In Turkey Fight, Kroger Should Have Asked: "Which Dickens Character Are We?"

Categories: Schutze

Did you ever wonder why Tiny Tim's the one who's always laughing?

Let me make sure I've got this right. The Dallas City Council, local grocery chains and the Texas Retailers Association go at it for two years about a plastic bag ban. Last March at the end of a long, agonizing process, the council passes a deeply compromised ordinance that doesn't ban plastic bags but does put a 5-cent tax on all bags, plastic or paper.

The grocery stores ain't happy with the outcome. They try to end-run the city with an appeal to the Texas attorney general.
The AG sends them back a very mixed message. He says the bag tax is probably illegal, but his opinion is not binding on Dallas. But he also says a total ban would be legal.

See also: Retailers turn to Greg Abbott

City Council member and anti-bagger Dwaine Caraway says if the grocers sue the city on the bag tax he'll go for a total ban. So the grocers agree to take what they've got and promise not to sue anybody over it.

Love it, hate it, whatever you think, this is over. The ref counted to ten 10 held up Caraway's glove. On January 1 of next year, the new law goes into effect.

More than anybody else, the guy most identified with the grocers in all this was Gary Huddleston, media spokesman for the Kroger Co. in the Southwest. He was the main spear-carrier for the grocers and other retailers. So you know what you do when the fight is over and you lost, right? The ring is empty. The crowds have left the hall. This one's in the history books.

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A Simple Plan for Redesigning the Trinity Toll Road: Don't Build It

Categories: Schutze

Daniel Fishel
Two moments caught my ear last week when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings addressed a well-heeled, smoothly coiffed crowd about the latest effort to get a new highway built along the river through downtown. He's hiring a panel of experts to help redesign the road, months before a final federal ruling up or down on the existing design.

Huh? Yeah, that's a tough one to crack. We'll come back to that here in a second.

The gathering was in a fake-rustic barbecue restaurant in a kind of restaurant theme park where people try out national franchising concepts. So just in sitting down we're already a couple steps removed from reality.

Rawlings said at one point: "I want to thank the Dallas Citizens Council, the Dallas Regional Chamber, the Real Estate Council, Downtown Dallas Inc., the Trinity Commons Foundation, the Stemmons Business Corridor and anonymous individuals who have helped us fund this initiative."

When he said it, I gazed around the room and saw 100 or so beautifully coiffed heads, connected, I was sure, to 200 or so cute shoes tucked beneath the tables. I thought, "It's true, he's right, they're all here, probably including everyone's favorite Dallas band name, The Anonymous Individuals. What a hoe-down (as in farm implement)."

Then the mayor read from a handout describing the résumés of several experts already hired to come in and help redesign the final design for the Trinity toll road just before the final design is finalized. I promise I am going to explain this in a minute.

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Nobody Has Counted to 10 Yet in that Lockey/Mackenzie vs. City of Dallas Bout

Categories: Schutze

It's possible that HUD has only fought its way deeper into the wet paper sack.

Couple weeks ago just before leaving town on vacation, I told you the city of Dallas won big and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs lost big in a settlement of the 5-year-old HUD complaint against the city for racial discrimination. Wouldn't you know, court papers were filed the day after I left town, making the win-lose picture a lot less black and white. So this is catch-up on that.

See also: Dallas Won. HUD lost. Oops

And here is an important hint: remember that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings went out of his way after the settlement to offer near-blubbery thanks and praise to newly sworn HUD Secretary Julian Castro, up until recently the mayor of San Antonio, for his help getting Dallas off the hook.

Castro's only significant experience with HUD, before becoming head of it, was as the target of a HUD complaint for misspending HUD neighborhood stabilization money in 2012 . Maybe it's unsurprising that he came into office somewhat more favorably disposed toward accused mayors than toward HUD's own enforcement lawyers.

At any rate it's safe to say the Castro/Rawlings deal getting Dallas out of HUD's gun-sights was far more political than it was legal. An indication of that can be found buried in events leading up to the settlement: lawyers at HUD -- people who had spent four to five years preparing the case against Dallas -- caught wind of the fact that Castro was going to throw them under the bus. They discussed that fact with people here friendly to their cause, whom I cannot name. They were not happy.

If this had come down according to the lawyers, Dallas would still have a HUD bull's eye on its back. Instead, as is illustrated so clearly in Rawlings' remarks about Castro's help, Dallas was rescued by the political side of the HUD house. A win for Dallas any way you slice it? That's what I thought before I left. Now I'm less sure we can call this fight quite yet.

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Nutall Probe Will Include Abuse of DISD Staff

Categories: Schutze

School board member Bernadette Nutall doesn't look like a slugger, but who knows?

Sharon Grigsby of The Dallas Morning News editorial page posted an interesting item on their opinion blog yesterday saying the paper's pontification board had just met with Dallas school Superintendent Mike Miles, that Miles wouldn't tell them anything and they support him.

I agree.

He won't tell me anything, either. But let's be frank and candid about what we're not talking about here: This is all about Miles calling school district gendarmes to boot school board member Bernadette Nutall out of a middle school last month.

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Would All the People in Favor of "Tweaking" the Trinity Toll Road Please Give Us Their Names?

Categories: Schutze

Norman Rockwell, "Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus," Wikipedia
Let's have a spelling bee for the people behind the Trinity toll road project, and all they have to spell is their names.

Results of the Trinity toll road public opinion poll released yesterday by State Rep. Raphael Anchia are so devastatingly obliterating, so thermonuclear, in fact -- 94 percent of Dallas zip code respondents opposed to building it - that they direct a hole-burning focus on the obvious correlative question: OK, so who are the people who are still for it?

Maybe this morning's toll road "design summit" called by the mayor will provide an answer. Or, after talking it over yesterday with a number of toll road skeptics, allow me to rephrase that: the thing this morning damn well better produce some real candor and a lot of daylight on who still wants it, or they can forget it for good.

The mayor wants to hire outside experts to "tweak" the design of the highway. He thinks that can overcome the objections. But as City Council member Philip Kingston told me yesterday, design tweaks are not the problem. The real problem faced by backers of the road is that no one believes anything they say.

"They have no credibility any more," Kingston said. "Zero."

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Rawlings Wants "Design Tweaks" for the Trinity Toll Road? Tweak This.

Categories: Schutze

When the revolution went down, the tsar and his family were rollerskating around the decks of their yacht. That's about how clueless the people are who still want the Trinity toll road to be built.

Wednesday the mayor is holding some kind of meeting to see if people can come up with "design tweaks" to make the Trinity River toll road plan more palatable. Well, yeah, if shooting it in the head is considered a design tweak.

This idea -- to build a fat new expressway through downtown smack up against the banks of the Trinity River, cutting downtown off from its only significant natural resources and a series of parks and lakes planned for later -- has been around since 1998. That's the year the Spice Girls broke up. We hope we have a significant number of readers here who couldn't really read that well yet at that date.

Why has it been around that long and hasn't been done? Well, one reason leaps to mind. It's a monumentally stupid idea. It comes from the city's old leadership, which means about six old families. These are people who who are stuck in a very old time, extremely out of touch. They are disconnected.

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What Does the Dallas Outcome Tell Us About HUD? What Does It Say About Feds in General?

Categories: Schutze

I'm headed out of town for a week's vacation. Spent a good deal of yesterday thinking about the outcome in the HUD case against Dallas. As you know by now, HUD folded a couple days ago and withdrew its racial segregation allegation against the city. If you were here yesterday, I already bored you with how surprised I was by this denouement in a story I have covered for five years.

But enough about me. I spent a good deal of yesterday trying to see this story as others might, especially the individuals at City Hall who were singled out by name as complicit in acts of racism. Having tasted that lash once or twice myself, I know how keenly it stings. It occurs to me that they deserve to be singled out one more time by name but this time for having the charge dropped. After all, these charges weren't just leveled against a building. They were leveled against people.

See also: Dallas Won. HUD Lost. Oops.

One is Karl Zavitkovsky, the city's director of Economic Development. Another is Jerry Killingsworth, former head of housing for the city. A third is former City Council member Angela Hunt, although she was never accused directly of anything, only slimed somewhat by being mentioned in the wrong paragraph.

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Dallas Won. HUD Lost. Oops.

Categories: Schutze

Obama's new HUD Secretary Julian Castro: Focus on this picture for a while, and you can see him blink.

City Hall announced late yesterday that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has caved on the 4-year-old Lockey/MacKenzie racial segregation complaint against Dallas officials, vacating most of the findings of a four-year federal civil rights investigation. A settlement signed yesterday by HUD and the city (see below) is a clean-sweep victory for Dallas and a bruising defeat for HUD.

In yesterday's settlement, HUD admits unspecified errors in its November 2013 finding of noncompliance. HUD releases Dallas from any obligation to pay a fine or suffer a loss of federal funding. The agreement makes no mention of compensation for Curtis Lockey or Craig MacKenzie, downtown developers who claimed Dallas scotched their tower re-do deal at 1600 Pacific because it would have accepted too many minority tenants.

See also: The Feds Say Dallas City Hall Has Promoted Racial Segregation in Housing Projects for Years

The accord signed yesterday is a bitter slap for Lockey and MacKenzie and I hope I can say, without sounding too self-referential, for me as well, since I've been pretty much the Lone Ranger around here for the last couple years predicting exactly the opposite outcome.

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On Fair Park Fund Audit, Were You Going to Mention the Missing Five Million Dollars? Ever?

Categories: Schutze

City Hall staff shown shortly after least real audit, about 100 years ago.

The city auditor's new bad report on a 27-year-old economic development fund in black South Dallas talks about technical problems with paperwork and mumbles on about the need for better "performance measures." Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when, Mr. Auditor, were you going to tell us about the missing five million bucks?

Talk about a performance measure. Here's your performance measure. Where's our five million dollars? Perform that.

The audit of the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund recently sent to the City Council hints broadly that the fund has been handing out a lot of money over the years without much attention to who's getting it or what's being done -- worthwhile matters of concern, to be sure. But Suzanne N. Smith, a member of the trust fund board who has been looking into its underlying finances, told me Tuesday morning she was surprised to read the audit and find scant mention of the missing moolah.

"I'm surprised that this audit report didn't discuss it," Smith said. "It was to me a golden opportunity to come clean and say, 'Look, we made a mistake, and here is how we are going to completely re-do South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund.'"

Smith declined to comment on the five million dollar figure. Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston told me earlier in the day that's how much may be missing from the fund. Kingston said he has discussed the issue with City Manager A.C. Gonzalez who, according to Kingston, promised some kind of action on it several weeks ago but has said nothing publicly since.

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If The Texas Tribune Is the Future, the American Free Press Is Over

Categories: Schutze


New York Times media writer David Carr, who's almost always right about everything, has a piece in today's paper about sponsored (paid-for) journalism, in which he singles out The Texas Tribune in Austin for having avoided the obvious pitfalls. I'm not too sure about that.

Carr kicks off his piece talking about a digital "news" site called SugarString , actually a brand-building beard paid for by Verizon, dedicated to covering all the hot Internet topics in the world except domestic spying or net neutrality in this country. Today's lead item is "Just How Terrible is Hungary's Proposed Internet Tax," illustrating what we in the daily newspaper business used to call the "Three Rivers Rule" of safe journalism. You can stir the pot, kick the hornet's nest, write about anything you want, as long as it's at least three rivers away from the city where your publisher lives.

In this case a headline seeking to tantalize me with just how terrible that tax in Hungary might be raises what I think is an appropriate response: "No, Verizon, how about we discuss instead how terrible you are, you greedy cynical bastards, for turning over all our private phone records to the NSA without a fight." And Carr's point is that you're not going to see that story on SugarString. (Side note: Is a sugar string not an old-fashioned device used to lure ants to a bowl of water where they drown? Just asking.) Anyway, Carr makes a good point on that one.

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