Top 10 Schutze Columns of '09

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I know what you're thinking: The year is almost over, and I need more Schutze!

More Schutze you say? Me too, which is why I took a look back at his columns from '09 and picked my 10 faves for your reconsideration and, well, appreciation.

For those who don't remember the drill from last year, the list is chronological and void of any commentary from yours truly because, hey, you asked for more Schutze, so that's exactly what you're getting. Enjoy as you visualize Jim reading you the excerpts while delivering this nifty holiday gift.

10. "Low-Rent Landlord Alex Stolarski is City Hall's Fall Guy," February 26

It's all a lie. It's a straight-up lie -- a vicious slander of an honest businessman and involved citizen. As far as I can tell, Stolarski does everything humanly possible to combat crime in his buildings. He is also not a nobody. I don't think it's OK to savage people who happen to be unknown, but Stolarski happens to be known. He has a reputation, and it's good. All anybody had to do to find out was lift a finger, make a couple calls.

Bad enough is the cheap, maudlin exploitation of a terrible death. But this is even worse than that. It goes deeper. This whole line of thinking is a flabby moral self-deception.

You know what really does contribute to tragedies like the recent death of Senior Corporal Norman Smith? City officials and editorial writers who continue to say crap like this. They enable the moral conditions that will produce more cop killings, more crime.

Crime will be reduced when more people start acting better. People don't act bad because of their building owners.

Exactly how dumb do we have to get about this before we take a smart pill?

9. "Corps Warns That Trinity River Levees Pose a Flood Risk to Downtown, but is City Hall Listening?" March 5

I guess we could smile at some of it -- Leppert's blithely false assertions, Lill's loopy tree math, Blow's big bike ride. Maybe one day I'll smile.

But not now. Surely we learned from Katrina. Surely we can find the connection. We look out there every spring and fall and see a vast body of water at the foot of downtown held at bay only by earthen levees. We have to understand that we might have elderly people drowning in their wheelchairs in nursing homes exactly the way New Orleans did.

Don't the mayor and the city council have at least a moral obligation, if not a legal one, to carry out the due diligence that has never been done before? By that, I mean asking hard questions about flood dangers that already exist because the levees are weak and asking about the additional risk that may be posed by the highway project.

8. "Dallas a Great Convention Town -- for Nuns," March 19

So we're selling the convention center by selling Dallas as a tourism destination. But we're not selling anything about Las Vegas or New Orleans, meaning we're not selling anything risqué or risky. And no sex, don't forget. So our tourism pitch is based on having good hotels and an arts district and on this being a sexless place that is reachable by airplane.

I asked Jones if maybe we should throw in something just for grins about also having a lot of really good strip clubs?

Jones said no. He said we don't need that. Jones told me that Dallas has been doing much better than other cities around the country at booking conventions.

It's hard to keep up with some of the claims. Jones' staff provided me with a list of 88 conventions that have not booked Dallas since 2003 when Whitney left. According to the analysis, this "lost business" adds up to a million hotel room-nights and $1.5 billion in economic impact.

The convention bureau says all of these conventions were lost because we don't have a downtown convention hotel. I can well imagine that none of the associations that didn't come to town, when contacted, wrote back, "Jones wouldn't take us to The Lodge."

All I know is, we gave up sex, and they didn't come.

7. "How Last Week's Torrential Downpour Forced Jim Schutze to Reflect on His Insignificance in the Universe," June 18

Both my wife and I, in different conversations, called Oncor, the power company. We both spoke to what we believed were human beings, possibly in America, and both of us explained that we had a power line pulled semi-loose and under repair. We both stated in slow, clear, simple language that it was very important that the power not be switched back on for our area until repairs had been safely completed on our house. We both received deeply unsatisfying responses.

The apparent human beings on the other end said something like, "They never do that."

We said, "Do what?"

"What you said."

"You mean they never turn the power back on if there's still a line down in somebody's back yard?"

"Uh-huh. I don't think they would."

Long pause.

"Are we on a list? Are you making a record of this call? Is there some kind of notification in the system not to turn our area back on until our house has been cleared?"

Long pause. Finally they said, "Sure."

We both hung up feeling extremely not sure. I told Captain Blood, our electrician, what Oncor had told us. He was unimpressed. "Yeah," he said. "I gotta work fast."

6. "Maybe Northern and Southern Dallas Should Consider a Free-Trade Pact," July 9

In Detroit, where I grew up and where I worked on the assembly lines for five years as a young man, there was no subtlety. Everybody came to town with two hard hands and an empty wallet, whether he came from a cotton field in East Texas or a brick factory in Belfast, and everybody wanted the same five bucks a day from Henry Ford, the same chance to buy the same little brick house in Livonia and send his kid to the same university in Ypsilanti.

I am not saying it worked out beautifully. Huge swaths of Detroit lie fallow today, decimated by riots that Dallas never had and by a Republican mortgage scandal everyone seems to have forgotten. But through Detroit's best times and worst, the basic idea was strong--that there is no white dream or black dream, only the same American dream. That basic idea did produce a vibrant and empowered black middle class in Detroit and its suburbs.

Nobody had to be polite about it. Whenever someone asked what black people wanted, the answer up there was always the same. Everything. Not a slice of the pie. Not a hand-out or a set-aside. The whole enchilada -- the same thing the guy from the Irish brick factory wanted when he came half way 'round the world hoping to score a job on the assembly line.

Here, it's different, and all I really know is that I really don't quite understand. I listen to this trial on a tin can every day, and I pick up faint whispers from a very different past. I just don't get what past.

5. "If the Dallas Business Establishment Has Its Way With DART's Second Rail Line for Downtown, Forget About a Booming Metropolis," July 23

I know from the hearings and Web postings on this stuff so far that the alignment with the most political juice behind it from the downtown establishment is the very worst one -- the one that will cost the most money, attract the fewest riders and do the least for re-developing downtown.

Unfortunately, this is the line that has the support of the tiny group of business people who make decisions about downtown Dallas.

It's a line that bends way out of its way to veer off into the far south side of downtown, far away from the existing alignment on Pacific on the east side, in order to go through the convention center, pass by the new convention hotel and, not coincidentally, pass through a lot of idle, bare-dirt real estate owned by The Dallas Morning News on downtown's weakest limb, its moribund southwest corner.

What's wrong with using the train to prop up the hotel and help out the Morning News with its real estate problem? Nothing, except for one thing. Choosing this alignment is a once-in-a-century chance to change the fundamental destiny of downtown itself. Using it instead to help out one hotel and one land-owner would be a reprehensible squandering of this rare opportunity.

4. "Latest Lesson From the City Hall Corruption Trial: When You Ask the City Attorney For an Ethics Opinion, Check With the FBI Too," August 13

Let's make something up. Pretend you need something from the city. Let's say you want to build a garage with a little upstairs mother-in-law apartment behind your house, but it's going to take a zoning change. You're headed downtown right now to appear before the city council to plead your case.

Last week, someone suggested you call Carol Reed and Associates, the public relations and political consulting firm that handled the election campaign of Mayor Tom Leppert. They may have some advice.

Indeed, they do. They tell you it would be perfectly legal and quite advisable for you to hire a certain security firm to guard your house. This firm happens to be owned by the sitting city council member who has direct influence over your little problem.

Not to worry about prison. They assure you this sort of arrangement has been thoroughly vetted by the Dallas city attorney. The city attorney has ruled it's copacetic as long as the council member "recuses" himself--doesn't vote--on issues that pertain to you personally.

Hmm? How's he gonna help if he can't vote? This has all been worked out, wouldn't you know.

Your issue will go the right way, because just before he recuses himself and leaves the room, your council member will have another council member tell the council how to vote. Then when the vote comes up, your member will lean out from around the corner and give them all the evil eye.

Look. You want your mother-in-law apartment? See that the council member gets some security work. Whaddya say?

Because I have been covering Dallas City Hall for about 100 years, I know that everything will happen just as they promise. I have seen things done this way at Dallas City Hall, down to and including the old reach-around evil eye "recusal."

But because I have been covering this trial, I know what you should say when they tell you it's been vetted by the city attorney. You need to say, "Yeah, but has it been vetted by the FBI?"

Because guess what? Deals that look "perfectly legal" to the Dallas city attorney can look like criminal offenses to the feds, and if you get caught between those rocks you could wind up downtown in the dock, trying to ward off a long stretch in the pen like the defendants in the current case.

In fact, you know what? I'd take my chances just not doing the security guard thing at all. Move your mother-in-law into the house with you. She's probably a lot easier to live with than your potential roommate in the Big House.

Think about it.

3. "Hey, Mayor Leppert: Want Ethics Reform to Have Some Real Teeth? Take Away the Power of the Table," November 19

A developer named John Tatum, himself a former DART board member, thought he had a deal to restore and develop an old trolley maintenance facility called Monroe Shop, next to a DART station on Corinth Street in southern Dallas. But the deal kept not getting done. Meanwhile, people were buzzing.

Tatum tells me that Shaw, who died in March of last year in an apparent murder-suicide with her husband, wanted Tatum to hire the wife of a prominent South Dallas clergyman to act as his "community consultant." Tatum, who thought his job was to take a 1913 industrial building and turn it into a museum, didn't know why he needed a community consultant.

DART owns the property. As part of its deal with Tatum, DART was to sell it to him. But Tatum says DART effectively told him he had to close on his loan with his lender before DART would even sign a contract with him, let alone close on the sale of the land.

That's like this. I'm selling you a house. But I tell you, "You have to go get the check from the bank and show it to me, and then I'll agree to sell you the house." It's a type of demand that falls under the technical legal category, "Totally Nutsoid."

2. "Why the Trinity River Project Could Be a Windfall for the Lawyer Who Sues the Army Corps of Engineers," December 3

I'm not wishing ill on my community. To the contrary, I wish we could avoid disaster. The Trinity River Project, as currently planned, is dangerous and irresponsible. But since social responsibility and simple conscience seem beyond the grasp of the people pushing it, I'm hoping sheer fear of litigation may slow them down. That's where you come in, my lovely lawyers.

The experts looking at the recent U.S. District Court decision on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Katrina damages in New Orleans are putting the potential total liability of the Corps in the trillions of dollars. That's what I'm talking about. But here. In Dallas.

Down the road -- how far I don't know but down the road -- somebody stands to take down the Corps, the Federal Highway Administration, the state of Texas, the city of Dallas and the North Texas Tollway Authority for a similar or even bigger prize than what's at stake in New Orleans.

1. "Sting Like a Butterfly: Hey, John Wiley Price, Are You Ready to Rumble?" December 10

For the last 20 years, Dallas has been telling John Wiley Price, "Beat us! Curse us! Break our ankles and throw water in our faces! If you ever find yourself on trial for any of it, call up the jurors and threaten to kill their bitch asses. Whatever you do, we promise you one thing: We won't do nuthin'."

You know, I could go into a whole liberal guilt thing about how this isn't Price's fault, really. It's our fault. How can we expect him to do anything but break our ankles and throw water in our faces when we act like such gigantic, chicken-shit white pussies?

The poor kid. He's just reacting to the stimuli in his environment. It's our fault for failing to do a better job of mentoring him. Sure. I could say that.

But guess what? I just looked in my liberal guilt account, and that son of a bitch is empty! It's over-drawn in fact. It's got a penalty charge on it. If anything, I think Price owes me some guilt!

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