The Schutze Audit

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When auditors looked at the street cut squad a couple of years ago, they found that in the first six months of 2002, ONCOR, the utility company, had been cited 125 times for cutting streets without a permit, 144 times for not installing a permanent repair and 38 times for other stuff.

Dallas Water Utilities--a city department--had been cited 255 times in six months for breaking the law on street cuts. Southwestern Bell had 90 violations. Other people had a combined total of 37 violations. So the auditors asked the street cut team how much it had levied in fines.

Who, us? Levy fines? Umm, golly-Bill. They hadn't done that part. No fines. Not fine-one, not dime-one. No fines had been levied for street cut violations in the first six months of 2002.

SH&W NOTE: Purpose of law enforcement not same as bird-watching. Your mission is not merely to observe violations of the law. Counting up violations, keeping lists, very admirable, light-years ahead of Fair Park. But for our money--was it another measly old half-million, roughly?--we would like to see something done to actually fix the situation with the bomb craters.

ITEM: We mentioned craters? Do you know how the city fixes potholes? Forget about what it costs. Let's just talk about the method. Say you have one in front of your house that NASA could do training missions in. You call 311. That's the Citizen Response Management System (CRMS). CRMS interviews you, writes a report, sends the report to an SRA (service request agent).

The SRA goes to the site of the alleged pothole and does an assessment. If he agrees that the pothole is a pothole, he makes a report to an SRG (street repair group). The SRG refers the report to an AS (asphalt supervisor). The AS goes to the site and does an assessment.

Why? Wasn't that already done? Well, come on now, think about it. Can an AS afford to simply go on the word of an SRG who got all of his information from a CRMS? Now, aren't you ashamed of yourself?

If the AS agrees...OK, wait a minute. Did you just now accuse me of making this stuff up? Oh, man, that steams me. Let me tell you something. You can read all of this on the Web and weep. This is from the September 12, 2003, Performance Audit of Street Pothole Repairs and Related Issues, Report #395, which you can find on the city auditor's Web page at

Now where was I before I was so rudely interrupted? If the AS determines that the pothole is indeed a pothole as reported by the ARG based on the information contained in the report from the CRMS, he dispatches a PPT (pothole patch truck) to come out and put some asphalt in it. When the PPT has completed the repair, it notifies the SRG, which makes a report to an AS, who goes to the site of the alleged repair and makes an assessment.

SUGGESTION FROM SH&W, JUST TRYING TO HELP, DON'T GET TOUCHY: What if the lady at 311 just called over to the pothole guys with the address? The pothole guys could put the address on the list taped to their windshield. If they found there was no pothole when they arrived, they could not do a pothole repair. Just thinking out loud here.

I have a raft of items I couldn't even get to in this space. The larger point is this: The system of government we have in Dallas is stupid. I hear people getting on Mayor Laura Miller's case for sticking her nose in the city manager's business. But if you were down there every day, you would want to stick your foot in his business.

And the worst part? The worst part is that the pervasive culture of unaccountability in city government in Dallas is not the city manager's fault, either. It is the fault of a system that has no bottom line. Nobody's in charge. Nothing is anybody's fault.

The question we should ask ourselves every day in this city is how to fix the underlying system. The question we need to answer isn't about potholes. It's about what kind of system assigns half a dozen people to fix one pothole, including at least three who never touch a shovel.

I personally challenge The Dallas Morning News, by the way, to hire its own accounting firm to do an efficiency study of City Hall, the way I already have. And I hope you don't think it's just because I heard a rumor they were already doing that. Do you honestly think I'd pull a cheap trick just to scoop the News on its big story?

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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