Where's Willis? Maybe He's Out Looking for That Secret Stash of County Satellite Gear.

If you missed Brett Shipp's Willis Johnson story on WFAA-Channel 8 last night, you need to go give it a gander here.

I also have a column in this week's paper version of Unfair Park talking about Johnson, a radio host who is a crucial but mysteriously low-profile figure in the affairs now being investigated by the FBI as part of its corruption probe of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

I'm almost thinking of a board game called "Where's Willis?"

Shipp's story was about half a million bucks in satellite communications equipment -- huge dishes on trailers -- that Willis Johnson supposedly sold to the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department.

Health Director Zachary Thompson was supposed to show the dishes, locked up in a storage unit somewhere, to Shipp and Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, but when they showed up to see them at the appointed hour, Thompson never arrived with a key.

There is an odd unexplained hitch in the story. Thompson told the commissioners court yesterday that he had discussed the dishes with the Dallas County District Attorney. It sounded liked he was saying the district attorney had told him not to discuss the matter with anyone else. But an assistant district attorney at the commissioners meeting said the prosecutor's office had given no such instructions.

So was that just a dodge to get out of talking about it? It seems to me there is another possible explanation or additional explanation. I called Thompson this morning on his cell. He hung up on me, but I called back and left a message telling him what I'm up to. Maybe he will reconsider and call.

The people I talk to all seem to think Thompson is a good guy and a very nice guy. I take him for a Price loyalist: He showed up at both of the southern Dallas anti-FBI prayer vigils for Price a couple weeks ago. He may be caught in the middle.

In the video clips I saw, Thompson did not explain why he went to the district attorney to talk about his satellite dishes. If it was to report a problem, he went to the wrong people. He needed to go to the FBI. But I'm sure they will contact him soon enough and get it all straightened out.

Johnson is someone you have been reading about here for three years, ever since we published emails depicting the process by which Johnson became head of the so-called "inner circle," a tight cadre of minority contractors who are supposed to have absolute control over any and all minority sub-contracting at the city of Dallas, Dallas County, DART, Parkland Hospital and virtually every other public entity in the city or county.

The important thing to know about this arrangement is that it has been supported and enforced by such people as former Mayor Tom Leppert and the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News, who have used the arrangement to get black votes for projects like the Trinity River toll road and the downtown convention hotel. Current Mayor Mike Rawlings got elected using the same machinery to win black votes, without which he would have been defeated.

Johnson is a central figure in all of these arrangements. He and his company were mentioned in the FBI search warrants last month when the feds raided the offices of Price and his ally, political consultant Kathy Nealy. But as I say in this week's column, Johnson is nevertheless conspicuous by his absence from the list of those dragged before the federal grand jury so far.

What does that mean?

My column this week discusses the term "queen for a day." When you're done looking at Shipp, give me a gander too, will you? I'll tell you about queen for a day.

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