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EDITOR’S NOTE HOW DID WE GET IN THIS MESS?

By Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons |

Like most of you, I imagine, I have watched helplessly as day by day our city has seemed to careen out of control. We cannot agree on a system of electing council representatives who will be fair and just for all. Our mayor has admitted to lying about a phone conversation she had with a federal judge. The judge, Jerry Buchmeyer (see “Buchmeyer vs. Dallas,” page 56), has had his hand slapped by his bosses at the 5th Circuit for his role in the phone call affair, and his critics have accused him of lying as well. At this point the various election options have lost all meaning; 10-4-1, 14-1, who really cares? The prevailing attitude among most people I know is: Let’s just get it over with and move forward.

And yet the legal maneuvers and the politicking and the insensitive gaffes continue. It may be months-even years-before the issue is finally resolved.

Perhaps it’s an exercise in futility, but I needed to review how we got here so I could form an opinion about how we could get out. I’ve spent the past few days attempting to retrace the haphazard steps that led to this sorry place, and in my mind, these are the key events:

1. The process was doomed early on. The Dallas Citizens Charter Review Committee was in trouble from the outset because it attempted to develop an entirely new system of government in an impossibly short time. The deep distrust that existed among its members could not possibly have been bridged in a few short weeks. The mayor and commission chairman, lawyer Ray Hutchison, believed they were doing the right thing in getting a plan to the voters posthaste. But in fact their haste only heightened the suspicions of minorities and added to the distrust. Minorities began to suspect that Hutchison had an agenda that he was rushing forward; Hutchison believed that minorities were not negotiating in good faith.

2. We voted on a plan that may be il-legal. Those who support the appeal of 10-4-1 on the grounds that voters ap-proved it in August of 1989 insist that in a democracy, the will of the electorate prevails. That’s all well and good, except in cases wherein the will of the electorate violates someone else’s constitutional rights. We could all, for instance, vote to hang Judge Buchmeyer on the courthouse steps. But just because we voted to do it wouldn’t make it legal. Of course, that begs a vexing question: If 10-4-1 violates people’s rights, why were we voting on the plan in the first place? This is where our city was cursed with incomparable bad luck and timing. In our rush to put all this behind us that fateful summer of ’89, we did not take the time to ask the U.S. Justice Department to pre-clear 10-4-1, To be fair, it was for good reason: The Justice Department had indicated at the time that it would not have been able to rule on the plan until the 1990 census figures were out-and those were not expected anytime soon.

3. John Wiley Price met Robert Bernal.The ugly exchange between County Commissioner John Wiley Price and police officer Robert Bernal near Price’s Oak Cliffhome contributed directly, in my opinion,to the defeat of 14-1 in the referendum heldlast December. The incident ignited newracial fear and bigotry and sent 14-1 downin flames.

4. Tom Pauken decided to run for Congress. Local politico Tom Pauken did abrilliant job of playing to the fears of his conservative constituency-and paving the wayfor his congressional bid. Unfortunately, heunleashed a series of attacks and counterattacks on a number of the parties involved,centrally aimed, of course, at Judge Buchmeyer- But retaliators have smudged the reputation of attorneys and officials on the otherside too-City Attorney Analeslie Muncyand Johnson & Gibbs’s Mike McKool, coun-cilmen Glenn Box and Jerry Bartos, andMayor Strauss, who has been all but buriedin accusations of political ineptitude. Meanwhile Pauken’s plans were to hie to Washington and leave us to clean up the mess.

Stay tuned as this soap opera plays itself out into reruns.

With this column, I bring to a close almost six years at the helm of D Magazine, a post I have greatly enjoyed. I’m stepping down to devote more time to my family and to pursue my own writing projects. I will continue at D as a contributing editor, writing from time to time about the issues shaping our city. You have been a responsive and caring audience, and I hope we have grown together watching this wonderfully complex city move toward the new century.