When the city council’s Trinity River Corridor Project Committee voted unanimously to both rename Industrial Boulevard “Riverfront Boulevard” and move forward with renaming Ross Avenue “Cesar Chavez Boulevard,” I finally became interested in this whole mess. Why? Simple: The process had finally reached the point of insanity, and I smelled shenanigans.
But, before we get into all that, the decision itself is best summed up by Harlan Crow, who's a key figure here because the Trammell Crow Center, named after his daddy, sits at 2001 Ross Avenue and includes The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art.
“I think it is absurd,” Crow tells Unfair Park. “Chavez may have had fine qualities, but he had nothing to do with Dallas. I'm happy to honor many of the fine Hispanic leaders we have had, but this is a bad decision. But what do you expect from a mayor and city council totally absorbed with political correctness?”
Aside from the absurdity of the decision, the quid pro quo and behind-the-scenes lobbying among the committee should be a significant concern, and the only one willing to take a stand was silenced in the meeting because of a conflict of interest. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.
Before the committee voted on August 5, Mitchell Rasansky went to chairman Dave Neumann to let him know about a potential conflict regarding Ross Avenue, since Rasansky owns property there. Rasansky says Neumann assured him that the Industrial vote and Ross vote were separate items.
Rasansky later confirmed with the City Attorney’s Office that he would not be able to vote on the Ross item. Meanwhile, he studied the city’s ethics code as it relates to trading one vote for another, because the Hispanic committee members (Dr. Elba Garcia, Steve Salazar and Pauline Medrano) had been working feverishly with the others to work up a compromise.
Before the meeting began, Rasansky approached city attorney John Rogers and mentioned his problems regarding the questionable ethics behind trading votes on the two items. Rasansky says Rogers expressed concern that he would make an issue out of it during the meeting, which is exactly what he was planning to do.
But to Rasansky’s surprise, the two items were combined when the meeting began, forcing him to recuse himself from both the Industrial and Ross votes. On his way out, Rasansky told Neumann he had given him his word, and he should have at least told him about the change. “It was wrong to combine the two items,” Rasansky tells Unfair Park.
But even though Neumann had backed away from his promise to keep the items separate, in addition to changing his mind about keeping the Ross renaming out of the committee, it wasn’t Neumann who initiated the change. Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia says she met with city attorneys prior to the meeting in order to make sure the motions were legally crafted correctly and to complete the compromise agreed upon by the committee members.
Essentially, Garcia knew she and the other Hispanic council members didn’t have the votes on Industrial, but they needed to save face after the debacle with the Internet vote.
“It was important that the Latino community didn’t feel rejected,” she says. “I understand that it’s about having the votes. I understand how to count to eight. I’ve been here for seven years, and I know how the system works.”
But did it ever cross her mind to stick to her guns and vote with her heart and the wishes of her constituents?
“The process had to continue," she tells Unfair Park. "A part of the agreement between the committee was that [the Hispanic committee members] would support Riverfront as long as [the non-Hispanic committee members] would support another street to name after Cesar Chavez. I thought that was a fair compromise. I thought that allowed the Latino community to become engaged, and, at the same time, gave them the opportunity for justice and a fair process.”
Phone calls to committee members Dave Neumann, Steve Salazar, Pauline Medrano, Linda Koop and Carolyn Davis were not returned.
Garcia says she was a proponent of the online voting process, but says the committee made its first big error by approving people’s names for the final voting when it clearly was focused on names associated with water. She also says the committee misrepresented how it would use the public’s input.
“We were not clear when we did this survey that it was not going to be a binding survey,” Garcia says. “That was a mistake of the committee, and we should have corrected it. For me, it’s an issue of fairness.”
Getting Ross renamed will be a challenge, Garcia admits, but says she hopes when the time comes for her council colleagues to vote that “they understand that this is an issue of fairness and respect to the Latino community.” As for the mayor, who, as Schutze says, thought Cesar Chavez was a bit too Mexican for the Trinity, Garcia first said, “I’m not going to go there.”
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Later on, after some prodding, she did go there.
“I hope that the mayor understands the importance of an open process,” she said. “I know that he cares about the Latino community, and I hope that he supports whatever the task force comes with.”
One of the big players leading the charge to rename Ross is Alberto Ruiz, who works for Garcia’s husband, Domingo. “I don’t see any issue with that,” she says.
In the end, Garcia mentioned Cesar Chavez Riverfront Boulevard as the ultimate compromise. Then it came to me, the perfect answer. The Cesar Chavez renaming and the Trinity Parkway have both been disasters, so why not combine them? Cesar Chavez Turnpike, anyone? Anyone? --Sam Merten