The January 25 Dallas City Council meeting began with an invocation from a noted local theologian who asked God to “perform a miracle in this place.” Whether this actually ended up happening is unclear.
Item No. 6 on the day’s voting agenda involved a contract for “purchase and implementation of a fire inspection system” for 200 grand and change, plus a five-year service contract valued at $1 million. Xerox Government Systems LLC was listed by staff as “the most advantageous” of the three bidding firms. Councilman Philip Kingston: “Xerox is simply a bad partner. I can’t quite understand why staff continues to take bids from them.” Addressing the outgoing city manager on the issue, Kingston took the opportunity to remind the Council of the still unresolved problem of a lack of consequences for those firms with poor records in dealing with the city: “Mr. Gonzalez, we were supposed to be developing a list of people who are no longer welcome to bid with us. It needs to be a fair and open process so that they can appeal it if necessary. And we don’t have that process, and we’ve been asking for it for over a year.”
The Xerox bid was passed overwhelmingly.
Later, the Council was required to vote on whether to approve after the fact an absence by Councilman ADam McGough from a previous meeting, which he’d missed in order to arrange for a mediator for the city’s ongoing negotiations with the board of the Police and Fire Pension System. This led to a half-hour discussion of why absences to conduct necessary city business should have to be approved at all, and what exactly was entailed. A city attorney explained the definitions and terminology by which absences were deemed either appropriate or otherwise — essentially, it’s up to the Council to decide. Councilman Ricky Callahan asked if in any such case, the Council had ever voted not to recognize the necessity of an absence; the answer was no.
Councilwoman Sandy Greyson, a veteran of the body, explained that the rule came about in response to a “particular council member who never attended committee meetings,” which necessitated a new rule that would require council members to show up; then the council member started showing up but then leaving after five minutes, and the rule had to be refined further to define attendance as being present for more than 50 percent of a given meeting.
Item No. 71, a proposal to allow a restaurant near W.H. Adamson High School to sell alcoholic drinks, prompted praise for the restaurant in question, Los Sapitos, from Councilman Scott Griggs, who was shepherding the move through, and Callahan, who commended owner Raul Estrada for having originally redeveloped the site and for his long history of engagement in the larger community.
Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold asked Griggs whether DISD had been consulted. Griggs said that he’d indeed spoken to a board member, and that the school had expressed no opposition. As he explained, the restaurant already sold mixed beverages and had done so for years, but the building of a new campus for the school in the area required that the owner obtain a new permit.
“I guess my question would be, to whom did you speak? So I’ll know moving forward,” said Arnold.
“Who would be the trustee?”
“Ms. Pinkerton. So it was not with the board itself or [DISD Superintendent Michael] Hinojosa, just that trustee.”
“She’s on the board.”
“No, the board, the whole entire board.”
“I did not visit with the entire board of DISD.”
“Okay, I just need to know how this process works so that as I move forward I’ll get an understanding. … I will always advocate for the school being a part of the conversation.”
Estrada summarized for Arnold the situation, which is that his restaurant has been there for 25 years and that the variance didn’t actually entail any changes whatsoever to anything, but rather simply represented an update to comply with city ordinances. Arnold thanked him and congratulated him on his success.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alonzo next spoke a few words in support of Estrada. Then Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates explained to Arnold that DISD doesn’t take a position on matters such as this, as a matter of policy, and that any potential problems are best assessed by speaking to those living in the impacted area. “If there is opposition,” Gates said, “students and families from the neighborhood generally let you know that.”
Arnold asked to speak again: “Just so you all know for the record, because I know they love me in the Twittersphere, and they love to comment on any gray areas of confusion they think I’m confused on — the reason that I’m asking this question for the record — case in point, as we’re moving forward for example with the Southern Gateway, plans were moving ahead without including the DISD at the table so the parents would know about the changes in patterns of traffic and other developments. And so I continue to ask for clarification. I don’t expect the board to come up and just — I think as we’re building schools and we’re pushing for quality neighborhoods, and the whole safe neighborhoods that we talk about, the schools need to be a part of that conversation. So that’s why I’m asking. I do understand the process. I had been with the district for a number of years, so I’m not confused.” She then added, presumably for emphasis, that she’s “not confused or discombobulated in any way.” There was no explanation as to how one might go about reconciling her original statement that “I just need to know how this process works so that as I move forward I’ll get an understanding” with her subsequent claim that “I do understand the process” thanks to her history with DISD and was simply trying to get everything on the record for totally legitimate reasons having nothing to do with confusion or, say, pro-children points-scoring.
Addendum No. 2 was a resolution “(1) encouraging council members who serve as Dallas Police & Fire Pension System trustees to take all available actions to address the System’s dire financial situation,” and so on and so forth. Kingston explained the purpose: “This is not a step that the four pension trustees have taken lightly. There is a severe problem at the pension, and we need the help of a court, I believe, in order to sort it out. The idea is not to damage the system but to save it.” As per the presentation the Council was given not long ago by Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich, recent moves by the pension board had worsened the long-term prospects of the fund, which could become insolvent within six to 10 years without new restrictions on payouts. The fund’s “most vulnerable beneficiaries,” Kingston said, should be allowed to continue receiving payments. But the city’s proposed fix, he noted, will bring its own problems. “We’re going to see some incredibly sad stories. Just prepare yourselves.”
Said Mayor Mike Rawlings: “I want to echo, say ditto to everything Kingston has said.” The motion was carried.
Amusingly enough, this was the last City Council session to be attended in official capacity by outgoing City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. Mayor Rawlings had closed the morning business by reading off a resolution in which was rattled off a long list of positions Gonzalez had held over the past few decades and a short list of notable accomplishments that can be reasonably attributed to his time with the city.
Several of those present took the opportunity to praise Gonzalez. Said Alonzo: “You are very, very professional.” Praise from Caesar indeed.
Arnold: “I admire the fact that you were able to withstand quite a bit in terms of personal attacks whether it was around the horseshoe or on social media, and I was always amazed on social media because so many people seemed to know you and know your salary and know your every move.” This, of course, was spoken in an amused manner that implied that no one who uses the internet could actually know anything about a major city figure or possibly divine what his publicly listed salary might be or have any idea what he might be doing in the course of his official business, and that all of this online flimflam was obviously to be disregarded. Well, not disregarded, since Arnold brings up these Twitter attacks at least once a session and actually did so twice on this particular day. It must be countered at every turn, and simultaneously laughed off.
If you’re curious as to the issue of Gonzalez’s salary, which Gonzalez might have preferred that Arnold not bring up even in the necessary work of defending him from the citizenry, Eric Celeste wrote a piece a year back — entitled, straightforwardly enough, “Why Dallas City Manager A.C. Gonzalez Must Go” — in which he details how Gonzalez was reportedly given his position by way of an irregular hiring process that essentially precluded the selection of other, more qualified, applicants and then explained why such a process is worth rigging to begin with:
“The internal candidate for whom the job search was allegedly rigged, A.C. Gonzalez, got his promotion in January 2014. His salary was bumped from $250,000 to $400,000, at the time more than any city manager in the country. Now that Gonzalez, 64, is nearing retirement age, he can leave with a pension tied to that high salary so long as he earns it for three years — meaning he has a year left before we start hearing rumblings that Gonzalez will want to hand his job to the next longtime Dallas employee waiting at the trough.”
… which is exactly what happened, except that City Hall actually went with outsider T.C. Broadnax in a last-ditch effort to save the city from its own vast and multifaceted civic senility.
Callahan next put in his two cents, expressing his gratitude to Gonzalez for whatever one might be grateful to Gonzalez for doing. Then he made what seems to have been intended as a good-natured joke but which palpably raised the tension in the room. “Now, Mayor, I may have missed it, but I didn’t hear anything in the resolution about the city manager’s back office personnel, FTEs, loose dogs, potholes, or pension issues. Hallelujah!” he exclaimed, putting up his hands in mock thanks. Perhaps this was the requested miracle.
The other thing we didn’t hear anything about, naturally, was the 2013 incident in which Gonzalez had secretly worked with lobbyists representing local taxi concerns to rewrite city codes in a manner designed to keep Uber and similar firms out of Dallas. After this all came out, Gonzalez wrote a memo to the mayor apologizing for his actions and noting, hilariously, “Part of having solid character and integrity is admitting mistakes.”