Weird Mack Vines. That’s what people dubbed him after the great fall. The Weirdness Factor, they said, got him in the end. The whitewall tires. The gold-embossed business cards. The Starplex imbroglio. The temper.
Yes, something was just a bit “off” about the police chief. It was kind of like the Log Lady on “Twin Peaks” or weird Betty Stein in Highland Park-people who operate on markedly different beams than the rest of us. but go along their merry way quite undisturbed until something-like target shooting Lit high school kids or freaking out in front of a panel that is letting you off free and clear-blows the lid off their nuttiness.
If former city manager Richard Knight, who hired Vines, was aware of The Weird-ness Factor, he’s not saying so now. But at least one City Council member swears that Knight knew early on that Mack Vines was not going to work out.
“Richard and I had a conversation about Vines shortly after he was hired,” said the council member. “I told him, It’s your decision, but I think you made a mistake. You’ve got a man right here in the department. Lou Caudell, who would make an excellent chief. Richard looked at me and said I think Lou Caudell will be the chief in one or two years.’ I didn’t ask him to explain that, but it really surprised me.”
The Weirdness Factor-which seemed to be one part arrogance, two parts raging ego, and a healthy pinch of the kind of blindness that comes from looking at yourself too long in the mirror-was there from the beginning of Vines’s two-year Dallas tenure. And if the big guys chose to ignore it, plenty of others lower down the ladder did not.
In their minds, it was just a matter of time before Mack Vines self-destructed.
VINES’S NAME WAS MUD IN HIS OWN DE partment by July 27, 1988, the day he was named police chief. The story circulating around the department was that he had been rude to the officers who had been chauffeur-ing him around town since he flew in to accept the job. This juicy tidbit was quickly followed by bigger news-Vines had supposedly shown up, drunk and belligerent, at Starplex the night after he was appointed.
The rumor was only half true, but it was true enough that Mack Vines, the outsider, promptly fell out of favor with many of his troops weeks before he was sworn in.
Vines went to Starplex because then-assistant city manager (now city manager) Jan Hart and two other people from her office, which was in charge of wining and dining and feting the new chief that week, had purchased Bob Dylan concert tickets. They wanted to see Starplex, which was brand new and already mired in controversy.
“There were several of us from the city who had an interest in going to the facility, and there was an extra ticket.” Hart told me at the time. So they offered the ticket to Mack Vines. “It seemed like a hospitable thing to do.”
It also seemed like a pretty innocent thing to do. But then, they didn’t know Mack Vines.
At some point during the show, Vines got the brilliantly arrogant idea that he and these three people he barely knew should be allowed backstage, while the show was going on, to meet the great Bob Dylan. And the way to do this was to get his new employees-to-be- his underlings, his serfs, his gofers-to lead the way. Accordingly, he led his band of revelers out to the refreshment plaza, where he approached two rookie officers who were patrolling there. Clearly ill-equipped to deal with the bizarre demands of their new boss, the officers summoned a supervisor, who told Vines that Starplex management would have to be consulted. Vines said no problem. He’d wait.
The supervisor returned to the plaza three times to tell Vines that his request was hitting a brick wall-and three times Vines sent him back to management to try again.
“He was pushy,” recalls a police source who was involved that night. “Not rude, exactly. Bui real insensitive. . .I was a little disappointed. Because this was not typical. Nobody in the department or at City Hall ever asks for tickets or special privileges out there. Never. It just isn’t done. I think he has a huge ego problem.”
Ironically, it was only by playing to Vines’s huge ego that the awkward situation was finally defused.
As the amphitheater’s general manager came onto the scene, someone pulled the chief aside and told him that since Dylan allegedly was once a heroin addict, it certainly wasn’t good for someone as great and powerful as the police chief to be seen hanging around backstage with people who had been associated, and might still be associated, with drugs.
Vines was clearly flattered that someone was already looking out for his image. He thanked the person, then went back to his group with a face-saving, even ennobling excuse for not producing the promised results. But before the foursome could make it back to their seats, the entire DPD night shift- from South Oak Cliff to Valley View Mall-had heard, via police radio, that their new chief had been drunk and belligerent at Starplex.
“He wasn’t drunk,” says the cop who was involved. “No one was drunk. I mean, all of them were drinking, but they weren’t drunk. It’s something that got blown out of proportion by the officers. They had heard the rumors about picking him up at the airport and his being rude, and this kind of galvanized things. It sure didn’t help. . But he never even tried to overcome it. Which was probably his biggest failing.”
Not only did Vines not try to overcome his early problems, he proceeded to make things worse. He ordered gold-embossed business cards like those issued to City Council members. He ordered his city car with whitewall tires and no police radio. Jan Hart personally vetoed these frills despite the fact that it cost the city more money in labor costs to take Vines’s whitewalls off his car than to let him keep them. To show how strongly the city brass must have fell about the Starplex incident, the tires were placed on four other cars. Backward.
Vines made other mistakes as well. He blew off roll-call appearances, sending a symbolic, but crucial, signal to the 2,500-plus troops (hat their chief was not thinking about them. And he didn’t follow city policies that were imposed upon others.
For example, Shortly after 8 a.m. one Monday morning. Vines became “inattentive.” according to police reports, while cruising along the Dallas North Tollway. He “”failed to control [the] speed” of his city car and struck the rear of a Volkswagen in front of him. Instead of waiting tor a DPD officer to arrive-as he had ordered the rank and file to do in case of accidents in a city-owned car-he sped off. When the officer wrote on the report that the chief had left the scene prematurely, a superior ordered him to white it out. Both versions of the report were quickly posted, for all to see, on a Central Division bulletin board. And, just as quickly, they were taken down.
Other people were catching on to Vines. Reporters and newspaper editors were tongue-lashed, cussed out. and dressed down, often in front of Vines’s assembled cabinet, when stories ran that Vines didn’t like. Employees got the same treatment. So did a mildly critical council member.
What no one knew, though, was that Vines’s behavior was nothing new. Back when he was chief in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the late Seventies, Vines was known for his impatience and his temper-he blew up at reporters, he ignored his troops, Only one thing was markedly different back then: one of his biggest failings in St. Petersburg was his alleged tolerance of racists. At one point, the NAACP called for his resignation after white officers shot black citizens under controversial circumstances (one shooting led to a civil disturbance). By the time he got to Dallas, Vines apparently had turned that liability around to better suit his career goals. But there was much work to do in other areas. And he just never did it.
In early August, his snippy, arrogant, almost maniacal performance in front of the Dallas investigative panel led to the charges of perjury and finally, irrevocably revealed Vines’s serious character flaws.
“He was offensive at best in his testimony to us.” says one of the panel members. “He basically came in and told us what we could say and what we couldn’t.” Now he”s been indicted for perjury.
“The most frightening thing was, even though no one said it. everyone in the room knew that when we asked him that he would lie-he wouldn’t be truthful.” the panelist says. “It’s sort of an intangible thing. Just from the limited experience we had from him. 1 remember somebody saying, I think we ought to have a right to know whether our police chief is a liar.”
The final verdict on that isn’t yet in. Butthe decision was made long ago on TheWeirdness Factor. Like Starplex, whichwas the beginning of the end with his troops,the indictment and firing of Mack Vinesdidn’t have to happen. He brought it all onhimself.