The Uber Secret Session Vote Tomorrow Will Be Everything Wrong with Dallas City Hall

Mayor Mike Rawlings and the new city attorney Warren Ernst want to hold a secret closed-door City Council session tomorrow on a question that has everything to do with the public interest. Watch closely to see how your council member votes. It's a big window.

Yesterday we talked about some of the sleazier aspects of the Yellow/Uber issue -- a fight between the dominant cab company in Dallas and a new app-based ride service. Tomorrow the council is to hear a report by an outside lawyer on why top city staff flew to Yellow Cab's defense and tried to slip an anti-Uber law into the fine print of a City Council voting agenda so the council would pass it without even knowing what it had done.

See also: In the Matter of Uber as a Racist Plot, Maybe We Need a Bit of Context

The council did not pass it. The trick did not work. But it didn't work only because two council members, Scott Griggs and Phillip Kingston, sleuthed it out just in time. They picked up a pattern by which top officials including the chief of police had created a kind of anti-Uber task force, deploying undercover cops against the ride service as if it were a drug cartel.

But nobody on the staff was willing to confess to being the one who decided to slip the anti-Uber law into the council's voting agenda, hidden in a place where the council members weren't supposed to see it. Mayor Mike Rawlings vowed to get to the bottom of it. Then he found he lacked the authority or ability to get to the bottom of it if the staff didn't want him to. Then he paid former District Attorney Bill Hill $50,000 to find out for him. Tomorrow's session is for the council to hear what Hill found.

As Eric reported yesterday, the interim city manager and top candidate for full-time manager, A.C. Gonzalez, issued a kind of elliptical confession, saying he may have made certain mistakes about certain things at certain times. Three odd things about his confession, though. First, everybody already knew it was Gonzalez. Everyone knew he had carried the water for Yellow Cab's lawyer, John Barr. In fact Gonzalez kind of confessed to it in early statements to the council before he found out it was a bad thing.

See also: Interim Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez Says He's Sorry for Cracking Down on Uber

Secondly, even in sort of half-confessing, Gonzalez cast himself as a moral hero, premising his mea culpa with the words, "Part of having solid character and integrity is admitting mistakes." Well, yeah, maybe, except for Number Three, which is that he waited to confess until he could hear hammers and saws downstairs in the flag room where they were working on the gallows.

If I were to compose a title for Gonzalez's letter to the council, it would be, "No need for yonder gallows." And if I were on the council, I might ask Mr. Gonzalez why he couldn't have brought himself to tell me that before I spent $50,000 on a damn gallows.

But the Uber fight itself pales before the larger issues here. In the past year, the office of city manager has been severely scarred by a grisly procession of scandals, half of them involving administration (stealing money at the dump, hiring circus clowns to run the I.T. department), the other and more troubling half involving policy (secretly aiding and abetting gas drilling in parks after having been told directly by the council not to, an utterly failed effort to create a new trash-hauling monopoly that the council never asked for).

When the anti-Uber trick ordinance was first unearthed, the attitude of Gonzalez and other top staff was a kind of bumfuzzlement, as if to say, "Well, my gosh, we were just doing what we have always done." And that's it. Precisely. This is indeed how the office of city manager has always operated in Dallas, and, yes, it is precisely what's wrong and why the window tomorrow, if we are allowed to look through it, is on issues much larger than Uber.

The call from the well-placed lawyer, the mustering of the political bag ladies, the appearance of obscure, handsomely rewarded clergymen suddenly called upon to speak out on issues that would seem to have very little relevance to the lives of their parishioners: All of these are hoary hallmarks of the way it has always been done.

Whenever we see these muddy shoes falling, we know that the city manager has stepped out of the store we hired him or her to run -- managing the city -- and is out on the town square instead playing politics and policy with the money boys. In the end it doesn't work, at least not for us.

There's a reason why we have two distinct things -- a manager and a City Council. Those are two distinct jobs. When the manager abandons his job, running the operations, to go get into politics instead, then he is not back in the store minding the till, and we have seen in the last year where that leads.

Here is my own two-bit prediction. I think the mayor has good intentions, but those good intentions often get him mugged. He will be or has already been mugged on this. The powers that be have been burning down their cell phone batteries, I am sure, telling him to back the hell off A.C., reminding him that A.C. is their boy for the full-time job. That's probably why he is already flailing to find a way to keep tomorrow's session secret.

A majority of the council will back him in that effort. Most of them are either dependent on the boys for campaign financial support or they view any kind of dissent on any issue as liberalism. The session will be secret. Only a very watered down innocuous form of the report will ever be made public. I bet Gonzalez will be hired as full-time city manager.

But, remember, he was only caught in the first place because two City Council members, Griggs and Kingston, with strong backing from a third, Adam Medrano, sniffed him out. None of them will stop sniffing. And where misfeasance and malfeasance at City Hall are concerned, Kingston, Griggs and Medrano have a very powerful ally -- one whom the others cannot claim.


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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