Uber Scandal Exposes Some Very Ugly Traditions at Dallas City Hall

Categories: Schutze

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So, wait. We're not over Uber yet. The city's attempt to shut down the app-based ride service called Uber and an ensuing special outside investigation produced lots of fireworks this week but not necessarily the last word. We still need to see the big thing.

The investigation produced no finding of actual malfeasance in the city's crackdown on Uber, but the mayor admitted most of the bad stuff reported here by Brantley Hargrove a month ago really did happen. The city attorney's staff and the police department did sit down with lobbyists and lawyers for the Yellow Cab monopoly and cook up a campaign of ticketing and prosecution to scare Uber out of town.

See also: Dallas' Unfair Fight to Crush Uber

Nothing says more about the bogus nature of that campaign than the city's ultimate decision to dismiss all 60 of the tickets it had issued against 31 limousine drivers signed on to Uber's service. And in fact that was the piece of it I heard most about when it was all over -- that the city attorney had mounted and run a campaign using cops and code inspectors to write tickets that the city attorney ultimately had to admit were illegitimate.

This particular string in the Uber story runs deep in the culture and history of City Hall. It links the Uber story to everything I have written about Dallas author and JFK conspiracy theorist Robert Groden, repeatedly ticketed and arrested for selling books in Dealey Plaza when that activity was explicitly allowed by city law.

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Library of Congress
Here comes Dallas City Hall again, out to enforce the (hah-hah) "law."
It was the central theme of reporting I did some years ago about the city's so-called SAFE Team crackdowns on apartment owners. Renters were rousted in raids by cops as if they were drug dealers, when the real problem was that nearby neighborhoods wanted the apartments themselves to go away.

It was at the heart of police persecution of South Dallas car wash owner Dale Davenport, whose business was repeatedly raided on trumped up charges by enough cops to invade Normandy, when the real problem came from certain City Council members who wanted Davenport to sell.

It goes even farther back to the politically inspired harassment by the city a decade ago of the Topletz family, who own rental properties in southern Dallas. At this remove in time and because that issue seems to have gone dormant, I don't even want to talk about what I think was behind that campaign. Very ugly.

People I talked with yesterday, who were very careful to use the off-the-record rules I laid down in a blog item for them yesterday morning, said the real issue exposed by the Uber scandal has to do with the city attorney more than the city manager. The external investigation of the Uber fight commissioned by Mayor Mike Rawlings establishes this sequence of events:

1) Uber comes to town in the summer of 2012 and sets up a phone app to allow customers to connect with licensed limo drivers for rides.

2) Within a month, Yellow Cab's politically wired lobbyist, Carol Reed, is at City Hall demanding the city find a way to shut Uber down.

3) Over the next six months, Uber's lawyers and the Dallas city attorney argue whether Uber's business model violates local law or not.

4) At some point toward the end of this period, the city attorney tacitly agrees Uber is not violating existing Dallas ordinances by telling Yellow Cab's lawyer, John Barr, that local law will have to be changed before Uber can be prosecuted.

5) In spite of that admission, the city attorney directs the police department to begin carrying out a campaign of enforcement, sending undercover vice cops out to use the Uber service and then write tickets that the city attorney eventually will admit are bogus.

It's right there -- right at that point -- that the Uber report cracks open the veneer of City Hall and gives us the peek we need. In response to the right pressure from the right people, in full knowledge that it lacks a legal basis for proceeding, Dallas City Hall will mount a serious campaign of police and regulatory harassment to run targeted people out of business, using brute force to strip them of civil rights and property that the city could not take away by law.

As one caller pointed out to me, there are right ways to do this stuff, and the City Attorney knows what they are. If he thought Uber was misconstruing local law, he needed to sue Uber, take them to court and get the question settled in front of a judge. If he knew Uber was not breaking existing law but wanted a new law to stop them, then he needed to go through the process of getting such a law passed by the City Council before calling out the cops.

Mainly, the city attorney needs not to be directing the police to do things. These two entities have very different roles in the law. City lawyers shouldn't be making themselves witnesses in their own cases. The cops are not supposed to be an enforcement arm for the city attorney.

But knowing, as the city attorney did, that Uber was not breaking the law, then sending the cops out like his own private army anyway to bully Uber off the streets, was not the behavior of a law-respecting entity. That way of doing business, like City Hall's modus operandi in all the other cases mentioned above, is more like the behavior of a gang.

Hey, we all know it's the way things are done in a hick town. In a hick town the lad who makes the mistake of forcing his attentions on the mayor's daughter against the mayor's wishes is going to wind up sooner or later with some serious traffic violations.

But this is not a hick town. Anymore. The City Hall way of doing business does not reflect the business-friendly culture that Dallas wants to project. It's a system that is good-old-boy friendly, not business friendly. That's the big thing we need to see through the crack opened by the Uber chapter.

Correction: I have reported twice that Dallas schools next year will begin giving the SAT test to all seniors. School spokesman Jon Dahlander tells me the district will pay for tests for all juniors, not seniors.



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30 comments
cmebillyc
cmebillyc

If   people   prefer   using   Uber,   than   they   should   be  allowed.   Its   their   choice. 

Obummer
Obummer

Yo ah knowz ah would fly down dere an' fix dis here if ah didn't gots ta spend so darned much tyme planning muh next vacation.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

I'd challenge anyone to point out a city that doesn't act the same way Dallas has acted, moving to protect the local from the outsider. Boston, Chicago, DC, all moved against Uber on behlf of their local cab cos.

That being said, I don't believe any of these other cities used vice officers, or had a city mgr attempt to slip a rewrite of code past the respective councils or aldermen. In that regard Dallas set a new standard.

GeorgeB123
GeorgeB123

First, as a matter of state and federal law, neither Yellow Cab or Uber is the employee of its drivers. Both groups of drivers are independent contractors, as a matter of law.  

Second, the only valid point Yellow Cab makes is that it has to pay $40K a month on licencing fees and Uber does not. In theory,  those fees are supposed to be to reimburse the city for its costs of enforcing the various consumer protection laws. In reality, that is a fee paid to give Yellow Cab a monopoly for meter-based transportation in Dallas. 

My view is that Dallas was trying to screw Uber, but also Yellow Cab should pay much less than $40K a month to the city for reimbursement of enforcement costs. Uber's drivers already pay the city a licencing fee to reimburse for enforcement costs.

Lorlee
Lorlee

My memory goes back to the late 70's when I served on the Urban Rehab Board -- At that time, the Topletz were what I would categorize as slumlords in all of the cases that came before the board -- so is your recollection that they somehow cleaned up their act -- or cleaned up their properties or were above having codes enforced?  I don't recall that there was excessive enforcement considering the number of properties they owned.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

Things never improve because we keep praising failures.  The City Attorney just retired and the DMN is full of effusive statements from the Council that make the guy the reincarnation of Perry Mason.  Come on Man!  The city has gotten atrocious legal advice.  My favorite was the ruling a councilperson could lobby and speak for an issue for which they received direct compensation as long as they actually did not vote on it.  Of course no ethical violations occurred because City of Dallas does not have ethics laws.  At some point, the Council has to say, political considerations aside, "Sir, you are just not very good at your job.  You hung on because of political connections, but just leave quietly after you get your piece of retirement cake."

I'm surprised the guy that faked his resume and ran the IT area did not get a great send off.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

I will be interesting to see come October 25, 2014, if Uber exists in Dallas.

Machine politics in this town are a force to be reckoned with.

After all, this isn't a hick town anymore.  Detroit and Chicago ain't got nuthin on us.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

That was a very nice synopsis, Jim.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Oh, look.  An old picture of the original Tea Party.

CitzenKim
CitzenKim

Why can't Uber file a complaint with the DOJ about official oppression and illegal harassment?

if6were9
if6were9

This is and always will be a hick town, Jim. Which is a big reason why my cousin's lips are looking prettier and prettier, everyday! Pucker up, baby!

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

I get the City Hall scandal-a-day deal. If it wasn't UBER, it would be gas drilling or toll roads or something else. This is how Dallas works and we've peeled the onion a bit. Fine.

But, can someone please tell me why I should care about UBER? If UBER were to disappear tomorrow, can't all these UBER users call a cab with that shiny iPhone like the rest of us?

Better yet, maybe the cab companies should come up with their own app for that. I guess I'm just not understanding the need here. Is it UBER-cheap, UBER-cool or UBER-useful?

I'm sure someone here on Unfair Park will educate me.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

According to your timeline Jim,  both Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins were in their chairs, with full political power. AC's admittance of failure this week and protection of Suhm combined with Ernst's silence on the topic tells the story for all of us. Funny how both Suhm and Perkins are not reachable for comment on this matter.

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

Another instance of SNAFU BE.  Do you think we can force a referendum to rename our fair town to Basin City?

observist
observist topcommenter

Good thing the police are pushing back against all the illegal things they're being asked to do....oh..., wait a sec...

ryan762
ryan762

@bvckvs The City Manager isn't supposed to be a politician. 

I mean, I don't particularly care if the City Manager meets with city stakeholders, but when the City Manager decides to sneak things through without comment or decides to sic the police on someone without the apparent legal authority to do so solely because this particular stakeholder gives a lot to candidates and pay a lot of city fees, then that's getting very close to crossing the corruption line (or dancing right over it, some would say).

jmckee3
jmckee3

I would completely disagree, that money should be collected to enforce consumer protection laws or replaced with much, much higher fines for violating them.Yellow Cab, The City and Yellow Cabs drivers don't give a crap about the laws they are supposed to operate under, they routinely refuse fares, refused to accept credit cards and cheat customers while grossly violating traffic laws, if the Dallas police put the kind of effort that they put into Uber into busting Yellow Cab they would be begging for mercy. Just try and get a cab from the Gayborhood to Uptown at 2AM, if you can even get a cab to even consider taking you try doing it with a credit card which they are required by law to accept. If you manage to do that near impossible task try getting them not to purposefully ignore your implicate instructions for the most efficient route and not press the extra button a few extra times.I'm cheap, I'm very cheap, if Yellow Cab would follow the law I would never pay more for Uber, if I'm by myself it costs around twice as much to take Uber to the gayborhood, if Yellow Cab played by the law they wouldn't even consider Uber real competition but Yellow Cab has pissed off their most frequent customers and now wants to force us back.I would gladly go back to Yellow Cab and save the money but until then they need to convince me they aren't the same scummy operation that hangs up on you if you complain about their terrible law breaking drivers, not engage into more scummy behavior to prevent me from spending a little more money to get a polite driver that takes credit cards in a clean car that obeys traffic laws and takes me where I want to go.

GeorgeB123
GeorgeB123

@Lorlee The problem with literal code enforcement is that ALL older properties have some violations.  There is a shortage of low-income housing. ALL aged public housing properties have  numerous code violations. If you cite privately owned low-income housing for every technical violation, those properties will get bulldozed and exacerbate the low-income housing shortage. There is a fine line here. My issue is that there are so many laws on the books that result in every older property owner being a technical violator,  the result being selective enforcement which appears to be a staple of Dallas City Hall. 

jbvance24
jbvance24

@CitzenKim    the mayor has connections with the FEDS.  It's all because of the upcoming celebration with JFK memorial.  our mayor is a teenager mentality.  it's sad.  he laughs at people behind the schenes.  I had my own scandal with the city.  two judges and prosecutor violated the law.  no one in city would help.  not mayor councilmembers, no attorneys.  no FED.  read full story at jonathan godsgift brady v.  M Schum and AC were all part of the cover up.    Dallas is so corrupt it's not even funny.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@OakParkStudio Better yet, maybe the cab companies should come up with their own app for that. 

Actually, there are already apps (like TaxiMagic).  The problem is, it doesn't solve any of the problems I listed, because cabs will just drop the calls with no penalty, and are still filthy with rude drivers.

jmckee3
jmckee3

The cabs are awful, refusal of service, refusal to take credit cards, just not showing up, dirty cabs, over-charging, rudeness and unsafe driving and then demanding a tip are so common that it's truly a shocking surprise when it doesn't happen. Yellow Cab has enjoyed what is effectively a monopoly on car service and abused it.

In my experience Uber does what Yellow Cab refuses to do, show up, takes credit cards, drives safely, doesn't rip you off and takes you where you want to go.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @OakParkStudio There are a few main reasons why Uber is good for the city as a whole, beyond just being "cool".  

First, the cars actually come.  Getting a cab to show up when you call is an ordeal in Dallas.  Essentially, if you aren't heading to or from the airport, they aren't interested, and if they get a call for someone going to or from the airport while they are on the way to you, they'll never show.  With Uber, they are locked into the call and you can track them on the way.

Ubers cars are clean, roomy, and the drivers are pleasant.  Cabs and cabbies in Dallas (and in general) are none of these things.  This raises the bar for all car services, and when the cabbies have competition, they are forced to clean up their cars in order to keep their customers.

Finally, Uber drives down cab prices.  What we have now is a cartel, in that since you can't get any new cab licenses, they can effectively price fix, even if there is no direct collusion.  Once Uber is in town, even though it costs more, because it is nicer, cabs will have to lower rates to be enough of a cheaper alternative to attract customers, especially the airport business they love.

So that's it.  Uber will make sure that all areas of Dallas are services in compliance with the law, it will make cabs cleaner, cabbies nicer, and drive cab prices down.

Lorlee
Lorlee

Cases came to the Board when all other options were exhausted -- sometimes years -- so there isn't much excuse if you are making money off of property to keep it to minimal codes standards -- which really are not very stringent.  If a slumlord would not want to live next to it, he shouldn't expect that the rest of us want to.  In my neighborhood, we pushed for 10 years to get a rehabitable property torn down.  During that time, it was housing for no one and was an attractive nuisance.  At some point, you owe the rest of the neighborhood some respect. 

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