Top 10 Schutze Columns of '08

For those looking for some year-end reading during the slow news cycle, consider my personal favorites of the year from Observer columnist Jim Schutze. I refuse to play favorites, so the list is chronological. And since any commentary from me can't compare to the work itself, a memorable excerpt from each one has been included to help motivate you to follow the links.

10. "DART Made a Billion-Dollar Goof," January 24

Lynn Flint Shaw's big new plan? Promise the moon, schmooze the money. Hey, I could do that. I could promise to build the whole railroad by myself if I didn't have to tell about the money. Sheesh.

9. "Mayor Tom Leppert Needs to Walk the Ethics Reform Talk," February 14

Let me be plain about what I'm saying. The mayor has at least two possible motivations for remaining silent on the matter of Shaw's missing campaign money. The first is that he's trying to arrange a graceful exit for Shaw, his "Inner Circle" friend. The second is that he is involved in negotiations over Sorrell's tenure on the DFW Airport Board.

There is a reason why silence on the campaign money question is especially golden, if you are Lynn Flint Shaw. If no one brings it up--in particular, if no one makes an official complaint about it--then the $17,000 in missing money probably fades off harmlessly into the fog of memory. Otherwise it could be a felony.

8. "The Great Trinity Forest Ain't So Great," April 17

"What are you doing?"

"I was out hiking on the Buckeye Trail," I say.

He stares, waiting for me to make sense.

I know, of course, that my statement is neither simple nor innocent. I'm an old white guy in nylon rain pants with hiking poles. I might as well be Rollerblading through Turner Courts in a Speedo with a martini in one hand and a parasol in the other.

My statement is a test. The city says this area, long a disused dumping ground and floodway inhabited by snakes, insects and meth cooks, is now a vast urban forest and park area. So great. Here I am in my dorky little white convertible and my Sierra Designs trekking togs on an April evening--out for a damn hike, you sons of bitches.

7. "DISD Doesn't Deserve to Win Its Bond Election Because of Its Fiscal Incompetence," May 8

If you haven't balanced your checkbook in two years, I don't believe you have any idea what your balance should be. To put it crudely, how do you know anything, if you don't know nothing? In an April 24 Morning News story, Lowe was quoted as saying, "No one stole anything. There's no money missing. It's not dishonesty. It's a lack of competency."

That's good?

A guy has my 10 bucks. I ask for it back. The guy says, "Don't got it." I say, "Where is it?" He says, "Don't know." I say, "What did you do with it?" He says, "Don't know." I say, "Who is the President of the United States?" He says, "Don't know."

Oh, well, great, then. What a relief. I was afraid he stole it.

6. "Fluid Victory," June 26

The judge ruled that DART couldn't claim sovereign immunity because DART was using repeated floods as a way to force Betz and his neighbors off their property without paying them. It's a process the law calls "inverse condemnation," and it's a no-no.

A government can't take your house by causing conditions that will ruin it. Amazing we even have to have a name for that, isn't it? Makes you wonder if we should close both eyes when we go to sleep at night.

Maybe we should ask for a general category called "inverse ruination." The government can't establish conditions that would cause us to shrivel up and die. It might be nice just to have that one on the books.

5. "Toll You So," September 4

Right now, at this particular juncture, I just want to point out that all of the things that have happened since the referendum are bearing me out and making fools of the political leaders pushing this project, especially our mayor, Tom Leppert.

Is it only sour grapes? Maybe it's more: I want to be sure that some kind of record is kept. A certain focus must be maintained along the way, so that when the ridiculous elements of the project do collapse into an inevitable puddle, the public will see clearly which folks are to blame.

4. "DISD's Budget Shortfall: Hinojosa's One-Man Gaffe," September 25

With Hinojosa, it's not the budget error that counts. It's the scapegoating. That is the salient behavior.

And now it's so blatant and so raw that even the superintendent's own top executive staff is willing to throw it in his face in a public meeting. Is that courage? Is it newfound integrity? Or are they on the verge of mutiny because they know any one of them may be the next to be keelhauled by Captain Bligh? Hey, I'm not a mind-reader. I just know a pattern when I see one.

3. "DISD Trustees May Make Cutbacks in Democratic Process," November 20

Law or no law, if you're an elected official in America, and you know that you're in the middle of a big jam with the voters, isn't that moment exactly when you ought to hike up your drawers and get out on the hustings and defend yourself to the voters? Where did we get this idea that elections are voluntary?

2. "Dallas' Inland Port of Gall," December 4

"During slavery everybody had a job," Price told Allen.

Commissioner Price has his history wrong. No slave had a job. That was the problem.

1. "Congresswoman Calls Out John Wiley Price for Shaking Down Development Deal," December 18

Congresswoman Johnson was blunt with me about her view of Price's role. "If people want equity," she said, "they have to come up with some money. Most of the time folks don't care what color you are if you come up with money."

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten