|FOREVER VIGILANT: Gwinn makes Dallas better, one open-records request at a time.
photography by Andy Lai
Allen Gwinn is not an angry blogger. Unlike other citizens who take their malcontent to the nearest Internet connection and bludgeon away, Gwinn maintains a web site, Dallas.org, that is cool, restrained, overwhelmingly fact-driven. Gwinn is the Microsoft Excel of citizen journalists. In fact, he often lets his spreadsheets tell his narratives. His databases broke the story that the Dallas Independent School District misused its Visa procurement cards a full year before the Dallas Morning News got to it. He’s published the cell phone bills of trustee Ron Price and refuted inconsistent statements Price made to the 2005 Woodrow Wilson High graduating class. In December, the local media freaked out when Gwinn posted the receipts of City Hall’s credit card purchases, sure that Gwinn had just done to 1500 Marilla St. what he’d previously done to the DISD. (Alas, no similar scandal emerged.)
Perhaps no blogger gets more attention for his efforts—certainly no one who isn’t already a journalist. Gwinn works as a technology director at the Cox School of Business SMU, which he also attended. So that’s 50-plus hours a week before he considers his web site. “And I go to great lengths to separate the two because I never want it to become an issue,” Gwinn says. “I sleep very little.”
His wife Terri says starting the site “had a lot to do with him becoming a parent.” (Their children are now 13 and 10.) But not everyone loves his activism. Ron Price says what Gwinn does is “unfair and unjust.” Gwinn cares little for nuance, Price says, citing as example Gwinn still calling him a “wife beater” based on a 2001 misdemeanor assault charge for pushing a screen door that hit his ex-wife. Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm says responding to Gwinn’s credit card database “is my job,” but adds, “I just wish that instead of assuming that there was bad stuff going on, there would have been people asking questions.”
Gwinn, calling himself “just a gadfly,” doesn’t see it that way. He’s fine with others taking what he’s found and repackaging it—as many news organizations have done. After all, he’s got another job.