Let's Be Honest, Dallas's Minority Contracting Mess Didn't Come About by Accident
If you start reading the lead editorial today in The Dallas Morning News, you're going to think at first that the editorial writers have done a good job explaining what has gone wrong with minority subcontracting in Dallas -- a central theme in the ongoing FBI Dallas political corruption probe.
But you will be wrong. The editorial writers have not done a good job. They start out right. Then they fall off the cliff. In the end they do a bad job and a disservice.
The editorial deals with a company owned by a close personal and political associate of southern Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. It explains how the company, Wai-Wize, run by radio personality Willis Johnson, gets lucrative make-work subcontracts allowing general contractors to tick off the minority participation box on their bid proposals.
At the conclusion of the editorial, the newspaper takes its usual noblesse oblige posture by suggesting that the real failure here is of the power structure. The wise men and women of the city's northern hemisphere should have done a better job, the editorial suggests, preventing predictable mischief in the city's rascally southern latitudes:
"But we should not see the mess with Wai-Wize, which also holds contracts with Dallas County, DART, Parkland Memorial Hospital and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, as proof that promoting minority businesses is misguided. If it proves anything, it is that elected officials and regulators have done a poor job of holding all parties accountable and making certain the system operates on merit, not politics. That is where the work should begin."No. No. Folks. That's not what happened. C'mon. It's not that the white power structure looked the other way and allowed Wai-Wize to get a lock on minority subcontracting at public entities in Dallas. The white power structure created Wai-Wize. It made it happen.
In a series of stories and columns in 2008, the Observer reported specific and detailed arrangements -- a political strategy -- by which former Mayor Tom Leppert elevated Willis Johnson and Wai-Wize to the status of Number One Gatekeeper for all minority subcontracting in Dallas. The arrangement even had a code name, revealed in emails that we published: "The Inner Circle."
One of the events we described was a kind of mini-convention for would-be minority contractors held at the headquarters of the regional transit agency, DART, on a Saturday morning. It was a meet-and-greet. There were hundreds of people there -- eager hopeful minority contractors looking for a way in, as well as representatives of most of DART's general contractors.
The event was run by Johnson. He was introduced by Leppert. Leppert, the mayor of Dallas, had no particular business even appearing at an event that had to do with DART, an agency of which he was not a part. Johnson was a radio host. Who elected him anything? Why wasn't DART running its own event?
The message was clear. Johnson was the man selected by the Leppert/Citizens Council/Downtown Rich White Guy leadership as the gatekeeper for all minority subcontracting. This arrangement received solid support from The Dallas Morning News in both editorial and news columns, especially in its coverage of the Inland Port controversy. Another powerful ally backing the deal was the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is supposed to supply us with rational planning.
Photo by Patrick Michels Tom Leppert and Willis Johnson, BFFs
Let's go back to the editorial. The News says " ... elected officials and regulators have done a poor job of holding all parties accountable ... "
Is that the problem? Hell no. The problem is that elected officials, regulators and newspaper editorial pages created this situation. They did it because it worked for them. If we're supposed to rely on the same kind of elected officials, regulators and newspaper editorial pages to clean up the situation, we are truly toast.
This was not and is not and will never be a southern Dallas deal. This is a cross-town deal. It's absurd to suggest that the traditional establishment in Dallas will clean up this mess. They made the mess.
I'm not excusing southern Dallas. It takes two to tango. People are responsible for their own behavior. But let's not excuse North Dallas, either. And let's sure as hell not look to North Dallas to clean anything up.