The Envelope, Please

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The gist of Celeste's story was that the Morning News is not merely associated with McKinsey & Co.: The Morning News, according to Celeste, is under McKinsey's spell. McKinsey has been hired by the News to analyze all of the newspaper's business operations. McKinsey is also the purveyor of a particular doctrine of editorial management called "convergence," in which the work of reporters and editors is treated like a raw material--a generic paste squeezed into forms to make newspaper stories or squeezed into other forms for stories on television or radio.

Celeste pointed out that convergence, which has been tried elsewhere, is starting to look like a loser in some markets. It certainly hasn't been a silver bullet for Belo. And I can't help noticing that just when the sex appeal of convergence may be starting to curdle, McKinsey shows up here volunteering to do a big free study, the inference of which will be that Dallas needs to adopt Decherd's idea for downtown.

To be fair, McKinsey did not say explicitly that Dallas should adopt the LGC approach. It did present it in what I thought was clearly the most favorable light, and obviously Mayor Miller agreed. The day the report came out she told the Morning News the LGC was the best of the three alternatives.

Councilman Gary Griffith disagreed with me. Griffith said he thought the second alternative--beefing up city staff to deal with downtown--was offered sincerely, not as a poison pill. He read the report as saying, "Yes, you could go successfully in either direction."

"And I thought that was important," Griffith said, "because I felt there were some who believed that the city couldn't do it successfully. To me that was important to hear, so that I really did believe there was a choice."

At the very least the McKinsey report provides a glossy selling piece for the LGC promoters. Now they can say that this internationally revered management consulting firm just happened to float down out of the blue and lend its expertise and authority to the idea of a private government for downtown Dallas, a scheme that otherwise might have been dismissed by many as an outtake from the late H.L. Hunt's bizarre utopian novel Alpaca.

I would argue, of course, that McKinsey didn't float down out of no blue: They bungeed down from the roof of the Belo Building.

The very same day the McKinsey report was presented to the council, Dallas lawyer David Laney also appeared before the council to present the "findings" of the mayor's Charter Review Commission. Laney, who heads a secret group in favor of a strong mayor system, used his appearance to make a heavy-handed pitch for strong mayor reform. Laney is Decherd's first cousin. (With another very short burst on the snare drum, I will take a tiny bow, and thank you.)

Laney's pitch didn't work. In fact, between the two of them, Laney and Miller turned the council briefing into a donnybrook that had to be adjourned before people started throwing shoes at each other.

Toward the end of an otherwise unremarkable speech, Laney told the city council that some people have objected to strong mayor reforms on racial grounds. These objections, he said, have been "inflated for effect." That sent African-American council members right through the roof.

Maybe you have to have been here for a while, but everything people say about race in Dallas is heavily coded. Laney's crack, which I was amazed to learn was in his printed remarks, meant, "They're just hollering to get on TV."

There are two schools of thought on why Laney would have tossed off a sharp stick in the eye like that during a council presentation. And by the way, I would like to point out that my own theory is the less conspiratorial, for a change.

I figure he didn't have any idea how bad his remark was, because he's a bubblati from the Park Cities. You know: This is the kind of remark old rich white guys make sitting around the 19th hole at the Dallas Country Club sippin' bourbon and tellin' each other how it is.

The other theory comes from a pretty sharp white member of the city council, speaking off the record. This person thinks Miller and her supporters deliberately stir up black council members, especially the ever-volatile Dr. Maxine Thornton-Reese (District 4, mid-Southeast).

Their goal would be to get on the evening news with fight scenes that will mobilize the mayor's conservative white North Dallas base. A strong mayor system might emerge in this scenario as the way to keep the blacks under control.

I am going to make a prediction here. I have my turban on, and the envelope is to my head, so you might want to listen up. I predict that the whole debate over the LGC and strong mayor reform will continue to be a big, uncoordinated, sprawling, rambling mess.

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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