The Southern Dallas Toll Is at the Heart of the Mess There

Categories: Schutze

tollgate.jpg
Wikipedia
Is southern Dallas separated from the rest of the city by an opaque system of tolls people must pay in order to do business there?
An unquestioned tenet of local political culture is that white-owned companies that want to do business on the turf officially designated by Dallas as "southern (black, maybe brown) Dallas" must pay a toll. Five days ago I reproduced here a 2009 Dallas Morning News editorial that gave an explicit rendition of the doctrine of the toll from the traditional white establishment view:

"Suspicions run high among many in southern Dallas that outside investors, particularly from white-owned companies, only want to exploit workers and reap big profits without giving something back to the community," the city's only daily newspaper said on its editorial page five years ago. "Many are eager to prove that they, too, can launch big projects and are loath to let outsiders do what they can do themselves.

"Going forward, white-dominated companies must keep foremost in mind the unique history of southern Dallas. It is not simply a great business opportunity to be exploited for maximum profit. Any successful business plan must include a vision of how outside investment can not only add jobs but also create opportunities for local business to participate -- and profit."

First, please note: This doctrine is not being espoused by black people, not here anyway. Take note of the fact that the speaker is the primary organ of the old white establishment.

Second -- and damn, I hate being put in the position of sounding like crazy old Ayn Rand all the time -- but let me ask you a question: Reap what big profits? This sounds unkind, I know, but what big profits does southern Dallas have lying around on the ground like loose nuggets ready to reap? Crippled by multi-generational unemployment and a whole lot of social dysfunction, southern Dallas frankly is not a place big money is dying to invade.

One would think that here in Dallas, which postures itself as a very pro-business free market capitalism kind of a town, everybody would understand that starting up a business in southern Dallas is a way to put money into the area, not take it out. If anything, isn't it pretty much commonly accepted wisdom that places laboring under a lot of negative factors usually need to offer serious incentives to draw in investment?

The doctrine of the southern Dallas toll is a serious disincentive. Two weeks ago I told you about a commenter/whistle-blower here on the blog, a person calling himself "bigbexardaddy," whom we assume to be a City Hall insider. Big Bear Daddy alerted us to $800,000 in paybacks the city was forced to give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because HUD ruled that the city has misspent federal funds.

Since then Councilman Philip Kingston from East Dallas has been shaking this like a bone, going back to city staff again and again for an explanation of two things: 1) Why did the city have to pay the money back? 2) If the city did have to pay the money back, why didn't the city manager tell the City Council about it?

I have a column coming up in the paper later this week about a particular part of this involving former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale and a nonprofit housing entity she runs called Innercity Community Development Corp. (ICDC). HUD balked when it found out the city was lending Ragsdale's outfit federal funds for land purchases but the funds were not all being used for land purchases. Instead -- and I will explain this in my column -- about $70,000 went to ICDC for "consulting."

City Manager A.C. Gonzalez is planning a briefing for the council on all of this later this month, in which his argument will be basically "no harm, no foul." Gonzalez has said publicly already that the seller of the land in question was happy with the money he got. Ragsdale, meanwhile, performed genuinely worthwhile consulting services. The $70,000 check-off from the land purchase money was just a way of getting her paid.

Here are some problems with that. In demanding the $70,000 back, HUD told the city it doesn't want the city to say it's spending federal money on land when it's not spending the money on land. That seems to me like a pretty easy concept to grasp.

But here's a bigger question: Why is a former City Council member in the middle of this deal anyway? Ragsdale's group was set up as the prime contractor to build more than 50 new houses on land vacated by the demolition of the old Frazier Courts public housing development in southern Dallas, but most of the houses were actually developed by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Dallas, working as Ragsdale's subcontractor.

Habitat for Humanity is a national organization with enormous national prestige -- presidents of the United States doing photo ops for them with hammers in their hands and nails in their teeth. Habitat is politically sophisticated, from the Washington level to local communities everywhere. It has its own impressive financial capacities. So why wasn't Habitat the prime contractor?

Why is Ragsdale even in this the picture? Ragsdale sent me a long detailed list of the work ICDC did for the project, including basic design and lobbying at City Hall. It's impressive. I can see why she wanted to be paid.

But what did she bring that an outfit like Habitat needed? Are you telling me Habitat couldn't have done the design? Habitat couldn't have handled the City Hall end? When I rack my brain, I can find only one contribution that Ragsdale is capable of making that is truly unique. She has the political means to say no, to put up her hand like a traffic cop and say, "Stay out of southern Dallas."

She could have invoked the toll, no doubt with full-throated support from The Dallas Morning News editorial page shaking its long bony finger at these rapacious white-owned entities that come marching into southern Dallas to pillage and loot. Like Habitat for Humanity.

What do you even call that? Is it a con? Or a mental illness?

In his briefing to the council, I anticipate that Gonzalez will talk about "building capacity" among nonprofits in southern Dallas. That language will be greeted with sincere empathy and enthusiasm by black council members from southern Dallas, by a certain cadre of white council members from northern Dallas and obviously by the collectors of the toll. It's a Dallas tradition.

Hispanic community leaders tend to be less interested in the toll, because their people are all out there in their pickup trucks making money the old-fashioned way. They don't need no stinking toll.

Please also take note of this aspect: You and I and our elected officials would have known not one word of this had it not been for Big Bear Daddy and Kingston. This entire universe of influence and money revolving around the toll is opaque, hidden from us and operating on its own internal laws of physics, unless somebody like Big Bear Daddy cuts us a window.

I had a chat with somebody about this recently. In the past I have described all of this as a plantation culture. This person argued that it can't be a plantation, because at least on the plantation the plantation owner came in and planted some damn cotton.

He was right. It's not plantation culture. It's a form of reparations. The toll itself is reparations. I get the rationale, I really do. But what has the toll ever really done for southern Dallas?



Advertisement

My Voice Nation Help
46 comments
Catbird
Catbird

Your comment about the Hispanics not needing the "toll" because their people are earning money the old fashioned way is spot on. For the last six months I've been working on a project on South Beckley and have noticed lots of Hispanics buying out the neighborhoods and renovating them and that the Black residents, who mostly are renters, are being displaced. The question I have been asking myself is where are all the poor Black people going to go when there is no more cheap housing in south Dallas? It's going to happen sooner than you think and when it does its going to be a big problem.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

NTTA plus Dallas Politics = Ha Ha Suckers

Bremarks
Bremarks

Can't wait to see what happens when President Carter and the JImmy Carter Work Project comes to town in October.

real214talk
real214talk

Jim, I'm not claiming you're racist or anything like that... 


But why is it that you never talk about african-americans that are trying to work the honest way?  There are many...do some asking around and you'll come up with a list of names.



The more they're written about in the observer, etc the more the people you claim are tolltakers feel empowered...because that's all you write about regarding the black side of town.

GAA14
GAA14

When you look at the big picture and get down to brass tax these collectors of the toll are doing more harm than good.  Look at the business that would have provided jobs in West Dallas with the wake boarding park.  It is now in Allen.  Don't pay the toll and we will torpedo your project. 

WylieH
WylieH

Habitat for Humanity has been doing great work in the neighborhood around this project.  They know the area better than anyone, and bring sophisticated international expertise to bear... knowing what works and what doesn't work.

Why go and try to reinvent the wheel with a former city council member who has no expertise in the matter?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Huh.

I guess black hands must tend to stick out from the crowd when all of the money grabbing is going on.

MattL11
MattL11

As they say, you gotta pay the troll toll...

kingfish247
kingfish247

a CHDO? in Dallas? payback to HUD? maybe corruption?  shocked!

mcdallas
mcdallas

Jim's comments will be called racist in 3, 2, 1...

jmckee3
jmckee3

"only want to exploit workers and reap big profits without giving something back to the community"


Aren't they giving money back the community in the form of jobs? Maybe south Dallas is different than my part of Dallas but my job gives me money which I then use to buy things. If I didn't have a job then I wouldn't have money to spend in the community which would make everyone sad.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Something I just don't get is why development only goes north?

Dallas is flat, and the fields north are flat.

Oak Cliff and South Oak Cliff have topography. 

10 minutes drive south of downtown are acres and acres of land that could have held shopping  centers, office buildings, and homes, and farmers could still be growing food in Collin and Denton and Grayson counties.

I remember catching that flight as a kid in the 70s. The one from South Oak Cliff to North Dallas. It was a crowded flight.

I had occasion to drive through the area many times a part of my old job. Desolate. Empty shopping centers. Vacant tracts of land.

It doesn't make sense. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

And the sad fact is, if the toll is not paid, South Dallas suffers.

The graft/bribe = wink/nod system is far wider.  Black Democrats (current and former) are the ones who have been causing unelected City STAFF to redirect federal HUD monies into South Dallas as pork, in return for agreeing with STAFF on other issues Staff cares about.

You have illuminated a system on how STAFF pays off South Dallas politicians, and the throng of lobbyists and former staff who now "consult".

WE need to just stop taking free money off the feds and dry up the conduit long enough to kill the system.



everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

The toll isn't reparations.  If it was, it would be going to the people harmed (even if I disagree about the actual harm).  What we have here is plantation politics, because the toll goes straight to the Plantation Managers, the self-appointed black leaders like Price and Ragsdale.  In return, they send their thought-slaves out to harvest votes for the market.

Greg820
Greg820

In a very sad way it is heartening to know that graft and corruption know no color. 

CrackerDaddy
CrackerDaddy

@Catbird They will displace to Garland, Mesquite, Richardson....the decaying inner-ring suburbs.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

The focus is tighter on people who have run for office and been elected to office. Especially those who hold or have held public office are bound to an oath of public service that is as serious and every bit as binding as marriage. The first couple of paragraphs of US Attorney Sarah Saldana's opening remarks at the Price indictment press conference dealt with his oath.

Having said that, you're right. If you back away ten yards And look at everything i. The longest view, the overwhelming story about black people in Dallas in the last 30 years has been one of stunning success and upward mobility. I think we in the media ought to be able to find a way to make that story interesting, and I am not aware that we ever really have. I don't have an excuse. I learned a long time ago never to guarantee to anybody that I am not influenced by race in my own view of the world. I just try to watch for it when it comes to the surface, so thanks for the heads up.

Sent from my iPad so it's probably screwed up

wcvemail
wcvemail

@real214talk

At the risk of being accused of speaking for Jim, I'll chime in with this answer: Because it's not news. Dogs are presumed to bite people, so that's not news, and honest people are presumed to work hard (regardless of ethnicity), so that's not news. It's the exceptions that are news. 


And in this context, it's the exceptions that suck money from the honest, hard-working folks, who not only have to share in the costs, but frequently don't even get to hear about the grant money until it's already been disbursed.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@WylieH .  the company I work teams with Habitat nearly every year to build a house, and its one of the best things they do.  But its crazy how many cops are there to protect the volunteers when we work

wcvemail
wcvemail

@mcdallas

Or, in this case, the smug denial that carries the same meaning: "I'm not claiming you're racist or anything like that..."

monjott
monjott

@everlastingphelps Well said. Al Lipscomb, John Wiley Price and Diane Ragsdale…the Unholy Trinity of South Dallas!

real214talk
real214talk

@JimSX thanks for responding..always interested in your take on things. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @holmantx

Had Allen cut Price and his crew (including a state senator) in for 25% of the port ownership on the back side (which, I think is what they demanded), there would have been a port terminal.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@real214talk @JimSX

Jim hasn't referred you there, maybe out of modesty, but I would direct you to his articles on the "car-wash" situation for a different perspective from him on this issue.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@holmantx @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul

Maybe. Or, judging by the 107 page indictment, Allen would have been out a few million bucks and all of his internal documents would have appeared magically on desks at Hillwood.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

@TheCredibleHulk @real214talk @JimSX I can't remember if it was Jim or not, but the Observer also covered it in discussing the mass exodus of successful, middle-class blacks from DISD for the suburbs and private schools on a couple of occasions.

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...