Morning News Praises Angela Hunt on Drilling! While God's Passing Out Miracles, Maybe We Can Get a Strong Mayor.

Categories: Schutze

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In the very wee hours as my eye first opened to the light of this day, I thought I heard a rushing of wings aloft. I caught my breath. Was this ...? And then distinctly as if from the next room, I heard the oinking of pigs.

Only later with coffee in hand and the daily newspaper on my knees did I comprehend: The Dallas Morning News published a long sharply worded lead editorial this morning praising City Council member Angela Hunt and lambasting most of the rest of the council for their bizarre and incomprehensibly irresponsible "debate" Wednesday on a basic issue of governance.

See also:
- Mary Suhm Tells City Council She Did Nothing Wrong in Park-Drilling Deal: A Live Blog
- Vonciel Hill: City Council Member, Prophet, Theologian and Sell-Out

I read it twice to be sure. Yes, The Dallas Morning News, the traditional private organ of the establishment, was defending Hunt and raising questions about our city's hick-town city manager system of governance. I clutched my copy of the morning paper, its gray coffee-speckled leaves shaking and rattling in my white knuckled grasp, and held it to my heart. "Fly onward, you brave little piggies," I whispered hoarsely, choking back tears. "Fly on!"

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Wikipedia
Don't get too happy. While pigs rarely fly, they never stop squealing and shitting.
This is about the council's debate on a question of gas drilling rights on city parkland, which, as some of you pointed out at the time, was not about gas drilling rights on city parkland. It was about who in the hell runs City Hall. Damn!

Hunt took City Manager Mary Suhm to task for lying to the council about a drilling lease five years ago and then carrying out a long, elaborate and successful campaign to keep the wool pulled up snugly over their eyes.

So then did the humiliated, weak and stupid-looking City Council fly to Hunt's side and demand the same kind of answers? Oh my, no. With the exceptions of members Scott Griggs and Sandy Greyson, the rest of the Dallas City Council proceeded to verbally flail Hunt for showing disrespect to the city manager, begging Suhm on virtual bended knee for forgiveness for having allowed the conversation to even happen in the first place.

Council member Vonciel Hill gave a speech which I reproduced here already yesterday, but I just have to quote from it again today, because ... I just do.

After comparing Hunt to Haman, the Jew-killer in the Book of Esther, Hill told Suhm she was Jesus Christ: "Miss Suhm, this is a Good Friday moment," Hill said, speaking in the fake preacher-voice she admits she copies from storied Dallas minister Zan Holmes. She told Suhm, "... but I guarantee you from the faith well into which I reach, your Easter is coming, and you will sail forth."

I gotta be there for that. For the headline opportunities alone. "Suhm in tomb: still calling the shots."

So what did rattle the Morning News' cage? More to the point, what rattled your cages in the comments section on the day of the debate when the Observer's Anna Merlan was live-blogging it from City Hall? I think the commenter who calls her-himself "roos-ster" summed it up pretty well:

"But, wow, are those Dallas council critters clueless and mendacious. I see (or rather don't see) a deliberate policy of opacity in governance. I am going to engage in totally wild speculation and suggest that lots of those council critters are not representing the voters who elected them, but rather the folks who financed their campaigns and side-opportunities for graft. OK, now I'll stop with the crazy-talk."

Yeah. But it's worse than that. It's worse because you could replace every single one of them with the very best possible candidates you could find, and with a very few exceptions within six months they would all morph into the same kind of critters. It's really not the individuals. It's the system.

I talked about it briefly with Hunt afterward. She disagreed with my instant analysis. I think she was right.

I said I thought it was all a function of 14-1: Each council-member acts like a duke or duchess ruling over a council district as if it were a medieval estate, but then they all bow to the city manager as their queen. It is from her they must beg on bended knee for stop signs, sewer pipes and the other bread, mead and circuses with which they keep their own restless peasants at bay.

Hunt said no. It's not 14-1. It's the weak mayor system. We have a system where the buck simply does not stop anywhere.

Hmm. Should we pause and indulge in a moment of pity for the average Dallas City Council member? I guess we could, briefly. They do wake up on Saturdays not to the sound of flying pigs but to the text-message pinging of pissed-off constituents screaming for sewer pipes. The mayor can't get sewer pipes for anybody. The city manager can.

And what about the city manager? What's her deal? If you listened closely Wednesday, there was even a moment of totally unintended candor from Preacher Hill. Before Hill dove into the Book of Esther like a water turkey diving into an East Texas cattle tank, she said, "It is not uncommon for the City Council to say to the staff to be creative and expeditious in finding ways to pay for the things that the council wants to pay for."

What does that even mean? Actually it's Hill saying out loud that the City Council and mayor often use the city manager as political cover to shield their own fecklessness. Lacking the courage to either raise taxes or cut out somebody's favorite stupid City Hall patronage boondoggle, they more or less tell Suhm to just go steal the money.

Here's what Hill really means. Think of them as a family. They're broke. But they want to go to Disneyland and stay in a nice hotel. They have an able-bodied 20-something son. So they hand him a pistol, take him downtown to the bank and say, "Man-oh-man, if somebody could somehow find us the money we need for Disneyland [wink-wink], that person would be a hero in this family forever." Nudge-nudge, out the door.

They don't tell Suhm to disobey them exactly. What they really tell her is this: "We're going to say certain things for public consumption, like, 'No fracking in the parks.' But that's just nudge-nudge wink-wink crap. Your job is to go get the money we need for our patronage programs. Just do it. Keep us out of it."

What you really heard Wednesday was not so much admiration for Suhm as desperation. More than anything, the council would never want Suhm to feel so threatened that she started getting really direct and honest with the public about how things really work down there. Think of it more like, "How dare you suggest our son would rob a bank?"

It is a system that has basic irresponsibility written deep in its genetic code. We all know from whence it came. Back three-quarters of a century ago, somebody thought it would make things cleaner to take the politics out of politics and have a "professional" manager instead. They were wrong.

Hunt is right. It's not 14-1. There's nothing wrong with council members being directly elected by and responsible to their own constituents in their own neighborhoods. Goodness knows we wouldn't want to make them any less responsible than they are already.

It's the weak mayor/strong city manager system. We are the shareholders. We need a CEO we can fire. Us. You. Me. Voters. We need to be able to hire and fire a mayor to run the overall shop and be responsible for the overall shop.

She must tell us, "I cannot pay for your damn sewer pipes without raising taxes, cutting other programs or signing a deal with a fracking company. That's how it is. So fire me."
And if she signs a fracking deal behind our backs anyway and hides it from us for five years and we find out, that's just what we do. Fire her ass.

That's real life, instead of the bizarre shadow-puppet show we saw Wednesday. Until we get to real life, none of this will change.


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41 comments
judd_bradbury
judd_bradbury

Jim let's be honest, the City Manager form is a creative American idea that came out of the revered bastion of New England...Yale. Other than the troubling birthplace, it is a model that outperforms the other older governance relic. One change to the charter and this problem is solved. Allowing an 8 count OR the elected mayor the authority to fire the city manager gets the job done. Doing it this way provides the raw electorate power benefit without the high cost side effects of unskilled governance.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

I''m also pleased about the DMN's editorial. The bigger question is whether this editorial was a gimee or it represents a change in their tone and tenor towards the governance of our city. Their housecleaning and hiring in recent years is starting to show dividends. Let's hope their future editorials are as smart and paragmatic as this one.

kduble
kduble

The problem with the strong mayor referendum we had back in the aughts was it would have taken effect the following year. Therefore, it became a referendum on the sitting mayor. Those who liked the mayor supported it. Those who didn't didn't.

What we should have done was passed one that would have gone into effect once she was term-limited out. That way, citizens would have been voting on the idea rather than the person.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

Good work. On Monday, I will be listing the unelected leaders name by name of Dallas aka: Dallas Citizens Council beginning with Mayor Joel Allison and Asst. Mayor Donna Halstead, and will gladly show how their agenda squares perfectly with Mayor Mike's agenda for the City of Dallas

schermbeck
schermbeck

"Suhm in tomb: still calling the shots." Damn. Best Mary Suhm-is-Jesus punchline yet. Jealous.

Guesty
Guesty

Jim, very good work here.  You hit exactly the right note, but you use the notion of a "patronage boondoggle" too much as a crutch to deflect blame from the voters.  It's like the Republicans' tiered old line that they can fix the federal budget without cutting services by simply attacking unidentified "waste, fraud, and abuse."  Nonsense.  If we want stuff, we have to pay for it.    

Voters think that they can have their cake and eat it too, and no one wants to tell them differently.  Is there waste?  Yes.  If there wasn't, would that change the fact that the public wants more services from the City than the public is willing to pay for in taxes?  No, not in the least (no matter what level of services the City provides, the public will always want more).  In that way, it isn't just the city counsel that tells Suhm to find a way to make the books balance without raising taxes or cutting services, it's the voters saying it through their counsel members.  

I do think the 14+1 system exacerbates this flaw by letting all the elected officials off the hook for not making the hard choices.  But let's not pretend that a strong mayor would change the fact that the only way to get elected to any office is to promise more than is possible and to ignore or deny any negative trade-offs that might be necessary.  We are a public that demands that our elected leaders either lie to us or to be as bad at math as we are.  So that is what we get no matter what form of government we have.        

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

*DMN editorial board licks finger, checks wind direction*

timdickey
timdickey

Spot on, Jim! The other great thing about going to Strong Mayor, is that we could, at long last, elect a leader who articulates a specific vision for the city, shared by a majority of us, and who has the power to turn that vision into reality. Great things could happen!  I don't think it's a given that that person would be a Citizens' Council puppet, either. A Wes Wise-style populist could overcome the inevitable CC-financed Carol Reed/Rob Allyn style campaign juggernaut.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

We got blindsided by a $900 million deficit by the City Manager after we voted to fund a HQ Hotel, a bridge, and recourse the Trinity River.  

The system did not force the budget to be played out in the Horseshoe.  We might not have been so easily pitched by Elmer Gantry (a weak mayor).

This week people saw how the workers feed the machine that produces the sausage, and it is taking a few days for it to sink in.  

It ain't the workers who feed the machine, it's the machine.  And this week we all got to see how the blood and guts got dumped into the Trinity.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Guesty

You are right. We could boil off every ounce of patronage and still not have enough money to fix the pot-holes. I guess I was thinking that the council members only care about their patronage money, even though it is a relative pittance in the overall budget.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@timdickey you're too smart to write this crap.  Suddenly all the powerful interests will vanish, and democracy and freedom will ring across the land.  The citizens council, those with the ways and means will no doubt be chagrined by their electoral defeat and will bend as reeds in the water.  

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey 

The worst short-coming of the existing system is that it works like a gumball machine for the DCC crowd, whose version of civic responsibility is seeing how much money they filch out of City Hall without getting caught.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@timdickey Bill White in Houston was the definition of a Strong Mayor.

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@JimSX @schermbeck Now just imagine some your city council member or Mayor in those outfits, like councilwoman Hill, my City Council member.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@JimSX Jim, I've made the point to you before, changing the way gov't is structured has never fixed the issues in any city.  The same influences persist, the same stupid people vote, without understanding the issues or voting for what's best for the city as a whole.  That won't change, unless we do away with democracy--which ain't that democratic anyway.  ....benevolent despot...right?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX There's an election coming up in May.  I wonder what the entrant's positions are on changing the charter to a strong mayor?  I suppose we'd have to pay them full time.  

timdickey
timdickey

@scottindallas @timdickey Oh, ye of little faith. I never said the powerful interests would vanish--they might just have a formidable "people first" counterbalance in the Mayor's seat. If, after my populist Savior Mayor's term, they got their own person in, how would that be worse than what we have now? Scott, do you really think the money doesn't already run the senior staff at City Hall? Pretty much the same 50 families that ran Dallas in 1963 run it today, so what's the difference? At least with Strong Mayor, we'd have a shot.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@JimSX @timdickey what's fucking stupid is thinking that an mayor can get elected without being beholden to their money to make the election.  You keep fooling yourself with this crap, yet you can't point to one city that doesn't have the same issues.  Money wins elections, money influences media coverage, the monied will always have outsized influence.  A strong mayor may be good for  a while, but the next mayor may not be.  So, we get more effective leadership, and more disastrous leadership if we're not so lucky. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey 

The even deeper dark theme is this: the existing system is life-support for the client/master system of racial separation in which both the old white leadership and the old black leadership collaborate.

rubbercow
rubbercow

@holmantx @timdickey and? Bill white did great things for the city.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey @JimSX 

No, in line with most of my financial decisions, I tossed out the last boxes of them to make room for more Christmas light storage. I can make you a good deal on used knotted up partially conked out Christmas lights, however.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@holmantx @JimSX @timdickey with a strong mayor, the mayor and the DCC could have one meeting, and get their agenda through, with less a paper trail, MORE plausible deniability. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@JimSX @timdickey it's always been on life support.  Don't anthropomorphize it, it's not a granny, it's not gonna die.  It's always been on the brink of disaster. 

timdickey
timdickey

@JimSX @timdickey You wouldn't have a few copies sitting around in a box in the attic, by any chance, would you? 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey @JimSX 

And to think at one point it was selling for 35 cents. Really.

timdickey
timdickey

@JimSX @timdickey A syndrome you documented so well in The Accomodation. Which, by the way is now going for $372 new and $185 used on Amazon. I went there to buy one recently, because I lent my copy to my State Rep. who loved it so much, I can't get it back! 

Guesty
Guesty

@holmantx @JimSX @timdickey Not just the federal order, but might also violate the Voting Rights Act, and would be subject to preclearance under Section 5.   

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @timdickey You'd think that a weak mayor/strong CM form would circumvent the intent of the federal order to 14-1, since you get the effect of a 10-4 configuration. Particularly if the DCC could be shown to be in direct and continuous contact with the City Manager.

What we have right now is plausible deniability by the Council.  

A bunch of Sgt. Schultz's.

director21
director21

@holmantx @rubbercow It is simply not possible to have a nuts and bolts budget discussion in Dallas because our elected leaders lack the education, comprehension, skills and integrity to actually obey the law and work in the best interest of citizens.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@rubbercow That's what I said.  So good in fact he would have made a great governor.

But I lived down there for a couple of years and watching the coverage on the council proceedings is quite different than what we get up here.  A lot more nuts and bolts on the budgeting process.

The key is that you've got to have a great strong mayor.  That position is critical since he or she is far more important than being a ribbon-cutter or a pitch man for just the big ticket items.


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