In Preston Hollow Apartment Case, Staubach Gates Takes Recusing Herself to a New Level
Some forms of Dallas City Council recusal may even be based on the ancient naval art of semaphore. Everybody's an expert on something. I happen to be an expert on Dallas City Council recusing styles. One of my favorite all-time recusers quite a few years back was the late James Fantroy, who had multiple ornate styles of recusal.
Image from "The Dallas City Council Guide to Avoiding Conflicts of Interest"
In one variation, when Fantroy would recuse himself from voting on an item in which he had some egregious conflict of interest -- someone had paid him, for instance -- he would get up from the dais and march stiffly into the time-out room in the back, head held high. Later, if you looked closely when it came time for the vote, you could spy Fantroy in the darkened wings like Banquo's ghost making broad hand signals to show everybody how he wanted them to vote.
On another occasion Fantroy had vacated to the back room after a typically grandiloquent Nathan-Hale-style declaration of recusal. ("I regret that I have but one vote to give ...") Time came for the vote. All the members were straining around like storks trying to catch a glimpse of him back there in the wings. When he didn't appear, several of them got up and ran back to the time-out room to ask him how the hell he wanted them to vote. The general rule is that it's fine to recuse yourself and all, but you have to make sure everybody knows how you want them to vote.
The ongoing example now -- a candidate for my new favorite -- is North Dallas member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who recused herself from a zoning issue at Preston Road and Northwest Highway because her husband was involved in the deal. As it happens, her dad was involved, too, but, you know, you can't double-recuse, so I think just doing it once for the husband was enough.
The council affords itself an informal privilege -- custom but not law -- by which a councilperson has absolute say-so over any zoning question lying entirely within her district. Up until Staubach-Gates, if a council person recused, that was supposed to vacate the privilege and throw it out to the whole council to decide. Of course, as I have already explained, the trick has always been recusing without recusing.
Apparently Staubach Gates was too dignified for the Banquo's ghost routine, doing jumping-jacks back in the shadows at vote-time, so she created a whole new wrinkle on recusing. For the Preston Road issue she gifted her privilege to fellow council member Lee Kleinman.
Wow. Nobody even knew you could do that. She announced that because she was recused (double-recused if you want to get technical), she was giving her privilege to Kleinman so that he could decide the issue.
OK, let's be fair about this. Kleinman is a duly elected member of the City Council. At least she didn't give it to her cleaning lady. But now we do sort of have a problem. The privilege on this one is now in the hands of a guy who doesn't represent the district where the issue is taking place.
He doesn't have to run for re-election there. He really doesn't have to listen to people from that district if he doesn't feel like it. Recently when 13 neighborhood groups wrote to Kleinman asking for a public meeting on the issue, he said no. He said he already had gone to enough meetings about it, and he knew they wouldn't have anything to add.
Wow. You don't see that a lot when a councilperson is addressed by his own constituents. "Councilperson, as voters within your district we request a public meeting on this zoning issue."
"You heard me."
But of course the voters requesting a meeting with Kleinman were not voters within his own district, and apparently Kleinman does not harbor ambitions for citywide office, so, sure. Tell them to kiss your butt. What's to lose?
Kleinman has not declared a position on the issue yet, but I don't blame the opponents for feeling nervous. Meanwhile I'm going to add this one to my collection of colorful Dallas City Council recusal styles, and I'm serious about possibly making it my new favorite. It adds a whole new dimension. This could even be better than Fantroy.