Dallas's Council Reps Send Very, Very Mixed Signals Over Int'l Inland Port

Categories: Schutze
Inland_port_logo.gifI'm working on a new theory of life. I used to think the City of Dallas was obviously the big cheese in the region -- the wheel -- and that all of the little surrounding municipalities were sort of cheese wedges. Maybe I had it wrong. Maybe Dallas has cheese for brains, and all of the communities around us are trying not to laugh out loud at us.

Yesterday morning I drove out to Arlington for a special meeting of the Regional Transportation Council, a very boring and little-known regional entity that never produces good soundbites or colorful stories and so, wouldn't you just know it, has total power of life and death over us. (Another new theory I'm working on: Anything that produces a lot of major breaking news is probably irrelevant. Anything we've never heard of probably has power of life and death over us.)

The RTC is the gatekeeper for all state and federal transportation money. They sit out there in a building next to Six Flags. We have never heard of them. They can say, "Yes, you may have a highway." Or, "No, we think not." "Why?" "Just because."

Obscure and scary. Jump, then, if you dare.

Yesterday the RTC was discussing something I have been writing about a lot lately: the efforts by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price to sandbag a huge development in South Dallas called the inland port. The behind-the-scenes news last week and over the weekend was that Leppert had dropped his support of the sandbagging.

Why? Too much heat? Too many people calling him asking why he's screwing over a major Dallas deal and helping a competing deal in Fort Worth owned by the Perots? Who knows? Nobody knows but the Perots. The Perots knows

Anyway, Unfair Park reported last week that Leppert was bailing, so presumably everybody at the meeting yesterday knew that Dallas was out of the deal and no longer supporting it. But three members of the Dallas city council were present, and two of them, unfortunately, felt they had to speak.

The first one, Ron Natinsky, who was obviously pissed that the sandbagging effort was being dropped, tried to give the impression the city still supported it. He said, "The City of Dallas is committed to it. The council hasn't voted to not do the study. Staff has not recommended to us to not do the study."

Pardon? Sounded for a second like he was channeling Don Rumsfeld there for a second. Then Tennell Atkins spoke. First he read a prepared statement that was -- what can I say ? -- totally incomprehensible. I don't mean to be unkind, but totally, completely, utterly incomprehensible. Then he said, "As always, we appreciate the commitment of the North Central Texas Council of Governments and all the contributions that you have done. We do appreciate that. But before we make a decision, I feel like we need to go back to the drawing board and make sure everybody is at the table, make sure everybody understands that we're going forward, because if we make a decision now today, if everybody did not know what we're going to do, I think that would be a big mistake. A major mistake."

A pause. Two or three beats maybe. General eye-blinking around the table. Then NCTCOG executive director Mike Eastland said, "Mr. Atkins, are you saying that the City is Dallas is asking that we delay the study?"

"Yes," he said.

So the one guy from Dallas says the city doesn't want to drop the study, which everybody knows is not true. The city does want to drop it. Then the other guy from Dallas says something that cannot be understood. At all. At that point, I guess, Eastland figures it's time for a yes or no question. And, to Atkins's credit, he nails that sucker. Makes me so proud. Last new theory of life: the smaller a community is, the smarter. And vice versa.

Except for New York. Chicago and Los Angeles. And Paris. And London. Possibly Phnom Penh. Forget it. It's just us.

I'll have a column in tomorrow's paper about this thing in which Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson tells me that the whole sandbagging effort -- the so-called master plan -- was instigated by Commissioner Price. She says he told her, "These people [the developers of the inland port] are not going to come in here and there not be some blacks making money."

Tyler. Tyler might be smarter than us. But it's smaller. So that's really O.K. --Jim Schutze

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