Preservation Chief Owns Swiss Avenue Tenement, Among Others
Fritz L. Furtick is an employee of the Dallas city planning department. His job is to coordinate plans for neighborhood preservation projects.
Furtick also owns 10 pieces of property, most of them in South Dallas, with tax assessment values ranging from about $5,600 to about $17,600. What that boils down to is that Fritz L. Furtick of the Dallas city planning department is also a modest slumlord.
The city attorney’s office says it knows of no city ethics regulation which prohibits Furtick from owning such properties. That’s not very encouraging to people interested in neighborhood preservation. One of Furtick’s properties, the massive old house at 5620 Swiss Avenue, is in a neighborhood designated a Historic District and zoned for single-family dwellings. But Furtick’s house has been subdivided into half a dozen apartment units. People who live in the neighborhood wonder why the house remains an apartment building while the houses around it have been renovated as single-family homes.
Last November, city inspector Frances Pieters met with officials from the zoning department, fire department, urban rehabilitation department, and city attorney’s office to discuss the house. “The consensus of opinion,” Ms. Pieters wrote in a memo, “was that 5620 Swiss is being maintained as a 6 or 7 unit apartment building in violation of the zoning ordinance. . . .The case will be referred to District Court where we will seek an injunction to prohibit this usage.” (Furthermore, on two occasions, building inspectors have notified Furtick that the house contained nine city code violations for wiring hazards.) In the nine months since that memo, no case has been filed.
“1 guess you could say there wasn’t very much follow-up on this,” says assistant city attorney Robert Young, who was assigned to the case. “I’m a little embarrassed that we haven’t gotten on it yet.”
Furtick, for his part, sees no conflict ofinterest in his sources of income. He sayshe bought all his property back in the Fifties and that he didn’t start working forthe city until 1959. (Deed records showthat he purchased some of the property asrecently as June 1966.) Furtick contendsthat he received a legal opinion from thecity attorney’s office that “everything wasokay” with his land ownership. (Youngsays that no written record is on file, butthat such an opinion could have been delivered orally.) Furtick contends that thehouse does not violate the city zoning ordinance because it was a multiple-familyunit before the zoning designation waschanged to single family. (The designationwas changed in 1973; the 1973 city directory lists only one resident at 5620 Swiss.)”
Basically,” says Young, “the onlything he is really doing wrong is violatingthe law.” – Rowland Slileler
Lawyers Want New Rules for Insurance Game
The typical Dallas motorist over 25, who has a good driving record, pays about $300 a year to insure a medium-priced car. That’s about $100 a year more than he paid five years ago.
Rate increases come about because of a semi-annual ritual performed before the State Insurance Board in Austin. There the representatives of the insurance companies tell of their woes, of increasing costs and decreasing profits. The only solution, they always insist, is to raise insurance rates. The board usually agrees, and up they go. “All the regulators do,” says one critic of the process, “is take the insurance companies’ word that they are losing money.”
That may change if the Texas Trial Lawyers Association succeeds in its current campaign to restructure the methods by which rates are set. Not that the trial lawyers have suddenly become altruistic consumer advocates, of course. The insurance companies are making plans to seek legislation that would limit the settlements in personal injury cases. And since most attorneys work for a percentage of the settlement in such cases, a feud between the trial lawyers and the insurance companies seems inevitable.
The lawyers plan to go to the public with facts about the insurance industry, pointing out that insurance company profits are at an all-time high throughout the industry. Texas insurance companies were fifth in the nation last year in increase in premium income – a whopping $721 million. The Trial Lawyers Association also plans to point out how insurance companies keep their books. When they calculate their profits, insurance companies first deduct for “incurred but not reported” (IBNR) claims. These are funds the insurance companies set aside to cover future claims. In 1976, for example, Crum & Forster paid out $4.55 million in product liability claims, but it set aside $51.6 million for IBNR losses. The lawyers say lower rates would result if the legislature tied insurance rates to actual claims paid.
“It would be really sweet to be able toset aside money for losses you think youmight have, invest that money, and makeinterest on it,” says the president of theTrial Lawyers Association, Mike Gallagher. “But if a private businessmantried to do that, the IRS would put him inprison.” – Rowland Stiteler
Special Interests Bank on Mattox
Last winter U.S. Rep. Jim Mattox, who is usually considered a liberal Democrat, did bankers a favor when he put the brakes on the Safe Banking Bill. Now there is evidence that the bankers are returning the favor, giving Mattox financial help for his November re-election campaign.
Financial reports for November and December of last year reveal that Mattox, who sits on the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, received about $30,000 in contributions in those two months alone from more than 117 bankers.
While Mattox’s actions have made him popular with bankers, they have not endeared him to his Congressional peers. Last November, House Banking Subcommittee chairman Fernand St. Germain (D-R.I.) issued a press release hinting that Mattox had acted as a tool of the banking interests by introducing an amendment to the Safe Banking Bill which would raise the limit on “insider” loans to bank officers. St. Germain said he considered it a “black mark” on Congress to adjourn last winter with “no banking legislation or a bill so weak that it serves no useful purpose.” The Safe Banking Bill hasn’t made it through Congress yet.
First International Bancshares board chairman Robert H. Stewart III and president Dewey Presley praised Mattox in a letter distributed to bankers last November, saying he had “pulled down” the Safe Banking Bill, at least temporarily protecting the bankers from the reform measure.
The bankers have shown their gratitude. The letter from Stewart and Presley promoted a fund-raising dinner for Mattox, which raised $100,000.
“We encouraged Jim to seek a place on the House Banking Committee,” the two bankers said in the letter. “He was successful and has been responsive when we have needed to call on him. . .”
– Rowland Stiteler
OFF THE RECORD
●Now in his sixth year on the Dallas Board of Education, president Bill C. Hunter has decided not to seek re-election next April. Hunter has been considered a conservative force on the board – he asked superintendent candidates about their religious involvement in their home communities, sources say. The Northwest Dallas attorney told us, “I’ve got other plans. Six years is a long time; I really believe it’s time for change.” Hunter did not want to run for his current two-year term, he said, but was persuaded by “lots of contacts,” including city and business leaders, his constituents in District One, and school officials. Any chance of a last-minute switch? “I’ve tried to learn something about my errors before, in saying something too emphatically,” he said. “[But] I don’t really think so.”
●Continuing developments in the saga of Perrier bottled water, France’s gift to the status-thirsty: Cartier, the Paris-based international jeweler, has introduced a set of sterling silver accessories to make the act complete. It includes a bottle opener and two bottle caps (to retain the fizz), engraved with the Perrier logotype. The set sells for $45. Meanwhile, on McKin-ney Avenue, it’s clear that Perrier still has some problems with name recognition. A customer waiting for a table at the S&D Oyster Company leaned across the bar and said, “Perrier.” The puzzled bartender told him he’d have to leave his name with the host.
●As anyone who knows the track record of the Texas Legislature might suspect, the recent special session was not all work and no play for the lawmakers. Reporters who were in Austin for the session say that on Tuesday nights you could find a quorum of the legislative body at The Broken Spoke, a country-and-western bar. “It really looked a little ridiculous,”
says one reporter, “to see a majority of the House of Representatives on the dance floor at the same time, all trying to do the Cotton-Eyed-Joe.”
● When Dallas school board members were told in June that the school system might not receive $4.5 million it expected in federal funds for remedial English and math programs, Supt. Nolan Estes pulled a surprise. Pointing to the $200 million school budget, he announced $1 million worth of cuts would keep the program’s 409 teachers and aides at work in a locally funded “streamlined” version of the program. Fat in the school budget? “It’s not excess at all,” said Estes. “We’re talking about things that are not crucial or essential, but desirable.” Among the desirables: A $435,000 “transition” budget for Linus Wright, Estes’s successor.
●County Judge candidate Garry Weber, having spent the summer raising campaign funds, seems to have milked traditional sources of contributions dry before incumbent John Whittington could find the cow. By late August, Weber had raised $170,000. A $125-a-plate luncheon, planned for September, is expected to bring Weber another $100,000. He is planning to drop $275,000 into the campaign effort, with $100,000 to be spent in the last 30 days before the November election. Meanwhile, Whittington has been asleep at the till. Although he has named Republic Financial Services chief executive Russell Perry as his financial chair-man, Whittington has done little to raise funds.
●Sandra Brown, who was half of WFAA-TV’s husband-wife weekend newsteam until she recently disappeared fromthe screen, is now “free-lancing,” according to news director Marty Haag. Brown,who did weekend weather reports on theshow anchored by her husband, Michael, will make some appearances on the upcoming “PM Magazine” show. Haag said that Sandra Brown had been working without a contract and was replaced by Sacramento import Steve Newman because “frankly, we think he can do a better job.”
●Local producers of radio and television advertising are scampering to beat the cost increase which is expected to follow renegotiation of the Screen Actors Guild contract in November. Advertising agencies that are signatories to the guild contract – all the big ones in Dallas are – must pay guild rates to anyone who is seen or heard in an ad. An announcer who now gets $220 for a one-minute commercial will probably get $280 or more under the new contract. Ad agencies are trying to produce as many of those 60-sec-ond wonders as possible before Novem ber. The guild may strike if contract negotiations go badly, so we could be stuck watching this summer’s commercials for a long, long time.
●If you’re shopping for the cheapest city taxes around Dallas, try Richardson. The suburb’s proposed tax rate, which should be adopted in mid-September, is 85 cents per $100 valuation, based on 50 percent of fair market value. That makes the city taxes on a $60,000 house run $255 a year. Taxes on a house of the same value would run $343 in University Park, $345 in Car-rollton, $375 in Garland or Farmers Branch, $418 in Piano, $441 in Highland Park, and $598.50 in Dallas. There is one catch. Richardson is the only city in the area which reevaluates every house on the tax rolls every year. So tax valuations in Richardson are more directly linked to inflation than in other cities.
●Rumors abound in downtown businesscircles that Trammell Crow is putting together something big, perhaps a multistory office complex. Crow is said to havemade a deal to purchase several parcels ofland, including the northeast corner ofRoss and Pearl streets.
●After WFAA-TV Channel 8 reportedthat Safeway had recalled bread whichmight have been contaminated with weevils, the supermarket chain abruptlycanceled its advertising on the station, according to sources at WFAA. A spokesman for Safeway told us that advertisingwas switched from WFAA on a standardrotation plan and not as an act of retaliation for the story. But the word fromWFAA is that the advertising was pulledimmediately following the story, that theusual two-week notice was not given, and that Safeway otticials informed the station that the news story was the reason.
● Republican funding sources for blackCounty Clerk candidate Brenda Hamerare beginning to dry up as a result of threecivil suits filed against her. The suits,which involved failure to pay bills froma doctor. Republic National MasterCharge, and Sterling Jewelry, have allbeen dropped. But some Republican leaders are concerned that Hamer, an attorney who moved to Dallas a little morethan a year ago, may have more financialskeletons in her closet.
● Where is the American family goingthese days? To court, among other places.A Fort Worth couple, B.L. and Ruby Davis, recently got a judge to kick their29-year-old son out of their house in thecity’s fashionable Overton Park area. Thefather testified in district court that theson, Byron L. Davis Jr., had a collegedegree but no job, kept “odd hours,”and refused to leave.
● Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment have always said that if the ERA becomes law, public places will have only one restroom for both sexes. Hamburgerentrepreneur Harvey Goff, more concerned about high plumbing costs than heis about the women’s movement, hasn’twaited for ERA ratification. His newlocation, at Central Expressway andNorthhaven, has only one rest room, withstalls marked “toilet room” and “urinalroom.” City health officials say the facility is legal. State law only requires establishments that serve liquor to have a separate restroom for each sex.
Preservation Chief Owns Swiss Avenue Tenement, Among Others