So Long, Suhm

I knew some people whose only kid went off to college. Tears, blubbering, World War II refugee-style moving day with boxes lashed to the top of the car, the whole nine yards. So now the kid's gone.

They don't just clean up his room. They don't just clean out his room. They sell their house. No, really. They moved into a one-bedroom apartment. I hope they left a forwarding address.

The point was, that chapter of life was now closed. Over. Gone. Sold. Other people living in it. Want to come back home? What home?

If it were up to me, that's what I would do the day Mary Suhm moves out of City Hall. And not because I have any personal animosity for our city manager. At the end of last week when Suhm announced she was retiring, my first thought was that we are not going to get a better one to replace her. The problem was never Suhm. It's the house.

Ideally what the city should do the moment Suhm leaves is get rid of the whole city manager system, close the chapter, pack it all up and put it out by the curb. Who knows? Maybe some small town in East Texas will come along and load it up. They might be able to get some use out of it. It's no good to us anymore.

I would even argue that Suhm is one of the best city managers the city has ever seen, and, yes, I do remember about the secret deal to allow fracking in the parks, and, no, of course not, I haven't forgotten about the white-water feature or the Calatrava bridges or flow control or the I.T. expert who couldn't open his laptop. You know I haven't forgotten the underwater toll road.

But I also understand what the job is, really. Supposedly it's brokering the contending interests and ambitions of the 14 single-member district council members and the mayor. That's what it is on paper, and that's bullshit. If that's part of her job, she does it in the car on the way in Monday. Her real job is brokering the interests of all of the elected officials, together as one entity, against the interests of the old elite in the city as represented by the private curtain-lurking, string-pulling, check-writing group called the Dallas Citizens Council.

Stop. Think about it. Just take the white-water feature. Do you remember what that is? The city spent millions of dollars to have some contractor go dump a bunch of gigantic white concrete turds into the Trinity River in the belief that this would recreate a white-water kayaking park that some rich Park Cities ladies saw in Colorado on their vacation. You know: "Oh, isn't that fantaaaastic, all those magnificent rocks and spray and the little boats and all? Let's do get one and take it home."

We get a lot of stuff that way. It's how we got the Calatrava fake suspension bridge downtown. They see it on their vacations and want one of their own. They think Dallas sucks. They think they can make it better with bling.

Do you think a single City Council member or mayor in the entire history of this city ever asked for a white-water feature? Or a Calatrava bridge? Or an underwater toll road for that matter? Come on. Those poor bastards on the council are fighting for stop signs. No, all of the drama comes either from the Citizens Council or more directly from one of the old business and land-holding oligarchs. And I'm sure if you could get them drunk, they would tell you they are the repository of grand vision in the city.

You do recall, I'm sure, that the white-water feature was such a resounding failure, such a mess, so dangerous to life and limb that they had to close that whole section of the river to navigation, and now, years later, there it sits, spoiling the river for canoeists and kayakers — what the white elephant left behind for us.

The city manager is the pivot point for all of that. She tips this way, The Money gets a white-water feature. She tips that way, a council member gets a stop sign. Not everybody can have everything every time. She's the broker. Suhm has been very good at that job. It's the job that's the problem.

She returned my call the day she resigned. Does that seem surprising, given all the nasty stuff I've written about her, especially this year with the revelation of the secret fracking deal? Not really. Suhm's tough. She gets the gladiatorial element of public discourse. She has knocked me right off my own horsey in a few jousts in the past. I think one of those is still up on YouTube.

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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

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