THE MAN IN THE HOT SEAT

WHEN HE CAME TO DART IN 1986, CHARLES ANDERSON THOUGHT RAIL WAS A DONE DEAL. BOY, WAS HE WRONG.

SMOOTH. YOU WANT A WORD TO DE-scribe the career of Charles Anderson, and the only thing mat fits is smooth. Here he is, with his organizational charts and administrative plans, everything lined up just right, acting as if government is some kind of Harvard case study. He doesn’t get into fights, he ne*er says the wrong things, and he never, eve)r shows up unprepared. There are no surprises in Anderson’s world. He’s so smooth he’s almost, well, boring.

So then explain what’s happened to him lately. Like that day when he frantically came tearing out of his office at DART headquarters, raced across downtown to City Hall, aid dashed into a meeting of the City Plan Commission because DART, the largest public works project in the history of Dallas-the one he directs-was on the verge of yet another collapse.

And explain how Anderson, the single most influential figure in Dallas government for the last seven years, finds himself accused by many local leaders of compromising his legendary, untainted integrity by privately cutting a deal with Southland’s Cityplace. I

And most importantly, what is Charles Anderson doing with DART? You remember Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the organization that (cannot add. In 1983, the group started out with a bold 147-mile rail system, then learned that it would cost up to $1.3 billion more than they had to spend. Perhaps you also remember the DART board, the gang of twenty-five from different area cities who have spent $800,000 on a board room for themselves, taken expensive trips not only around the country but to Europe to look at other rail systems, approved $20 million worth of art to be put on the walls of the train stations-and yet, as recently as last November, four years after they had begun meeting, still could not decide when they should start construction and where those confounded rail lines actually were going to go.

This wap the group that, in November 1986, brought in Charles Anderson to save them from themselves. At that point, DART was the most embarrassing governmental project in Dallas history. But Anderson was the golden boy of local government-someone competent both as a bureaucrat, dealing with a myriad of day-to-day matters, and as a leader, instilling a direction, encouraging his staff, and leading opposing parties to the bargaining table. “He was a star,” says Adlene Harrison, the former DART board chairman who fought vehemently with DART directors in the past. “Almost everyone,” says city councilman Jerry Rucker, “thought the best news DART had had in years was that Chuck Anderson was going over there.”

Anderson, of course, had been running Dallas as city manager since 1981. Though he had a few enemies-harmless types like former councilman Paul Fielding, whose entire contribution to civic affairs was forgotten about two minutes after he left office-Anderson was never seriously criticized about anything. Teflon-coated, he emerged from every political mess unscathed. City council members, who get paid $50 a meeting and find out soon after arriving at City Hall that they don’t have anywhere near the power they thought they would, are often quick to take out their frustration on the city manager’s office. But while Anderson was there, council members bickered among themselves or with whichever mayor was around-and left Anderson alone to develop proposals and set up programs.

Anderson was simply the ultimate technocrat who got things done, a skilled political acrobat with none of the pretentious trappings of a politician. As city manager, he smoothed the way for grass-roots groups to participate in the government, he moved the city toward a less combative zoning system, and he ushered in two successful bond programs and a national political convention. He was instrumental in the creation of the West End and the continued development of die Arts District. He also loved-deeply loved-trains. “Rail transit,” he once said, “adds the dimension of elegance to urban life.”

So when he hinted that he might be interested in setting up shop at the DART headquarters on the other side of downtown, DART board members, reeling from public criticism, saw Chuck Anderson as a messiah.

Now, more than a year after Anderson’s arrival, the resurrection of DART has yet to happen. In fact, just when Anderson was finally getting it under control, the lumbering multibillion-dollar mass transit program is again facing a crisis. The rather mundane question that will be posed to voters at next month’s referendum-whether DART should have the right to use its sales tax revenue to pay off long-term debts in order to build a rail transit system-has taken on electrifying importance, because it will determine the future of Dallas-area mass transit. The city’s business establishment, usually critical to the success of a major public works project, is far from enthusiastic about the plan. Other citizens groups are also beginning to Fight DART. Suddenly, Anderson has found himself in the fight of his political life. If the referendum foils, DART won’t have the money for large-scale construction of rail, and will thus become little more than a glorified bus system. But if Anderson can get enough voters to trust him and his DART staff, to believe his ideas about the need for rail transit-then finally, the long-ballyhooed new era will begin,

It seems odd that this burden would fell on a man who has no particular love for the drama of politics, who prefers the dry logistics of public administration to the rabble-rousing heat of a campaign. But for the first time in his career, Charles Anderson is having to endure the kind of intense public pressure that he never expected to face. “I know this is a beautiful tapestry ready to be woven-it’s just figuring out where to put various stitches and different colors of thread,” he says. “It can still be done. But I must admit I’ve had my moments when I thought the sow’s ear wasn’t going to turn into a silk purse.”



THE MORNING MEETING OF THE DART executive staff starts five minutes late, which Anderson duly notes. “Punctuality is not one of our strong points,” he says dryly. Though Anderson is far from a tyrant as a boss-he delegates authority easily and likes to say he gives his staff “the freedom to fail”-he has a certain perfectionist’s streak in him that does not miss a detail.

Anderson leans back in his chair as the staff comes in, his dark, brooding stare perpetually at odds with the genuine smile that can cut across his face. In some ways, he is at his best during meetings. He loves them, his schedule is full of them, he says he can get results out of them. He knows when to push hard, when to pull back, when to dominate, and when to compromise. “It’s like knowing how to dance,” he says. Today, everyone is to discuss the issues that will be brought up before the main DART board meeting next week. After this meeting, Anderson will hold what he calls “dress rehearsals” with staff members to prepare them to go before the board. The cardinal sin in the Anderson book is to look unprepared. “If there’s one number that doesn’t look right,” he tells one of his assistants, “the [DART] board will call us on it. And I don’t have time to have my credibility stepped on now.”

When Anderson came to DART in late 1986, he brought along with him all his “management by objective” techniques that he had made so famous at City Hall. He had charts and financial plans and five-year goals. He also drafted a vague mission statement for DART (“To create a transportation system that provides mobility, improves the quality of life, and stimulates economic development”) that staffers thought was rather useless-until they heard him referring to it constantly, even asking that it be put on posters and placards for all employees to see.

A few months after arriving, for example, Anderson fired Stewart Scott, the well-known director of DART’s rail transit planning, because Anderson said Scott didn’t fully follow the mission statement. Stewart, Anderson says, had a different management philosophy, mostly involving the use of expensive consultants and a desire for large budgets for his department. Anderson easily could have ordered Scott to slash his costs, thus retaining Scott’s voluminous knowledge of the rail system. But Anderson wants people around who share his philosophy. “It’s not that Anderson wants ’yes men,’” says one of his staffers, “but he does demand loyalty. Anyone on his staff who isn’t as loyal as he is, he just cannot understand.”

It is not that Anderson’s impact has yet to be felt. When he arrived, the agency was listless and nearly paralyzed by bickering and rivalries. Anderson has recharged the staff, cut DART’s operating budget by 13 percent, set up an elaborate new cost control plan for the rail project, and worked his unifying magic on the board. In his most brilliant moment as DART director, late last year at a DART board workshop, he presented a new five-year rail construction plan, showing cost projections and recommendations on where the first rail lines should be built. Almost as soon as he finished, one DART member after another stood up with proposals about where they thought DART should build. Ideas were brought up that had been discarded years ago. People began shouting. Though Anderson just sat there, his jaw locked in place, the whole atmosphere was chaotic. Reporters sitting at the press table looked at one another and shook their heads. Would this group ever get anything done?

Back in 1983, area voters approved a sales tax increase to fund a rail program. Nevertheless, a small but powerful group of business leaders began meeting in the summer of 1987 to fight DART. Led by Chili’s executive and prominent civic leader Norman Blinker, the group said the rail system will cost far more than DART’s estimated $3 billion price tag, while attracting few riders and bringing no perceivable improvements in traffic congestion. Moreover, they said the rail lines would be built to serve downtown workers, when the truth was that more people would be moving away from the downtown area and working elsewhere.

“Chuck Anderson has done a lot of great things for this city,” says Brinker. “He has a strong vision and a direction-and having said that, I still question the validity of the numbers he’s using about what it’s going to cost to build DART.”

Now, the anti-DART movement is gaining momentum. A group of powerful figures, like former Dallas County Judge Dave Fox and insurance executive Russell Perry, have formed SMART (Sensible Metro Area Rapid Transit) to knock out the rail program. The attacks are also getting personal. Dallas city council member and rail opponent Jerry Bartos has been attacking Anderson for “financial irresponsibility” during his days as Dallas city manager. He warns that Anderson will not control DART spending- allegations that Anderson heatedly denies. Moreover, Anderson has to deal with the near-revolt of powerful DART suburban cities like Addison, Garland, and Irving, whose leaders are fed up with DART’s glacial progress and worried that the rail lines will never get past the Dallas city limits. There are also homeowner groups and other business merchants putting pressure on Anderson to do certain things with the system. And this time, they have some leverage: next month’s bond referendum.

“There has been an incredible array of interest groups all over the place,” says Anderson, “that have said to me personally that if I don’t do what they want me to do, they’ll fight me in the referendum. Recently, I told one who said that to me, ’Well, join the club.* There’s a club forming out there that I call the Hold DART Hostage Club.”

The renewed debate visibly frustrates Anderson. It has also opened up another side of him, one that surprised even longtime Anderson watchers: he can lose his cool. Last year, when the Garland City Council decided to call an election on whether it should pull out of DART, Anderson, the consummate diplomat, blew up. “Garland’s elected leadership is completely out of touch with the voters, and their lack of vision is incredible,” he snapped to a reporter. He ended up apologizing to the Garland leaders, but some who followed DART suggested that Anderson had begun to realize he was facing a job he was not entirely prepared for.

And then, in February, Anderson got caught in the kind of blunder that he would never have been expected to make. Charles Anderson, the man who had won raves at City Hall for opening up the public process, for getting rid of back-room deals and including grass-roots organizations in city planning, was accused of making a backroom deal. A banner, front-page story in The Dallas Morning News claimed that DART, the city of Dallas, and The Southland Corporation had secretly discussed a plan to give Southland profitable, high-density rezoning in the Cityplace area near downtown in return for Southland’s paying up to $22 million of the cost of a $34 million Cityplace station. Oak Lawn homeowners, who live near the development and want to preserve the character of their neighborhoods, were furious, claiming they were left out of the negotiations despite DART’s promise to include them. Quickly joining the Hold DART Hostage Club, they vowed to campaign against the transit agency in the bond referendum unless DART changed its position. City council member Lori Palmer, who represents the area, said the whole thing “could not have been handled more unethically.” Even Mayor Annette Strauss, a strong supporter of rail, said the damage might prove fatal to DART.

Anderson insists that nothing illegal or unethical was done, but concludes that the matter was handled poorly. Yet even if Anderson’s side of the story is true-that DART did in fact summarily reject Southland’s proposal for a swap of money for more high-density zoning, and that his staff was just involved in normal negotiations and was far from making any agreement until after public hearings-the bad publicity from the flap has hurt Chuck Anderson’s reputation.

Surprisingly, Anderson broke one of his own cardinal rules in the Southland-DART snafu; he got caught unprepared. When the City Plan Commission, at one of its meetings, wanted to know more about the negotiations and asked two DART engineers about whether the agency approved a zoning change, they were unsure what to say. An emergency phone call was made to DART headquarters, and Anderson came running. He stunned the group when he said that DART never had supported “inappropriate” high-density zoning near rail stations and that DART did not encourage a change in zoning around its Cityplace station. No one in the room appeared to believe him. City planners and Southland officials were furious at Anderson for trying to blame the negotiations on them.

Anderson has rebounded from the City-place debacle with a new open-door policy under which a series of meetings will be held to hear concerns about the location of transit stations. He says he will keep improving public participation “until we get it right.” But he knows that he still has a long way to go before he can be confident that people believe again in DART.

“When I came to DART at the end of 1986,” Anderson says, “maybe I was naive, or maybe it was blind optimism, but I felt the issue of ’Do we want DART?’ was settled. My task was to come here to build DART, not to have to apologize for it. But now I realize I’ve got to spend most of my time selling the hell out of DART.”

His little black calendar book is filled with appointments to see civic leaders who are voicing doubts about DART. He makes as many speeches as his schedule allows. One afternoon, when he knows he should be preparing himself for another DART board meeting, he gets in his car and drives to Piano to address a couple of hundred ARCO employees. They are waiting for him in a little auditorium, and as he walks down the side aisle toward the podium, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked toward the wall as if he’s embarrassed so many people are looking at him all at once, it’s obvious that he is not at all comfortable in a politician’s role. “My skill is negotiation ” he says, “not speaking.”

When he must speak, Anderson goes through the standard list of reasons why the area needs a mass transit rail system. He says Dallas is growing at twice the national average, and that the car has taken us as far as it can go. “It is a fact there is not enough right of way for sufficient horizontal expansion for all of our highways, freeways, and thoroughfares,” he says. Anderson maintains that no matter what is done-from car pools to extra buses-the area will need “every available transportation mode to meet the needs of its citizens in the next century.” He says that it’s important to have rail just for the peak rush hours (6-9 a.m. and 3^6 p.m.) to provide alternatives to the automobile. He believes that up to 50 percent of people working downtown will use rail for their transportation. The cost, he admits, is high. “But what is the cost if we don’t do rail, if we lay more asphalt and concrete and add more elevated lanes?” he asks. “What is the environmental impact of doing that-of more air pollution, growing immobility, increased congestion?” He points out that every major city has a good mass transit program, which serves to entice new business. “I assure you,” he says, “that if we don’t put I in a rail system, this area will cease to be a global competitor.”

And then, as part of his conclusion, Anderson says, “In many ways DART is a project that will require a great deal of faith and hope and vision.” He pauses. “Perhaps it will even require some love.”

It is an odd statement for such a man to make, someone whose public life has been characterized by allegiance to logic, to cold fact and figures. For Anderson, however, me DART debate is a fight over the soul of a city. He likes to talk about Dallas modeling itself after Europe’s grandest Renaissance cities, where people live together almost as an extended family. And he says a train lets us build a city the way a city should be built.

Then, too, a rail transit system can be a i lasting legacy of Charles Anderson. Already, most people have forgotten most of what he did at City Hall. DART could be different. In the coming decades, Anderson hopes, people will look at DART as a vital savior of Dallas-“the very tiling that will protect this community from the growing air pollution and immobility that we’re headed for.”

Anderson says he has tried to find ways to prove that a DART rail program will not work. “The worst thing 1 could do is to put myself on a known Titanic” he says. “So I have really looked for the evidence that says we’re all wrong. But I still find strong evidence that this is an absolutely essential project, it’s affordable, and it’s manageable.

“When I took this job,” he says, “I knew DART was probably on a twilight mission. Politically it was in trouble and the infrastructure of management wasn’t in place. But I knew I could do this job, that I could meld the political with professional management. I still believe I can. It’s become more complicated, of course, but it’s still doable. And I’m still fired up for the task.”

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