Who at Dallas City Hall Put the Severed Horse's Head in a Businessman's Bed?

You own a business and the land it's on. You get a letter from the city. It says the city needs your property for a project. Stuffed in the same envelope is a little pamphlet explaining how the city can force you to sell even if you don't want to. It's called "eminent domain."

That's serious. Right? So what if you go down to City Hall and start asking people, "Well, what's the project?" And they all say, "We don't know." And you say, "Who sent me this letter?" And they all point at each other and say, "He did." "No, she did." "No, he did."

You're thinking right about now you must be in a mafia movie. And you are. You're at Dallas City Hall.


I told you last week how Freddy and Dale Davenport, owners of a car wash on MLK Boulevard in South Dallas, got a letter from the city with a legal description of their property, saying the city had a new plan for their street. "We wish to advise you that your property described above will be needed for the project."

Between then and now, neither the Davenports nor I have been able to get anyone at City Hall to say what the project is, whose project it is, what budget it would come out of or who authorized the sending of an official city letter threatening eminent domain.

I asked Lou Jones, the city employee whose name was on the letter, who told her to send it? She told me to ask Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis or the acting City Manager, A.C. Gonzalez. Davis wouldn't talk to me. She had her staff tell me to ask the mayor. The mayor's spokesman, Sam Merten, said they were looking into how the letter got sent.

Since then Dale Davenport has told me that he confronted Davis in a pizza restaurant on MLK Boulevard and that, after asking him, "What are you doing here?" (He said, "Getting a pizza."), Davis told him she had nothing to do with the letter and didn't know why it was sent.

I spoke with Gonzalez last night. Of the nature of the project, he said, "There has been conversation about MLK in a number of different fronts and times about what might be able to be done from an economic development standpoint."

Of the budget for the project, he said, "That hasn't been figured out."

Of the sending of the letter, he said, "At different times there has been some focus on that property, and the letter was sent to see really just if there was any interest on the part of the owner to sell and also to have them be made aware that there was an effort on the city's part to just get a better understanding of what the property value might be, period."

Look. To say there has been "some focus on the property" is the understatement of the decade. Eight years ago a state legislative investigative committee took testimony about fake police raids on the car wash (confirmed by the Dallas chief of police) a shot fired through the Davenport's home (confirmed by the FBI). All was linked in the committee's view to a pattern of shakedowns by elected officials in Dallas City Hall.

The Davenports, meanwhile, were investigated, vetted and given a clean bill of health.

So, yes, there has been a great deal of official interest in that car wash over the years -- specifically a proven pattern of abuse by elected officials, police and other city staff trying to shake the property loose from the Davenports' ownership. Why and for whom? Stay tuned.

When I spoke last week with Merten, Mayor Mike Rawlings' spokesperson, he made broad suggestions that there is something shady about the kind of business the Davenports do at the car wash, in spite an eight-year record of state and federal investigations showing just the opposite, that the only shady operator at that location is Dallas City Hall.

I asked acting city manager Gonzalez who else on MLK got a letter like the one sent to the Davenports. He said he didn't know.

So, wait. The city might or might not want somebody's land. It doesn't even know for sure yet what it wants the land for. It's just curious whether the person wants to sell. All they want to do is appraise it. So it sends a letter threatening eminent domain? Really?

Bullshit. Let me tell you how this one went down. Somebody who lacked any authority to do so caused that letter to be sent. It was somebody who could bully or cajole Lou Jones, the city employee, into sending it. That letter was a severed horse head in the Davenports' bed sheets.

Now the mayor and the city manager are covering for the person who got it sent, which makes me think the person must be a fellow elected official, because that's how they roll down there. Some elected official at City Hall jumped all of the process and the protocols to try to scare the shit out of some property owners and get them to jump. That's what this is. It's just like the fake police raids. I believe the legal term is official oppression.

Don't believe me? Think I'm wrong? OK. This is easy. Then explain it. Somebody stand up and say who authorized that letter. Somebody stand up and say what the project is. Somebody stand up and say how a simple request to appraise a property turned into a threat of eminent domain.

Because otherwise the whole thing sounds and smells like the mafia. Don't ask too many questions, because youse could have an accident or something. If that's not it, then somebody stand up and clear the air. Meanwhile, I will not be holding my breath.

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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