Pumping the House Organ

Dave Levinthal’s story in The Dallas Morning News today about the big launch of “Vote No!” the anti-Trinity referendum campaign was basic good work -- solid journeyman reporting. It was hugely better than what we got from The News back in the very bad old days, when Burl Osborne was publisher. Back then we would have seen a puff piece, totally uncritical of the Vote No! propaganda. News reporters would have been forbidden even to call Angela Hunt. Anybody remember when Robert Ingrassia got beaten up for calling Adlene Harrison on a Trinity story? I do.

Levinthal did inform readers that there is real controversy over the way Vote No! is presenting its case. One could argue he should have done a better job himself of showing that the graphics used by Vote No! at its press conference showed a design that would grossly violate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood improvement policy. Instead he went to Angela Hunt for that.

But he did try to call the Corps, and the Corps didn’t call Levinthal back. He was stuck, especially on a daily deadline. What that situation really shows is the way the Fort Worth office of the Corps aids and abets violations of national Corps policy in order to keep its local partners happy.

It’s just absolutely astonishing, in the wake of the horrors of Katrina, that a responsible official in the Fort Worth division of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to pick up the damn telephone yesterday, call Levinthal and say what he or she should have said: “No, the road can be nowhere near the position that Mayor Leppert is showing it in his graphics, and, no, there can be no trees planted on or near levees.”

Then we have Leppert and company telling us in the story that maybe they can get an exception to that rule. Uh, mayor … tree roots weaken levees. I don’t think we want to weaken the levees. Please tell me that you do not want to weaken the levees.

And poor Veletta Lill. Suggesting we could have potted trees along the levee and the paved median. Veletta, I know you and I have disagreed about this thing, but I have great respect for your intelligence and your contribution to the city. Please do not make a goofy-head of yourself in public over this.

Let’s imagine this thing out. The Corps, hopefully, does not want a forest of real big trees in concrete pots washing down into the floodway in the event of a flood. So it goes like this: Big oogah-oogah siren warns that weather service is predicting flood. Huge airplane-hangar doors open and giant caterpillar tractor tree removal machines roar into action. They rush down specially constructed concrete tree-removal lanes built into levees so tree-removal machines will not gouge into soft soil of levees and cause flooding catastrophe during emergency tree removal operation.

But where is forest of trees to be temporarily stashed? Huge flat-bed trucks roll out into Stemmons Expressway where forklifts unload forest of small potted trees into the emergency lanes.

See what I mean? Veletta, please don’t say things like this. No amount of loyalty requires you to do this to yourself or to your reputation.

I still say the real deception in those graphics that Leppert showed us yesterday was that they were like bad Escher knock-offs. What someone probably needs to do is show the NTTA animation, for example, to any good professor of drawing and ask, “What can you tell me about the perspective here?”

The answer is going to be, “You can’t see the highway on the right, because the perspective is skewed left.”

Wow. Someone thinks we are just breath-takingly stupid, doesn’t someone?

There’s a bottom line here politically. These are the same people who have admitted to us that the sailboats-on-lakes graphics used in the original 1998 bond election were a fantasy invented by a political ad agency, based on no engineering and no real-world planning at all.

These are the same people who have argued in court that they are not bound by any advertising materials, graphics or explicit promises they make. In fact they argued in court that they should not be bound even by the ballot language. Ballot says, “Park.” Later, after they have our money, they say, “Nope. Road.”

Judge Ann Ashby said, No, you do have to stick to the ballot language, but you do not have to honor your promises in brochures and speeches.

Isn’t that special?

These are people with a history of fundamental political dishonesty. Leppert keeps saying, “Yeah, but all of the politicians except Angela Hunt are behind us.” Guess what that tells us about all of the politicians except Angela Hunt.

Anyway, I say Levinthal and The Dallas Morning News city desk did a good job on this one. Now, with off my chest, I need to go stick pins in the cat.

Oh, one more thing. Something I noticed when I tried to pin Leppert down on some Trinity things recently. You ask him, “Do you stand by what you said? Is it true or not?” He will not say yes or no. He always says, “We are very comfortable.”

That has got to be some kind of lawyer-tutored deposition response form his corporate days. We’re going to have to start saying, “Mr. Mayor, no one gives a rat’s ass if you are comfortable. Please use the words ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response to an honest question.”

I still like him, but he’s a leettle bit slippery. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky