Dallas City Hall Demands Transparency of Everybody Outside City Hall

Categories: Schutze

RawlingsPoorKidsSpeech1.jpg
Transparency is a one-way street at the Leaning Tower of Pizza.
CORRECTION: This item is wrong. The city did respond to my request for information. I did not see their response. I sent my initial request on December 4, 2013. The city did not respond within the 10 day time limit set by state law, but on December 26 a city employee did send me an estimate of costs for the request.

In the past my public information requests always have been handled by one person in the city's public information office. The response came from a different city office. When I did not get any response from the public information office, I asked that office to check on the matter in an email January 15. They said they would, but I did not hear back from them. That led me to believe I was still not getting a response, when in fact I already had.

That's an explanation, not an excuse. The city did respond, and it was my responsibility to find their response in my email. I did search email for a response several times without finding it. But Sam Merten in the mayor's office provided me yesterday with the name of the employee who had responded to me, and I was able to find the response email.

I must add that this matter is one of several in which the city has not been responsive: a few days ago the city refused to provide me with information about the pay and pension for outgoing City Manager Mary Suhm, all of which I believe is public information. Sometimes it takes a little door-banging: This morning I finally received a response to a week-old request for information that should have been available immediately about the Veterans Place development across Lancaster Road from the Veterans Administration Hospital. The overall pattern of behavior for the city is to resist, ignore or stall many requests for transparency. But in the case I wrote about yesterday, the city was right, and I was wrong. I apologize to the city employees who handled my request, and I apologize to the mayor.

ORIGINAL ITEM: Sorry, but I laughed out loud when I read last weekend's story in The Dallas Morning News about the mayor of Dallas castigating the Police and Fire Pension Fund System for not being quicker to pony up information. Talk about shameless! That's like Justin Bieber bitching about reckless drivers on his street.

How would anybody associated with Dallas City Hall dare to criticize anybody else for sitting on information? The city of Dallas regularly violates state law on public information, and they do it by practice, by policy and with absolute impunity. They laugh at the law.

Mayor Mike Rawlings is mad at the pension fund for owning a building that reflects too much sunlight on the Nasher Sculpture Center. Let's do each other a favor and not dredge back through that whole thing again. You know the story. The Nasher is a kind of social/political high temple for the muckety-mucks, and it says Museum Tower, owned by the pension fund, is too reflective. You got it, right?

The mayor wants to beat up on the fund, a semi-autonomous agency, so he is demanding it turn over all kinds of internal and proprietary information. He told the News, "Transparency is critical in this case, critical."

Yeah, well, let me tell you something. Transparency is only critical to the mayor and to City Hall when they are the ones who want somebody else to be transparent. When I ask them simply to obey state law on open records, they laugh at me.

I'm having to put together a bunch of instances in which they have totally ignored my requests so I can combine them in a complaint to the Texas attorney general, which, as they well know, is like filing a complaint with Justin Bieber. But there you have it: I can only do what I can only do.

Six weeks ago I filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act for emails, correspondence, planning documents and blah-blah-blah related to a letter threatening eminent domain that the city had sent to the owners of Jim's Car Wash on MLK. I heard not one word from them, not a word, in a five-week period even though state law requires them to tell me within 10 days whether they intend to give me the information or not.

So I wrote them again a couple weeks ago and asked what was up. They said they'd check on it. Not a word since then. And here's the thing: This is a deal that directly involves the mayor. He told me that the eminent domain letter sent to the car wash was a mistake for which he took the blame. Somebody misinterpreted something he had said. But he also let me know that things are happening around that car wash and that the city still wants to take the property away from the owner.

I had a story in the paper three weeks ago saying that a city-funded nonprofit of which a former City Council member is the salaried CEO is a major landholder around the car wash. So, look, if this is our elected mayor and maybe some members of our elected council using our tax money in some sub rosa scheme to take down a guy's business, then I guess I think the public has a right and a need to know why. We have a right to know what in the hell is going on.

There is also the fact that state law gives me the right to demand information. It imposes deadlines on the city to either provide me the information or say why not. At a certain point violation of that law can become a criminal offense. And the city's official response is Fuuuuck YOU!

They're not doing it. They don't care about the deadlines. They don't care about the law. All of this transparency talk they toss around is a one-way street. It's a stick they will use to beat up on the city employee's pension fund, but try to turn that stick around and poke them with it and they'll sit up inside that leaning tower of pizza they call City Hall and laugh and laugh. By the way, does anybody have an address for Justin Bieber?

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29 comments
EA3
EA3

Jim, keep up the good work.  We thank you for helping us know what the mayor et al. are doing or, in this case, not doing.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

transparency equals hired car debate (Uber) going to executive session 3 minutes in.

dfw_maverick
dfw_maverick

I think the pension fund needs some scrutiny.  Having anywhere close to 50% of its assets in speculative real estate is quite risky for a pension fund.

peaceseeker
peaceseeker

I couldn't even get a call back from his assistant @ his "Conversations on Race". Heard it was a one sided conversation anyway! 

Research2014
Research2014

Open Records. Oxymoron. With emphasis on the moron.

Jim, as you know, I have a wealth of stories on City of Dallas Open Records.

My wall is now papered with Attorney General Opinions.

The Mayor asking for "Transparency?" I almost choked to death after reading that comment. That is just priceless. Beyond priceless...

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

I just had a sort of epiphany while reading this - I finally get why the Nasher supporters can't stand the museum tower.

It is reflective - Imagine what they must see when they look at it . . .

WylieH
WylieH

I don't fully understand Rawlings' motivations, but there ARE a lot of very unusual, troubling things going on a the fund.  Take, for example, this:  the Beat Condominiums in South Dallas, across from DPD headquarters, was developed with backing from the Dallas Police & Fire Pension system before the great recession.  As of this date, it appears that many/most of the units remain unsold (like Museum Tower), with very little sales activity in recent years.


So.... take a look at the link below.  It appears that Delia Jasso took title to a unit there in 2012, while she was serving on the pension fund's board of trustees and sitting on Dallas City Council.  It also appears that she still remains in her primary residence in Oak Cliff.  What was the motivation for her purchase? Did she require approval from the City Attorney to do the deal?  Did she pay fair market value?


http://www.dcad.org/AcctHistory.aspx?ID=00C04070000000302


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Staff is not yet finished shuffling papers.

But they are definitely coming for that property.  So they have to cook up a reason, then phony up the "nuisance" charge (that's going to be precious).  It's hard and they are understaffed.

I guess they think this isn't going to blow up in their faces.  Maybe it's some kind of creepy, irreversible inertia thingy bureaucracies get their belt loop hung on.

And off they go.  Or maybe it's like the intro to that TV show Mad Men.  A guy falling in slow motion.

I bet by know the humans that populate the Slanted Funnyhouse really do wish they could just step off of Pelham 1-2-3.

Hey City Hall - JUMP!  JUMP NOW!

this train is only going to gain speed, and it could get criminal.

so jump.  jump off now for God's sakes.

hesitation kills.

hotdogthatshit
hotdogthatshit

I hope it burns the Nasher down.  Have had the unfortunate circumstances of having met Rawlings a few time and he is your typical old wealthy white guy, that is a useless money/power grubbing asshole.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Forget it Jim, it's Chinatown.


FWIW, I am still waiting for the City to respond to a complaint that I filed with them back in September, and my city councilcritter has not responded either.


Thank you for putting up the good fight.

hurleypic
hurleypic

Yep, you just need to go to the Attorney General. The AG reported that Dallas violated the Open Records Act (Public Information Act) more than any other Texas jurisdiction!

City Hall has absolutely no respect for the law! Expect things to get worse under AC Gonzales and Warren Ernst!

MargaretHuntHill
MargaretHuntHill

The Leaning Tower of Pizza?  I've finally found a better descriptor than Robocop Bunker.


James080
James080 topcommenter

@WylieH 

Looking at the Warranty Deed, she apparently paid cash for the property. There doesn't appear to be a mortgage in the Dallas County Property Records.



Guesty
Guesty

@WylieH Also interesting that it doubled in value the year after she purchased it, according to DCAD.  That's some good "luck," if true.

Gangy
Gangy

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaulThey can only get away with it because not enough citizens are calling them on it.  Everyone who wants an honest and responsive government has to keep calling public attention to it.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

But they have a 311 app for your phone now! [sarcasm]

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@ruddski 

Snowden is a separate matter as he did release material that was classified as "secret".  Morally, though, I think that he is on the same level as Ellsberg.

Actually, I am starting to see a lot of parallels between Obama and Nixon.  It is sort of a return of the imperial presidency.

WylieH
WylieH

@James080 That would be a big check to write, assuming she paid fair market value.  I wonder how much it sold for?

Assuming she paid fair market value (or more), it might have been a generous effort on her part to support the financial condition of the pension fund.  If so, she deserves some special recognition for her efforts.

WylieH
WylieH

@Guesty I wouldn't get to caught up on the doubling in value.  In Dallas County, developers typically only get taxed on their projects at a fraction of their true market value.  They only get marked up to fair value for tax purposes once a regular individual purchases the unit.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Obama is at least 4X creepier than Nixon. I don't think history will be kind to him.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@James080 @WylieH @Guesty 

Yeah, definitely a sweet deal if you are in a position to leverage it, 2012 was definitely a buyers market.


It doesn't necessarily mean there was a funky deal, those prices seem to reflect the general real estate price downward trend of that time.

James080
James080 topcommenter

@WylieH@Guesty  

From the DCAD for the Unit in question.


YEAR   UNIT         LAND       TOTAL


2013   $131,950   $2,510     $134,460

2012    $71,440    $2,510     $73,950

2011     $83,530    $2,510    $86,040

2010     $98,370    $2,510    $100,880

2009    $114,110    $3,670    $117,780

A SWEET real estate deal I would say.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Spam is a Hawaiian thing, a ski bum thing, and a stoner thing. Obama's not big on skiing.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Hey guest, read the New York Times, see what partisan hacks are saying.

guest
guest

@ruddski Partisan hack doesn't think history will be kind to a President he doesn't like. Shocking.

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