The Next Dallas City Council Election in Dallas Will Be About Liars

Just heard a good one this morning about another visit by the toll road goon squad. The back story is about a prominent person who let slip recently that she had changed her mind on the proposed 10-lane Trinity toll road through a park cutting off downtown from the river. Now she's against it.

She got a visit from the goon squad. She's for it again. Her company couldn't afford that kind of damage.

So be it. Line 'em up. Get everybody in uniform. Let's make sure we know who's in favor of building an utterly unneeded highway out in the flood zone where it will flood, because this fight is just getting good, and it will help to know who's on what side.

Angela Hunt has a piece in the back of the October Lakewood Advocate Magazine -- I can't find it online yet -- in which she says the toll road must be the litmus issue in City Council elections nine months from now. I have a column coming out in next week's paper saying something sort of similar but in a much less gracious voice than hers.

Her basic point is that the city can no longer afford the kind of leadership that's still beating this drum 17 years after the toll road was initially authorized. In order to keep the world's worst idea alive, these behind-the-scenes manipulators have drained money away from all of the things the city ought to be doing. All they care about is keeping their private pipe-dream on life support.

In the upcoming council elections, Hunt says, "I propose a single question for City Council candidates to separate the wheat from the chaff: Do you support the Trinity toll road."

The issue she's really trying to get us to focus on is much larger than the road itself. The real issue is public integrity and whether we can trust a single word that comes from the lips of these people. Or, as I will put less diplomatically next week, the real issue is lies, liars and lying.

That's why I want to see all the pro-troll road people in uniform nine months from now. When the unbelievable catalog of public lies and outright political fraud begins being enumerated for voters, I want to be able to point to every single person who's on the liars' team.

The most recent instance emerged earlier this week when Rudy Bush at The Dallas Morning News broke the story that the council has been lied to for 15 years about its legal obligation to build the toll road. Bush got his hands on a new memorandum from City Attorney Warren Ernst telling the council it can vote to kill the road any time it feels like it. Always before, city staff had told the council it was bound by an earlier agreement with another government agency to build the road whether it felt like it or not.

That was an egregious lie. Imagine a staff that looked elected officials in the eye and repeated such a lie. It reveals that city staff has neither loyalty nor respect for elected officials and takes its marching orders instead from the wise guys behind the toll road. But in my column next week, I argue that the Ernst memo is only the most recent instance in a cavalcade of stupefying duplicity and fraud.

And my column is only a partial list. Highlights. When you go back to the beginning -- as we must -- and tease out the untruths that have been told, a strange thing happens. One's first reaction can only be outrage. I know every time I do this exercise myself, about the time I get to former Mayor Tom Leppert and his vow that all of the environmental and governmental approvals and all of the funding were already in hand in 2007, I pass into a second phase of utter disbelief. Looking back now, how could he possibly have dared to promise such things in public?

But then as I sort through it, I get to a certain third stage that is sort of like hilarity. I found myself looking again at a D Magazine special issue published in 2004 in which a team of reporters supposedly researched the project and came up with this description of it:

"...the Trinity River will accommodate small sailboats and paddle boats. More interestingly, a reverse-flow lake is planned with a 17-foot drop where it curves back to the river, creating rapids and a perfect whitewater course for winter kayaking competitions..."

It's funny, isn't it, given what we know now? Like a badly stuffed two-headed calf in a carnival sideshow. Worth a laugh but thing more.

D Magazine had to know the words were untrue in 2004 when it published them. The city's own documentation for the Trinity River project -- albeit hidden away on a very back page of the city's web site -- included the information that the features D was bragging about would cost an additional $700 million over the total authorized funding already in hand for the project.

There was no money for them. They were just words. They were lies.

That's the issue in the upcoming council elections. Lies. And liars. The overarching dilemma presented by the Trinity River project is not the project itself. It's a leadership that has held sway over City Hall for far too long, a hick-town all-cousin insider cabal that cares only about getting its own snout in the public trough and will tell any and every lie it can think of to get what it wants.

Why are the streets so horrible in this town? Why do we have all kinds of tax base, and yet we can't have a decent animal shelter? Why is Fair Park still a dump? Because this city has been run by liars.

So line 'em up. Put them in uniform. March 'em around. Make them talk and say their names. Let's make sure we know who they are. It would be a shame, after all, to target the wrong people.

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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