Uber Scandal Exposes Some Very Ugly Traditions at Dallas City Hall | Unfair Park | Dallas | Dallas Observer | The Leading Independent News Source in Dallas, Texas


Uber Scandal Exposes Some Very Ugly Traditions at Dallas City Hall

So, wait. We're not over Uber yet. The city's attempt to shut down the app-based ride service called Uber and an ensuing special outside investigation produced lots of fireworks this week but not necessarily the last word. We still need to see the big thing.

The investigation produced no finding of actual malfeasance in the city's crackdown on Uber, but the mayor admitted most of the bad stuff reported here by Brantley Hargrove a month ago really did happen. The city attorney's staff and the police department did sit down with lobbyists and lawyers for the Yellow Cab monopoly and cook up a campaign of ticketing and prosecution to scare Uber out of town.

See also: Dallas' Unfair Fight to Crush Uber

Nothing says more about the bogus nature of that campaign than the city's ultimate decision to dismiss all 60 of the tickets it had issued against 31 limousine drivers signed on to Uber's service. And in fact that was the piece of it I heard most about when it was all over -- that the city attorney had mounted and run a campaign using cops and code inspectors to write tickets that the city attorney ultimately had to admit were illegitimate.

This particular string in the Uber story runs deep in the culture and history of City Hall. It links the Uber story to everything I have written about Dallas author and JFK conspiracy theorist Robert Groden, repeatedly ticketed and arrested for selling books in Dealey Plaza when that activity was explicitly allowed by city law.

It was the central theme of reporting I did some years ago about the city's so-called SAFE Team crackdowns on apartment owners. Renters were rousted in raids by cops as if they were drug dealers, when the real problem was that nearby neighborhoods wanted the apartments themselves to go away.

It was at the heart of police persecution of South Dallas car wash owner Dale Davenport, whose business was repeatedly raided on trumped up charges by enough cops to invade Normandy, when the real problem came from certain City Council members who wanted Davenport to sell.

It goes even farther back to the politically inspired harassment by the city a decade ago of the Topletz family, who own rental properties in southern Dallas. At this remove in time and because that issue seems to have gone dormant, I don't even want to talk about what I think was behind that campaign. Very ugly.

People I talked with yesterday, who were very careful to use the off-the-record rules I laid down in a blog item for them yesterday morning, said the real issue exposed by the Uber scandal has to do with the city attorney more than the city manager. The external investigation of the Uber fight commissioned by Mayor Mike Rawlings establishes this sequence of events:

1) Uber comes to town in the summer of 2012 and sets up a phone app to allow customers to connect with licensed limo drivers for rides.

2) Within a month, Yellow Cab's politically wired lobbyist, Carol Reed, is at City Hall demanding the city find a way to shut Uber down.

3) Over the next six months, Uber's lawyers and the Dallas city attorney argue whether Uber's business model violates local law or not.

4) At some point toward the end of this period, the city attorney tacitly agrees Uber is not violating existing Dallas ordinances by telling Yellow Cab's lawyer, John Barr, that local law will have to be changed before Uber can be prosecuted.

5) In spite of that admission, the city attorney directs the police department to begin carrying out a campaign of enforcement, sending undercover vice cops out to use the Uber service and then write tickets that the city attorney eventually will admit are bogus.

It's right there -- right at that point -- that the Uber report cracks open the veneer of City Hall and gives us the peek we need. In response to the right pressure from the right people, in full knowledge that it lacks a legal basis for proceeding, Dallas City Hall will mount a serious campaign of police and regulatory harassment to run targeted people out of business, using brute force to strip them of civil rights and property that the city could not take away by law.

As one caller pointed out to me, there are right ways to do this stuff, and the City Attorney knows what they are. If he thought Uber was misconstruing local law, he needed to sue Uber, take them to court and get the question settled in front of a judge. If he knew Uber was not breaking existing law but wanted a new law to stop them, then he needed to go through the process of getting such a law passed by the City Council before calling out the cops.

Mainly, the city attorney needs not to be directing the police to do things. These two entities have very different roles in the law. City lawyers shouldn't be making themselves witnesses in their own cases. The cops are not supposed to be an enforcement arm for the city attorney.

But knowing, as the city attorney did, that Uber was not breaking the law, then sending the cops out like his own private army anyway to bully Uber off the streets, was not the behavior of a law-respecting entity. That way of doing business, like City Hall's modus operandi in all the other cases mentioned above, is more like the behavior of a gang.

Hey, we all know it's the way things are done in a hick town. In a hick town the lad who makes the mistake of forcing his attentions on the mayor's daughter against the mayor's wishes is going to wind up sooner or later with some serious traffic violations.

But this is not a hick town. Anymore. The City Hall way of doing business does not reflect the business-friendly culture that Dallas wants to project. It's a system that is good-old-boy friendly, not business friendly. That's the big thing we need to see through the crack opened by the Uber chapter.

Correction: I have reported twice that Dallas schools next year will begin giving the SAT test to all seniors. School spokesman Jon Dahlander tells me the district will pay for tests for all juniors, not seniors.

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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

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