We’ve gone into some detail on Wednesday’s City Council vote by which Sean Johnson was made vice chair of the Park Board two weeks after he repeatedly shouted, “Learn your role!” at fellow board members who tried to question representatives of the State Fair about what’s being done with the city’s money — an outburst that was presumably motivated by Johnson’s close ties to the men who are running the Fair as their semi-private fiefdom. Then we saw how Mayor Rawlings’ aide told me shortly after the vote that the mayor was not aware of the incident, even though it was the focus of several news articles and much insider chatter in the two weeks since it occurred. While we wait for responses from the other seven council members who voted to elevate Johnson over Jesse Moreno — himself one of several board members whose attempts to open the books on the State Fair prompted Johnson’s demented screaming spell — we’ll look at something else that happened at Wednesday’s council session, which, though seemingly unrelated to Shoutgate, actually goes a long way toward explaining it.
The first thing you need to know about Councilwoman Tiffinni Young is that when a woman was killed last year by a pack of those wild dogs that now roam South Dallas, Young contacted the woman’s daughter and told her she had a case against the city. Then she tried to maneuver her into taking on her old lawyer friend from Florida who had been barred from practicing law in that state and, separately, had already been accused of wrongful solicitation of business. Indeed, Young actually brought the lawyer into her own office for a phone call with the daughter, who recorded the conversation and made it available to the press. Both Young and her buddy quite likely violated a law that precludes lawyers or anyone acting on their behalf from soliciting business in that fashion — in fact, they definitely broke that law, and so it’s lucky for them that laws are only enforced haphazardly in this country, and rarely against those with connections. It’s somewhat less lucky that the woman’s daughter found another lawyer and is now suing Young and her attorney friend over the whole affair.
So that’s Tiffinni Young — who also happens to be the council member who nominated Sean Johnson to take over the vice chairmanship that was being held de facto by Jesse Moreno until he made the mistake of inquiring into possible misconduct by the State Fair Leadership Board headed by Richard Knight, a Dallas Citizens Council member to whom both Young and Johnson are connected. If you’re in need of a visual aid, local vigilante insider Wylie H. Dallas has created a handy chart illustrating this over-the-top web of conflict of interest, which Peter Simek wrote about on Tuesday.
Congratulations; now you know a great deal more than the mayor claims to know about Sean Johnson. And you’re ready to learn more about how Tiffinni Young operates.
Item #28 on Wednesday afternoon’s City Council agenda concerned “an application for and an ordinance granting a Specific Use Permit for a mini-warehouse use” on 3 acres of land in Young’s district. A representative for the company, Michael Coker, noted before the Council that the firm had owned the land for 35 years and had tried to develop it at several points but each time had been prevented from doing so due to opposition from the community to the specific projects they’d proposed. This time, he explained, no opposition had materialized (indeed, as each item concerning property development is presented before the Council, a city staffer reads out the number of notices that were sent to residents of the area and how many responses the city received either for or against — in this case, they received one for, none against).
Nonetheless, he related, they’d been requested by a certain Commissioner Houston to hold a neighborhood meeting at a local branch library; it was canceled due to lack of interest from the neighborhood homeowner association. Then Commissioner Houston asked them to send out a different set of notices — which they did, to the tune of 3,000, to every property owner and family residence in the area. “The only person who showed up was Commissioner Houston.”
Then they did a town hall meeting, where several people did show up to ask questions, mostly about whether the proposed storage facility would be bringing in boats and RVs, which it won’t. Then they did a survey within 6 miles and determined that there were no vacancies at existing self-storage facilities, thus indicating a clear need.
“I move to deny the zoning change,” said Councilwoman Young.
Councilman Ricky Callahan asked to speak. He noted that he had no financial stake in this project; that the location was near his district, and that he had a history with that particular area; that he’d known the developers for a long time, had known them to have been good partners to the city who had indeed helped Dallas obtain the land near the 3 acres in question so that the city could build the water tower that stands there today. And then he gave one of the best sets of remarks I’ve heard out of the Council thus far, in part because it was so clearly sincere, in part because Callahan has the rare ability to deliver heartfelt orations on matters that hinge on seemingly mundane considerations involving utilities and land use protocols. He said:
“If you know anything about power lines, there’s major transmission lines that go over that property just to the south. … You’ve only got 3 acres, you really can’t develop apartments or houses, townhomes or anything, and nobody would anyway because of those power lines. Churches, day schools, they wouldn’t be interested. The community was opposed to any retail there. The developer proposed once upon a time to have a gas station and convenience store with beer and wine, and that was turned down. … I think there’s a fairly limited number of people that initially said no, but I think there’s been an orchestration to find a lot of ‘no’s and even petitions to that effect. You know, staff recommended that this be approved. CPC — including our councilwoman that’s in her district — her CPC commissioner, he voted in favor, it was 15 to 0. … They’ve spent about $200,000 to hold this property. They’ve had illegal dumping there, they’ve had to mow it, liability insurance, property taxes. … 35 years they’ve tried to make something happen, to end their involvement in this property. Instead, a few have decided, ‘Well, we just don’t want that. They’ll sell drugs out of those mini-warehouses.’ Well, folks, you can sell drugs out of a gas station, an apartment, a vehicle, or you can just sell drugs on the street corner. That is just really not, I think, a fair-minded assessment of the situation. So right now it’s a dog run, a trash catch; nothing can be done with it. … And I just feel like I had to speak out. I don’t like to go into someone else’s district. It doesn’t give me any joy to do that. But on my business card it also says I’m a Dallas city councilman. And when I see disparity or unfairness, then I have to speak out.”
And then Young responded:
“There’s a theme today of fake news, and so I want to clear up a few things because there have been some alternative facts presented already and I see that’s the theme of the day. I’m looking at the record here, it was a vote of 14 to 0, not 15 to 0. District 7 had a vacancy at the time!” she concluded triumphantly. Then, having successfully pointed out a minor inaccuracy in Callahan’s account, though at the cost of re-emphasizing that no one really opposed the thing to which she’s trying to conjure up some specter of reasoned opposition, Young proceeded to make up a libel against herself. “The councilperson who was duly elected to represent District 7 has not passed around one petition. Not one.” In fact, Callahan never accused her of passing around any petitions, though it wouldn’t have been unreasonable if he had done so, as we’ll see.
“Let me say that there is something called neighborhood self-determination that I campaigned on, that I believe strongly in,” she continued, “and there are many neighborhoods around the property, not just the one that is the Fair Creek neighborhood.” Although of course the city had informed everyone in the area and the developer had informed even more people, twice, at their own expense, so it’s hard to see how this matters. But Young was pivoting onto a different, and stranger, point, claiming that the lack of any visible opposition other than her own was due to the fact that her constituents “were a little afraid to speak out” and that at any rate the notification area is not large enough (presumably there are people living much farther from the sites in question that have much stronger feelings about any developments than the hundreds who live right down the street from them but don’t seem to care). And as for her constituents, “They don’t know what the red and white signs mean.” Also, “They don’t even know what the colored cards are that come in the mail to their homes, to know that they have the right to respond. And so yes, I did receive opposition from constituents,” she suddenly declared, rather mysteriously given everything she’d said immediately prior.
Then she addressed the representative of the developer and said that there was a church in the area that had a food bank that they might want to expand into their property “and I’m sure they may be interested. I’m not sure,” which is my new favorite line from any City Council meeting.
She concluded by saying that the idea that anyone was concerned about the selling of drugs out of the storage facility was “offensive” for reasons that she did not see fit to share.
The mayor then recognized Callahan, who said that it had originally taken two months to even have a dialog with Young about this, and noted that his comments about the waving around of petitions were prompted by the incident in which Young waved around petitions. Then he reminded her that he’d asked her what sort of development she’d support for the property and she’d replied that she didn’t know.
Young interrupted. “Hello? Personal attacks?” As Callahan ignored her, Young next interjected, “You also told me you sold the land. You also told me you sold the land.” The mayor told her to stop.
“… 3000 notices, several public meetings that they could have come and spoke at,” Callahan continued. “These guys have just not been treated fairly at all, and I just resent the way this came down,” he concluded, in a tone that indicated actual wariness.
In the end, the application was denied.