Longform

Static Quo

Page 3 of 10

Davis' resume states that he "helped develop the station into the No. 1 money-grossing station in the Lubbock market." A 20-year station employee, however, remembers Davis as a cameraman and production assistant. (It seems unlikely that Davis would have been made a television news director--roughly equivalent to the managing editor of a newspaper--fresh out of college.)

Davis left KLBK to work at Warner-Amex Cable, where he helped out with local access programs. He joined the city's information services department in 1985. The department provides audio-visual services to other city departments, and installs and maintains the city's 911 and telephone systems.

When Davis was moved to WRR, later court testimony would show, employees resented his lack of Top-10 market radio experience. They also soon became frustrated with his long and frequent absences from the job.

Davis' appointment particularly rankled longtime WRR Business Manager Mary Lou Rodriguez, who felt she had been promised the top job before it was given to Davis. Except for a couple of breaks to have children, Rodriguez worked at WRR for 15 years, starting as an accounting clerk and rising to business manager. When Lowenthal left as general manager in 1994, Rodriguez became interim manager of the station.

In November 1994, Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming discrimination. She also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit, tried last month in the 101st State District Court, offered a glimpse into the politically charged, byzantine manner in which Dallas manages its radio station.

At the trial, Rodriguez testified that she had frequently managed the station in Lowenthal's absence. Lowenthal testified that he had groomed her to take his place. Both Lowenthal and Rodriguez testified that their boss, Frank Poe, the city's director of Event Services and Cultural Affairs, had assured Rodriguez during a Ruggeri's lunch that she would be appointed permanently to the top spot, after a short "trial period" to prove her management skills.

But during the "trial period," Davis was given the job, bumping Rodriguez back to business manager.

In a memo authorizing Davis' appointment, City Manager John Ware explained that the city was "re-engineering" its agencies. Twenty-four departments would be cut to 18, and Davis was among several middle managers shuffled to other jobs. (Davis started the WRR job at $48,000 a year, and his salary jumped to $64,000 in his first two years.)

Rodriguez, stung by the abrupt change, worked under Davis for three months before filing an EEOC complaint claiming that the city promoted Davis--a man with fewer qualifications--over her on the basis of sex.

In her lawsuit against the city, Rodriguez again claimed sex discrimination. She also alleged that Davis began retaliating against her after she filed the EEOC complaint by chiding her performance in memos and berating her in front of her co-workers at staff meetings. Rodriguez claimed the hostile environment forced her to quit, and sought damages for lost wages, retirement benefits, and emotional stress.

During the five-day trial in Judge Jay Patterson's court, the city's human-resources manager, Dianna Sword, testified that Davis' selection for the post did not follow normal procedures.

Instead, Assistant City Manager Mary Suhm personally steered the job to Davis. Suhm testified that she did not even interview Davis--or Rodriguez--for the job, but worked only from Davis' resume and the knowledge that he was a 10-year veteran of the city.

"I knew about him," Suhm testified. "We don't always interview people who have worked for the city for a long time."

Since Davis "was aware of how a radio station operates," Suhm testified, she was comfortable recommending him to Ware. "A person with no experience can run a radio station as long as he has a capable staff," Suhm testified.

Rodriguez did not win her discrimination claim against the city, but on August 28 a jury did find that Davis had retaliated against her, and it awarded her $160,000.

According to trial testimony, Davis was the person most astonished by his appointment. "I was ecstatic. I was elated, of course," Davis testified. "My father was a self-taught television repairman in a small town in Texas, so I had been around radio and TV all my life, and this was very exciting."

Though he had absolutely no experience in commercial radio, Davis says, he was ready to give it a shot. "I felt that I brought to the table a lot of marketing and advertising experience," he testified.

Davis testified that he intended to focus on WRR's community image. Grooming WRR's image would mean a lot of lunches out, regular attendance at the symphony and opera, and regular reports to the well-heeled directors of the Friends of WRR.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Holly Mullen