While Dallas City Hall Debates Ethics Reform for the 72nd Time, Let's Storm the Castle, Eh?

So the city council is actually going to put itself through another ethics reform debate. They do this every year. It keeps coming around again on a regular cycle like some kind of unpleasant bodily function.

Ask me. I know why. It keeps coming up again because it's absolutely lipstick-on-a-pig futile. Ethics reform for Dallas City Hall is like ethics reform for the dogs in the colony cage at the city pound.

Ethics reform? Are you kidding? How about a stun grenade?

People try to cheat City Hall -- and usually succeed -- because they have to cheat City Hall. There's no other way for people to get it to do what people want. That's why they devote so much time, energy and resource to gaming Dallas City Hall -- gaming it in sneaky, dodgy ways.

Every once in a while, somebody calls me. They'll say, "Hey, Schutze. Our school or our church or our dancing ladies undergarment supply warehouse has a big problem at City Hall. You have been writing about this same crap for over 200 years. What would you do, oh Methuselah?"

Hire a hood.

Look, did you just ask me for advice? Did you just say it was important? Did you mention that I've been writing about this same crap for over 200 years? Did maybe I learn anything?

Hire a hood. Get a fixer. Take out your checkbook. Otherwise don't bother me, OK?

And if you're going to tell me, "Well, we're taxpayers and citizens, and we think we have a right to expect our City Hall to do the right thing by us," then, especially, adamantly, I really mean it, please never darken my path again. We pass on the street, we stare at our shoes.

Dallas City Hall is designed to work only for cheaters. If it were a car, you'd call it the Cheatmobile. If it were a world exposition, you'd call it the Cheat-O-Rama. An animal -- the Cheatah.

Here's a political science lecture you could put on a bubblegum wrapper: mayor has one vote on council and appointive powers equivalent to deciding seating at 1950s ladies bridge tournament. That's it.

Each council member has veto power over all zoning and key infrastructure decisions in his or her own district. This is the only real power held by elective officials at City Hall, rooted mainly in the ability to say no. And they will say no, unless you can make them happy. But you cannot. Only a hood can. Believe me.

The city manager supposedly runs the city but can be sacked at any given point in time by eight-vote majority of council. If the city manager doesn't get sacked, he or she collects fat pension. Otherwise, no. His or her life, then, is whack-a-mole in which she is the only mole and all 15 council members have mallets.

So the city manager keeps her finger in wind at all times to guess where eight votes are on any given issue. Wind shifts. A lot.

Only real power outside City Hall is in the hands of a small cabal of business leaders who are the only people who write big checks for city council campaign funds. They get their way when they need to. You don't. Unless you hire a hood.

I don't mean hood. Oh, my gosh, why did I even use such an infelicitous term? I mean very attractive ladies and gentlemen in highly expensive suits who attended good law schools, maybe have Ph.D.s in other topics like Greek love poetry -- who knows, who cares? They know how to get the job done. That's all you need to know.

You do not know how. Your city council person may not even return your calls. Your city council person's administrative assistant may not even take your calls. I have called over there -- I kid you not -- and sometimes they won't even play the recording for me.

I call those click-buzz calls. I call. I get a click-buzz on the other end. I whisper to myself, "Democracy at work."

So what happens when you hire a lady/gentleman hood-like person? The next thing you know, you and your hood are sitting in an office knee-to-knee with the key council person. Wow. Right in there. A miracle. Knee to knee.

You begin to explain your need to expand your dancing ladies undergarment warehouse. Your councilperson waves for you to shut up, squints at the hood-like person, and says, "Is this the one you told me about with the thing?"

"Yes, sir," the hood says. "This is the one with the thing."

"Did you do the other thing?"

"Yes, sir. The other thing has been done already. Now all we need is the thing."

"OK. The thing is done."

The council person waves for you to vacate. You start to express your thanks.

The hood puts fingers to her lips: "Oh, no," she says. "Thing done now. You no talkie-talkie. We go."

Now, that's democracy at work in Dallas City Hall. That's why I say, if you want to change something, think in terms of carpet-bombing, not ethics reform. Think in terms of rewriting the city charter so you can have a real mayor. Get rid of the whole city manager thing. That's the biggest dodge of all -- the heart of the matter, the seat of the problem.

Everybody wants to think in private-sector terms these days. OK. Let's think of it in terms of the private sector. If you owned a company, would you want to be limited to one vote on your own board and then you have to hire a "company manager," somebody you can't tell what to do unless eight votes on the board agree with you?

We own City Hall. We're not allowed to run it. That's a scam, set up by other people so other people can run things. If we want in, we have to buy in -- hire our own hood.

Ethics reform keeps coming up again on a regular cycle because every time they do it it's the same old sham. The only real reform is charter reform. Meanwhile, remember what I say. You got a problem?

Hire a lady or a gentleman in a nice suit. Do what they say. You no talkie. Welcome to Dallas City Hall. And, uh ... look, if you do get indicted, we never spoke. OK?

I hope it's worth it.

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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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