Talk the Talk: Mayor Mike's Pals Shovel Up the BS at Council Retreat

Look, I know I just covered this in a column in the paper, but I can't resist coming back to the theme of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings as a so-what clone of the last mayor we had around here, Tom Leppert.

The target I find particularly irresistible this time is the group therapy session Rawlings hosted this week for the city council at which he subjected them to two supposed demographic consultants.

Anna Merlan covered the council retreat at the Degolyer Estate on beautiful Garland Road, at which Frank Luntz, a specialist in up-to-date corporate lingo, told the council they shouldn't talk about "working together" but about "partnership."

I don't know from that. I guess it's related to everybody who works for Best Buy being called "an associate" now instead of an employee. It's some science they have that tells them that certain terms make people feel better. I'm not going to argue. My specialty is making people feel worse.

One of Luntz's big claims to fame, Merlan reported, is that is he's the guy who convinced Republicans to stop using the term "global warming" and call it "climate change" instead, sort of like changing the word "death" to "change in life status." She reported Luntz got 30 grand for his talk at the Arboretum, 15 from the city and 15 from an unnamed Daddy Warbucks. Merlan was tipped that Rawlings was the Daddy who came up with the other 15 large. His chief of staff today declined to comment on that, which I will take for a yes, ma'am.

The other "consultant" (wouldn't it be better to call them "nice people who want to chat with us?") was Molly Foley representing an outfit called Next Generation. (Do they have that term copyrighted?) Her expertise is in what young people want from life and how cities can attract them (sort of skipping over the embedded question, should cities attract them, but that's OK; I agree we should because just because).

Now, she could be interesting, it seems to me. I'm kind of intrigued by that topic. It's a fairly busy field, crisscrossed by all sorts of well-credentialed thinkers, researchers and writers, from Richard Florida to Christopher Leinberger. So, since the council wasn't getting to hear from one of the ones anybody's ever heard of before, I wondered what particular set of qualifications brought Foley to the fore.

I looked her up on her company's website, where I found what I initially took for very alarming news, indeed. It says, "Molly came to Next Generation from the Chamber industry ... "

OMG! Being the kind of person I am, I assumed for just a split-second they meant the gas chamber. But then right away I saw that that Chamber was upper-cased. Aha! They mean Chamber of Commerce, which they believe to be an industry. Tells us so many things, does it not?

To be fair, the web page does offer a more complete bio. You click on that, and you get a "60 second Q&A" with Molly telling us: "If I had an extra five hours every week: I would volunteer more." But for what? Firing squad duty? Does not say.

Just for instance, Leinberger's liner notes describe him as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, director of the Graduate Real Estate Program at the University of Michigan, founding partner of Arcadia Land Co., and author of articles for Atlantic Monthly and Wall Street Journal. His liner notes do not say what Leinberger would do if he discovered an extra five hours in the week. Being the entrepreneurial fellow he is, I would guess he would try to sell them to a multinational.

But here's my deal. Former Mayor Leppert, you may or may not remember, was a great fan of framed motivational business homilies. I can't think of one right off the bat, but they're things like "Fly like an eagle." You know what I mean.

And Leppert was a master of board-room talk-arounds. You asked him, "Did the Corps of Engineers tell you that the flood control levees are safe?" He said he had spoken with the top people at the Corps and he was "very comfortable" with their assurances.

Trouble was, he blows town, and later we find out the Corps thinks the levees are crap. Leppert, meanwhile, was very comfortable with no longer being around.

But people who think like this don't see talk-arounds as tricks or subterfuge. They really believe that you can make bad things go away by calling them nice things.

I was intrigued by one of the nice things Luntz told the council in order to make them feel better about Dallas. He said that people in Dallas are more optimistic about the future than people nationally by almost half. "You don't have pessimists here," he said, assuming, I guess, that that's a good thing.

I think he's right. There is a tendency here to accept certain kinds of promises without skepticism. I've always thought this was the kind of town where a troupe of carny grifters, arriving by boxcar overnight, would roll open the doors, gaze out on the city and think they had arrived in the land that floweth with milk and honey.

I just finished a book called A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Gahmei, a psychiatrist who's probably a little more interested in history than he should be. The book does present really interesting little tidbits from psychological research, one of which had to do with optimism.

Scientists did an experiment with coin tosses showing that happy, supposedly healthy people have a tendency to convince themselves of bullshit, like they think they have magical powers to predict random outcomes, whereas depressed people are much more realistic.

Bottom line here: Leppert and Rawlings both come from the same Music Man, framed-motivational slogan school of thought. Leppert rose to the top of the construction industry not by rising in the construction industry but by succeeding as a consultant who knew how to sell stuff (himself) in a boardroom.

Rawlings rose to the top of the fast-food industry not by rising in the fast-food industry but by succeeding as an advertising person.

These are both happy-feet sales-pitch guys. In terms of their notions of how to proceed, they are peas in a pod, as far as I can tell. Be optimistic. Think nice. Forget about your own narrow selfish interests. Ignore that little man behind the curtain.

One of the great "insights" Luntz offered from his own research is that a vast majority of people in Dallas think city council members should represent the broad general interests of the city rather than the narrow interests of specific constituencies.

Sure. As any experienced council person could tell you, that's because most people in the city don't even know where City Hall is. Wait until they want a stop sign on their own corner. Then things get narrow fast.

I feel sorry for the rest of the city council having to sit through this kind of goofy-ass bullshit. I wish we could have a mayor who knows how to be mayor instead of how to do Ouija-board tricks for out-of-it corporate Moonies still high from their last group herbal massage and martini hours.

But then again, that's just me. The people have spoken. Their will is emphatic. Keep the Moonies in the mayor's office, one right after another. And, no, I am not just trying to get Mike Hashimoto to mention me again at the News. Although I must say, I've been getting second looks from my neighbors this afternoon.

Second what kind of looks, I cannot say.

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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