favorite favorite moment was when white councilmember Mitchell Rasasnky said he was going to vote against this, because otherwise we would see larger-than-life statutes of council members in every council district. At that point, apparently, a black clergyman in the audience gave Rasansky the finger.
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Rasansky spotted it and called the man out, telling him he did not appreciate it. The gentleman with the finger shouted back at Rasansky, and Rasansky shouted back at him. There was a call for order, and the finger person shouted that he felt Rasansky was the one violating rules of decorum by directly addressing an audience member.
Council member Don Hill, who was running the meeting for the absent mayor, had to rule. Hill said he thought the finger man might be right, since council members are not supposed to speak directly to audience members.
I was troubled. It seemed to me that the finger itself was a form of very direct communication and that the clergyman was the one who had initiated the improper dialogue. Picking up on Rasansky’s reasoning about one thing leading to another, I wondered what would happen if this man got away with giving the finger. How do we know we might not see a day when the entire audience siys giving fingers to the entire council all the time? Me among them.
The council voted to send the park thing back to the drawing boards. Later, when the chamber was almost empty, I sat in a back row remembering the words of my dear departed mother: “Jimmy, why don’t you got to dental school?” --Jim Schutze