Shoe One

Dear Elaine Agather, chairwoman of the Dallas Citizens Council; Joel Allison, chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce; Steve Taylor, president of the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce; former city council members Alan Walne and Max Wells:

Thank you all so much for helping defeat the recent strong-mayor proposal at the polls and preserving our fine system of government in Dallas. As you watch FBI agents swarming over City Hall like lusty South Texans on a javelina hunt, your chests must swell with pride.

We made The New York Times last week as a corrupt city--something that might not have happened without your expertise and generous financial support. My own favorite moment--one of those endless loops on TV--was the big stumper question at the very end of the Political Jeopardy Championship Play-Offs: "And now for the grand prize, Dallas City Councilman Don Hill, tell us, who owns your car?"

In another city, it would be a simple question. But here, thanks to the business leaders who joined themselves at the hip with Councilman Hill and others to defeat the strong-mayor proposition in the May 7 election, it's a brain-buster. We don't know who owns our cars. The answer is "You got a badge?"

Listen. This FBI thing? Raids on the city council offices, raids on private developers, raids on law firms? That's just the beginning. Who knows where it will go? We do have to keep our minds open to the possibility it will go nowhere. But even if it does, it's still just the beginning.

A serious effort is under way in the Texas Legislature right now--it sounds to me like it's going to succeed--to create an extraordinary investigative committee just for Dallas. The Dirty Dallas Committee. We'll know by the end of the summer.

If it gets done, the scope of the Dirty Dallas Committee will be broader and more profound than what the FBI and the Justice Department can look for. The feds have to find some kind of money in brown envelopes stuffed into pockets of people with say-so over federal funds.

The state committee also will look for old-fashioned corruption, but its larger mission will be to look for a culture of corruption that systematically violates the civil and property rights of citizens of Dallas.

And before I go into those details, let me first draw the big picture. The syndrome the FBI and the state are looking into--the one the Elaine Agathers and the Alan Walnes and the Chambers of Commerce fought so hard to protect in the recent charter election--is one where basically there is no rule of law. There is no ultimate transparency or accountability, no checks, no balances, nobody even knows who owns his car. Everything gets divvied out according to who's a cool guy and who's not. Country club rules, in other words.

At least for what the state's interested in, most of the worst offenders will turn out to be absolutely convinced of their own moral and ethical rectitude, of their devotion to the good of the community. You know. Like Benito Mussolini. Hey, do you want the trains not to run on time?

When the state investigation gears up, look to see way more white faces in the dock and not just a bunch of Southern Dallas pols scrambling for crumbs. Between the two efforts, state and federal, we are going to see a searing examination of the nature of power in this town.

Which works like this. I buy a chunk of cheap land in Southern Dallas. Well, I put some money down. Now I want to make a few million. I'm thinking low-income apartments. Southern Dallas is already overbuilt in low-income apartments. Too much competition. So I go two ways.

1. I use my friendship with members of the Dallas City Council to qualify for millions of dollars in up-front tax credit money and cheap bond financing from the state. I can build cheaper on my land than a guy who lacks my political connections, so I can offer new apartments at lower rents.

2. Some of my competitors won't go away. They slash their expenditures and cut their rents below mine. I use my political connections to sic the city on them with extraordinary enforcement efforts, especially the use of the so-called police safe teams.

Why does the city want to help me out and not the next guy? Because I'm cool, and he's not. And that's how it always has been done in Dallas. The only difference now, as opposed to 20 years ago, is that in the name of social progress the city has allowed persons of color to play in the rigged poker game.

It's still rigged. We like it rigged. We don't need no stinking charter reform. Thank you, Dallas Citizens Council.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze