Dallas City Council Grills DART Boss Over That Missing Billion

Categories: Schutze
DART president and executive director Gary Thomas can back-fill your pain.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors chair Lynn Flint Shaw, in the news lately over a forgery accusation, sat sequestered in a corner of the room where reporters couldn’t get to her yesterday, while DART director Gary Thomas took a serious pounding at Dallas City Hall. All in all, it was the kind of very weird scene reporters love.

I know that Dallas Morning News City Hall guy Dave Levinthal was there, but not a word of this quite significant pow-wow appears in today’s News, either in print or online.

Oh, yeah. This is getting curious.

At the end of the meeting, the city council’s Transportation and Environment Committee voted to send a second letter to DART warning it not to screw with the money that has already been set aside for a second rail line downtown and the new South Oak Cliff line. The city council already fired the first shot with its own missive last week.

DART, you may know, was off by 100 percent on the cost of a couple of upcoming suburban rail lines it’s got to build. DART’s estimate was $1 billion. Turns out the cost will be $2 billion.

Politely grilled by city council woman Angela Hunt -- one might say he was sautéed -- DART boss Thomas admitted he and his staff had known about the goof for eight months before they admitted it to the DART board. Almost nobody on the council committee holding the hearing liked that -- except for member Jerry Allen, and I will explain that in a moment.

The most eloquent denunciation came from council member Vonciel Jones Hill, who, by the way, is a brain. She chided Thomas for his eight-month-long “deafening silence” on the billion-dollar goof.

Thomas looked and sounded terrible. His big idea for making up the moolah is to use money that has been set aside for two crucial Dallas projects, a second downtown alignment and for the South Oak Cliff line, and then get that money back somewhere, somehow in time to do those projects.

He uses consultant jargon-speak like Mayor Tom Leppert, saying over and over again he would “back-fill the debt.” When council member Tennell Atkins asked for a guarantee Thomas could find the money somewhere, Thomas kept saying he was “very confidant” he could do it -- the way Leppert says he’s “very comfortable.” It’s some kind of crapola talk-around they think means they can’t be held to their word later.

Council member Carolyn Davis snapped to what Thomas was really saying right away. She said she didn’t like the idea that Thomas wanted to take money away that already belongs to Dallas and then promise to pay it back later somehow, some way. Most of the council members wound up staring at Thomas with the same stiff-necked facial expression, which I think means, “Forget the back-fill, buddy. We don’t swing that way.”

Jerry Allen, however, was all sweetness and flattery for DART. Could it have anything to do with the fact that he was vice-chair of DART’s budget and finance committee when DART created the plan that is now so upside-down? I mean, is this mess not sort of his fault?

Shaw, of course, was Mayor Tom Leppert’s hand-picked candidate for chairman and is a major fundraiser for Leppert in the southern sphere. Whatever sticks to her sticks to him.

She sat off in that corner of the hearing room through the whole deal. Normally at events like this the DART board chairman sits at the table with Thomas to answer questions. I guess she was afraid Hunt might have asked her if it was true she lifted the Dallas County District Attorney’s signature off a Christmas card to create a false document.

Rufus Shaw, her husband, had a big poor-poor-me essay on Dallas Blog yesterday about how people are practicing "the politics of destruction” against his wife. Problem is, a lot of people in Southern Dallas think Rufus invented the politics of destruction.

Live by the sword, die by the sword, my man. --Jim Schutze

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