You're a Mean One, Mayor Grinch: Leppert Taking Hunt Out of Committee Chair Not Nice

I have been keeping my mouth shut for months about this deal between Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and city council member Angela Hunt concerning committee assignments and Hunt's ability to care for her new baby. But today there's a good story about it by Rudy Bush on the Metro front of The Dallas Morning News, and I just can't resist wading in.

After the city elections last May, Hunt told me she asked the mayor to take her off some of her committee assignments where she was just a tag-along member, for two reasons. She was working hard on other extra assignments, including a reform of the way city judges are chosen for their jobs, a permanent solution to the lawlessness in the Lower Greenville Avenue entertainment district, a bike plan for the city and the city budget.

On the budget Hunt was the extreme homework-wonk on the council -- the one who actually sat down at her kitchen table and worked through hundreds of pages of documents.

But she also has a brand-new baby -- the first for her and husband, Paul Sims. In a request to Leppert that she be taken off a couple committees, she says she made it plain that her main reason was to give herself more time with the baby.

It's not like she's a shirker. Hunt has always been one of the council's workhorses. And it's not like otherwise the baby would be left in her car in the parking garage while Hunt sat out back of City Hall swigging from a gin bottle. She has that baby with her every chance she gets.

Hunt's mother moved to Dallas to help take care of the baby. Her husband is a hands-on baby-dad. They happen to be one of these families who will do anything to make sure the baby is always in the hands of a loving responsible adult, and that's why she wanted off those extra committees.

Former Mayor Laura Miller and her husband, Steve Wolens, were like that: extreme workaholics, but every time you saw them or got a call, one of them had the kids in the car or was at home with them. It can be done.

So at first Leppert did agree to take her off four standing committees. So far so good. But when the budget debate came down, Hunt used all of that homework and research to persuade the council to hold the property tax at the same effective rate. Leppert opposed that vote, calling it a tax hike, even though Hunt's rate was the one that would raise the same amount of tax revenue as last year.

Let's not get into that one again. If you think it was tax hike, fine, I'll spot you that one. The point here is that Hunt beat Leppert on the tax rate question. So right after the budget debate, Leppert assigns Hunt back to all of her committees.

It was a shaft. A political shaft. And there's a mean little knife in it. If a council member is assigned to a committee but misses meetings, she can be docked part of her annual $37,500 salary.

Hunt, a lawyer, gave up a good job as a litigator to serve on the council. Her husband is a busy computer guy. She's never told me this, but I get the picture that they sort of need that 37 grand. But who doesn't?

I thought it was squalid of Leppert to jam her on the committee thing, and I believe it tells us something about Leppert's values. There are people in the business world who put family and kids first, and there are people who don't.

My own business, the newspaper business, used to be one of the very worst. A woman who even mentioned kids to a boss was setting herself up to be canned. A dad who went home at night to take care of the kids was considered the worst kind of wimp. He should have been out in the bars trying to pick up an intern.

My wife and I were extremely lucky when our son was born. She was working for The News, and though it grudges me extremely to admit it, I don't think The News has ever had that kind of sleazy internal culture. They were great.

I worked for the Times Herald -- not so great -- but my boss happened to be a woman, Lee Cullum. She could be a tough demanding overseer, but she operated on the principle that family, especially kids, always came first.

But it shouldn't always be up to women bosses to be the ones who get it. We men -- you know, sometimes we have trouble anyway getting stuff -- we need to make a special effort not to be jerks, every little chance we get.

Not Leppert. He assigns Hunt to the committees anyway, even after she has explained to him she was working more than full-time but needed to carve out a little space for the baby. That all happened months ago.

Since then, Hunt apparently sought and gained permission from the chairs of two committees to resign from them, in spite of Leppert's having assigned her to them. It's ultimately up to Leppert, and she asked him to go along with it too. He delayed a response, but then some council members who support Hunt on it signaled they might want to put the matter up for a vote as a council resolution. At that point Leppert agreed to take her off two committees.

But now, apparently still pissed off, Leppert has used the baby thing to strip Hunt of her position as chair of the judiciary committee, where she has been piling on the hours. Bush says in his story that Leppert sent him a written statement as follows:

"I received a memo from council member Hunt asking to be removed from half of her committee assignments because she was not able to devote the necessary time to her council duties. Given the work that goes in to chairing a committee, I felt it was in the best interest of the city" to reassign Hunt.
It's just small. It's tiny. It's so petty I can't even see it with a microscope. She didn't ask to be taken off that assignment. She was doing yeoman work to help the city repair an archaic and inefficient method for hiring municipal judges.

You know what the Leppert memo really says. It says, "She's one of those baby-mamas, so obviously she can't be trusted with real work."

You know what else? Oh, she's going to be pissed at me for telling this. I asked her about this story this morning, and she declined to comment on it. But I happen to know from people who were present that when the baby was on the way, the city council staff threw a shower for Hunt in the council offices. Other council members, even the ones she tussles with politically, showed up and were warm and supportive. Leppert sent a check down by messenger. Twenty bucks.

I've worked for guys like that -- guys who consider family a weakness. A weakness they can exploit. I'm sure as hell glad I don't work for one now. And I don't even a baby. I just don't like guys like that. You want to know what's wrong with the American family? Guys like that are a big part of 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