The Bawl at City Hall

Some final thoughts on yesterday's ForwardDallas! vote at City Hall...or, Where Was Laura? To that question, certainly the answer is she was tending to Wright Amendment negotiations, hashing out the final plan after hastily nixing her hastily called press conference. Yesterday evening, her absence from council chambers during the heartfelt, at times contentious discussion over ForwardDallas!, the comprehensive plan that threatens/promises to reshape the city in Portland-based urban planner John Fregonese's image in coming years, was the source of some debate: Should the mayor have been tending to the business of two airlines who employ thousands living in Dallas, or should she have been at council listening to and talking to hundreds of people begging to be heard about a plan affecting millions? Some came down on the former; a few, the latter. But Mayor Laura's absence did not go unnoticed, as Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill ran the meeting (even when on his cell phone, which led to one very Chevy Chase-Weekend Update moment) in her place. "Where's the queen?" asked one person there to speak on behalf of the neglected City Plan Commission version of ForwardDallas!; "raising money for the bridge," said another, referring to the Calatrava bridge that will cost double the $57 million we were promised/threatened.

No wonder people feel as though Mayor Laura's disconnected from the city and the needs and wants of the people who live in it; she was out tending to Big Business, and the little people felt neglected as they walked to the podium to beg, plead and even cry about the future of their neighborhoods. And the council members often acted no better; they were there, but not really. Bill Blaydes appeared to be dozing as the naysayers made their case; no shit, his eyes were squeezed tight. Ed Oakley wouldn't stop biting his fingernails. Gary Griffith was either reading e-mail or playing Tetris. Only a few, among them Angela Hunt, Leo Chaney, Mitchell Rasansky and Elba Garcia, seemed genuinely interested in what their constituents had to say. And then they all voted for the city staff's plan, anyway--save for Hunt and Rasansky, who made compelling cases against the city staff's version, where Ed Oakley instead lobbed soft-ball questions to long-range planning head Teresa O'Donnell, questions to which he already knew the answer.

Ninety minutes--that was all the public debate council wanted to hear on a plan that will shape this city for decades to come (or not--how many times have we been here before?). And it might as well have been none, if the mayor wasn't going to put Wright Amendment talk on hold for a little while (she's had months to do Southwest and American's bidding) and if the council wasn't really going to pay attention. The chambers were packed at the start, but nearly empty by the end. "We're lost," said one plan commissioner as he headed for the door, his head hung low. "We're dead." He's speaking in hyperbole, of course; such drama, oy. But he felt like hell yesterday, as did many others--ignored, irrelevant. And that's actually putting it mildly. --Robert Wilonsky

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