Plan to Employ Ex-Offenders to Salvage Old Rail Still Stalled at DART

Categories: Schutze

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A deeply moving scene last night at the board of directors meeting of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, our regional transit agency: Public seating in the large chamber was filled wall-to-wall with ex-offenders pleading for the very thing we should all want for them -- honest work.

I told you about this last March. It's a program brought to DART by the Peter Johnson Foundation to create well-paid jobs for ex-offenders by allowing them to clean up disused railroad right-of-way and salvage the track and other materials. DART seemed to show enthusiasm early on, but the deal has been mired in unexplained bureaucratic delay for months.

See also:
DART Offers Hope to Plan to Employ Job-Hungry Ex-Cons to Recycle Old Tracks

The issue is people who have served time for crimes, are now out of prison and crime-free but cannot get jobs above minimum wage because of their criminal records. The track salvage proposal would pay better wages and also offer important job skill training. The entities asking for the salvage contacts are two minority-owned railroad construction firms, each with deep history as a DART subcontractor.

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Daniel Fishel
Peter Johnson is head of a nonprofit civil rights group representing hundreds of men and women seeking honest work, most but not all of whom are black. As he made his emotional appeal to the DART board, the packed chamber sat watching silently, only occasionally offering polite applause.

"These men come to my office," Johnson said, "and some of them sit at my desk and literally weep because they are torn between going back to either selling dope or watching their babies without diapers that they cannot buy. They are torn between going back to doing burglaries or watching their women leave them because they cannot pay their bills."

He recited the long process by which DART executives seemed at first open to the proposal, meeting with Johnson in his foundation offices and even offering him instruction on how to frame his proposal, then more recently stopped even taking his calls.

"Please, I plead with you," he told the board. "Please give us an opportunity to save taxpayers money by allowing these men to become taxpayers as opposed to living in prison, where the taxpayers have to take care of them."

The irony in this situation is that DART didn't even know it owned the track in question until Johnson's group drove about the city, took pictures of the track and presented those pictures and maps to DART executives. Most of the track in question is in sidings that DART inherited when it acquired right-of-ways from other lines. The proposal is for the two contractors to remove the rail, remediate the right-of-ways and pay themselves by selling rail, spikes, ties and gravel salvaged from the right-of-ways.

The right-of-ways, now idle and neglected, would be cleaned up at zero cost to DART or taxpayers. The contractors, both of whom have experience hiring ex-offenders, have promised to hire them for this work, pay better than minimum wage, provide benefits and also provide special training in machinery operation and other skills and experience that could lead to more jobs later for the ex-offenders.

The land in question often does not belong to DART, but the tracks do. Early on in negotiations, Johnson was told the contractors involved would have to acquire special insurance to cover operations on private property. He says his two contractors borrowed money and acquired the insurance at a cost of several thousand dollars, only to have communications with DART suspended without explanation.

After the meeting I spoke with DART board chairman John Danish, who told me he thinks Johnson's idea has merit and should be taken seriously by the board. "I plan to present it to the Committee of the Whole," he said -- a step that would put the idea squarely before the entire board. "I think this is an idea that the whole board needs to learn more about."

Two hours before the board meeting, dozens of men and women began gathering quietly in Johnson's offices in the Domingo Garcia Tower Building in Oak Cliff. Johnson led them in prayer, then ushered them down to the street for a bus ride across the river to DART headquarters downtown. From Oak Cliff to downtown, the mood of the crowd was somber and a little hard to read -- intense or desperate, probably some of both.

After the meeting as they waited for the return bus ride, their mood was unchanged. People like this don't give in easily to hope.



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26 comments
NOWiGETit
NOWiGETit

Who do citizens needs to write to to express support for this program?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

...led them in prayer... if that's workin for em, what they need a job fer?

Obummer
Obummer

Yo God made Adam an' Eve, not Adam an' Steve.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Not all ex-cons can be rehabbed.  But for those that can, hard work, learning to operate machinery, and a legit job on their record would surely help.

As a resident of a municipality that taxes me to support DART, I hope this occurs and is a success.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

BTW - It appears your "brand" has made it to the Supreme Court.  Scalia's dissent on the majority DOMA:

"To be sure (as the majority points out), the legislation is called the Defense of Marriage Act. But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.  Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better."

Congratulations.  

Of course, President Clinton signed DOMA.  And President Obama just 18 months ago opposed gay marriage.  So they are just so much pond scum bigots too?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

just so long as the sex-offenders don't get within 2,000 feet of schools, libraries, day-care centers or public parks.

WylieH
WylieH

[Two hours before the board meeting, dozens of men and women began gathering quietly in Johnson's offices in the Domingo Garcia Tower Building in Oak Cliff.]

Did Domingo Garcia really have a building named after himself?

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

I would lay odds that the right-of-ways will be cleaned up. But, it will be DART paying some cronies of DART board members to do it. ANd the cronies will still get to sell off everything from these right-of-ways.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@casiepierce

Just a suggestion, as opposed to The Psycho Building. 

manpanties
manpanties

@WylieH no, it isn't named for him.  for some reason the author wanted to say something that has nothing to do withe the story.  

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@WylieH

I wish I could be a poor, downtrodden, racially-discriminated-against, economically-oppressed minority such as Dingo ...

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@Tim.Covington I was just thinking that -- which cousin or nephew of a DART board member just started a Railline Cleanup Company and is writing a bid to do the job for just $42 million?

anon
anon

@Tim.Covington Wouldn't they have to put them out for RFP if there is a cash outlay? And in that case, wouldn't Johnson's be superior in every possible way? Not saying they couldn't find a way to hire cronies in any event. But wouldn't there at least be a paper trail? 

James080
James080

@anon @Tim.Covington  

The current scheme to avoid competitive bidding when directing the work to a crony or friend involves breaking up the scope of the work so that the initial amount of the work is under $25,000.00, and designating the work to be performed by a "CM at risk." Then after contracting with the selected "CM," a change order is issued increasing the contract to whatever amount the board wants to gift to their conies. DART has used this method to direct tens of millions in contracts to a chosen few.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @manpanties @WylieH Hum, I wonder if Jim was going for satire? Maybe he just forgot the name of the building (isn't it Bank of America?) and he only remembered that Domigo's office was in there. I think the Tower of Domingo sounds more apropos.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@JimSX @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @WylieH 

He always seems to be seen as being their advocate, especially around election time ...

PS:  SARCASM WILL ROBINSON SARCASM

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