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What Does the Dallas Outcome Tell Us About HUD? What Does It Say About Feds in General?

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I'm headed out of town for a week's vacation. Spent a good deal of yesterday thinking about the outcome in the HUD case against Dallas. As you know by now, HUD folded a couple days ago and withdrew its racial segregation allegation against the city. If you were here yesterday, I already bored you with how surprised I was by this denouement in a story I have covered for five years.

But enough about me. I spent a good deal of yesterday trying to see this story as others might, especially the individuals at City Hall who were singled out by name as complicit in acts of racism. Having tasted that lash once or twice myself, I know how keenly it stings. It occurs to me that they deserve to be singled out one more time by name but this time for having the charge dropped. After all, these charges weren't just leveled against a building. They were leveled against people.

See also: Dallas Won. HUD Lost. Oops.

One is Karl Zavitkovsky, the city's director of Economic Development. Another is Jerry Killingsworth, former head of housing for the city. A third is former City Council member Angela Hunt, although she was never accused directly of anything, only slimed somewhat by being mentioned in the wrong paragraph.

I don't expect HUD to say this, but somehow I feel as if I ought to. When HUD folded its hand and agreed to drop its housing discrimination case against Dallas -- a stunning victory for the Dallas city attorney and city manager -- it withdrew the basis for any allegation or suggestion that these individuals ever engaged in acts of racial discrimination. I'm not a lawyer. But for my purposes as a layman, HUD has cleared their names.

Here's the other thing I found myself thinking about. See if you can think about it. Think about the sheer admission of incompetence and ham-fisted oppression this entire chapter becomes. The entire Fair Housing division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development devoted uncountable man-hours of investigation and lawyering over a four-year period to the accusation by two developers, Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, that Dallas had engaged in systematic racial discrimination over a 10-year period and had misallocated federal funds to do it.

Last year HUD brought a 29-page "finding of non-compliance" against the city. Since then, HUD and city officials have been negotiating a settlement.

The settlement agreement signed by the city and HUD two days ago was an almost complete rout for HUD, a retreat from all the most basic allegations and demands of the original letter. And yet, beyond a few vague references to unspecified elements of the letter found to be "incorrect," HUD so far has offered no public explanation of what went wrong.

So did they really get it that wrong? Or were they right on the facts but caved on the politics? And which would be worse, do you think? A massive federal agency puts an entire city through years of grief, and then they say, "Oops?" And it's over?

I said in my item here yesterday that in the wake of this defeat for HUD no local government in America should take a plea and settle with HUD on one of these fair housing non-compliance complaints. Westchester County in New York did it five years ago, and HUD has ragged them with it ever since.

A new guy won election as the chief county official there after the settlement, campaigning on the assertion that his predecessor had been stupid to settle. This Dallas decision makes that guy right.

The largest issue for me, however, is the question of competence. I don't want to believe this saga is emblematic of the entire federal government. I really can't imagine the FBI doing a probe of a county official for five years, winning an indictment and then at the last minute doing an oops and letting the guy go free because, you know, oops. (Knock on wood.)

Lockey and MacKenzie are still in court, no matter what they tell you over at The Dallas Morning News. Their whistle-blower suit still has the potential to force HUD back into this picture. That's actually what happened in Westchester: HUD tried to do an oops there before they even investigated, but the judge in the whistle-blower lawsuit shamed them into getting their asses into court to enforce their own laws. It could happen in Dallas.

In the meantime, though, I'm just dumbstruck by the sheer wooden-headedness of the whole HUD effort. I don't know if people at HUD have badges. If they do, somebody needs to collect them. When this gang unholsters, no chicken, dog or Holy Sister is safe.

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