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A Fact-Finding Mission for the Dallas Alliance

By Ashley Cheshire |

The Dallas Alliance is seldom heard from except in times of crisis. It was an Alliance task force, you might remember, that developed the school desegregation plan in 1975 and then brought the city peacefully through the trials of integration. More recently, another Alliance task force produced the environmental analysis that helped resolve the West Dallas lead contamination crisis.

Now, sometime this month, the Alliance will attract headlines once again. Alliance trustees hope their efforts-a study on “The State of the Community: Implications for Intergroup Relations”-will change the way Dallas views and confronts its problems.

The Dallas Alliance is not well known, but its members include some of the most influential people in the county. Among its fifty-six trustees are thirteen top elected and appointed officials, including the mayor and city manager, the county judge, DISD general superintendent, half a dozen executive directors of community organizations, and representatives of the business community and the community at large.

Alliance trustees are chosen in an attempt to accurately reflect the racial and economic makeup of the city.

The Alliance’s latest effort, a study costing nearly $500,000 and completed over thirty months, attempts to head off several potential crises in advance. It covers demographics and the delicate issues of housing, education, police-community relations, economic development, and minority attainment in business. The bulky tome, filled with data compiled by UTD’s Center for Applied Research, will tower nearly a foot above the tabletop, appendices and evaluations included.

“One of our biggest problems,” says Alliance chairman Jack Lowe Jr., “is that whether you’re talking about school systems or economic development in the southern part of the county or whatever, so many times when you do get a group together, they spend all their time arguing about the facts.”

With this study, the Alliance hopes to establish a comprehensive body of data that everyone, regardless of racial, political, or economic bias, will accept as fact. With that agreed upon, the theory goes, we might stop arguing facts and begin arguing solutions instead. But even the facts can be controversial, especially when they are used to answer questions like these:

What do achievement tests really tell us about the quality of education available in the DISD?

How many minorities are working at middle-management levels or above in Dallas companies?

What is the racial breakdown on arrest records for fifteen major offenses over the past decade?

In some cases the facts run counter to our usual assumptions. In other cases popular wisdom is confirmed. Everybody knows, for example, that South Dallas is badly underdeveloped. But the Alliance report will demonstrate for the first time just how badly.

“The gap is so large” hints Alliance member Lee Simpson, a former councilman, “that, speaking just as a private citizen, I am led to conclude that everything we have done so far, all the programs, everything, amounts to a drop in the bucket.”

“The State of the Community” is a treasure trove of data about Dallas. The information comes from a variety of sources, and most of it is not new. What is new is that it has been brought together, evaluated, and approved by a broadly representative group. The Alliance would like its report to become “a bible” of accepted fact about Dallas County, something every citizen and official would have to take into account. But whether the revelations will be accepted as gospel-or just another voice in a Babel of conflicting interpretations-has little to do with the data itself. As is usually the case with this group’s projects, acceptance depends almost entirely on the reputation and influence of the Alliance’s individual members.

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