Michael Veale lives on the 22nd floor of One Arts Plaza in a condo filled with natural light and tasteful art. Its spacious balcony looks out over the Arts District and offers the kind of tableau of the city that makes Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau employees mumble “world-class” in their sleep. Veale himself looks like a casual Lex Luthor. He has a head so closely shaved that it looks like he waxes it, and he wears cowboy boots with his white oxford and jeans.
None of this suggests how Veale spends his free time: sending unsolicited, heavily researched, lengthy budgetary memos to Mayor Mike Rawlings, along with the rest of the Dallas City Council, along with City Manager A.C. Gonzalez and his assistant city managers, along with the city’s chief financial officer, and who knows who else. One from September, regarding the city’s Neighborhood Plus program, came with four tables and two pages of footnotes.
Veale went through grad school studying to be a city manager, but an internship with the Philadelphia school district warned him away from civil service. Instead he went into technology and spent the better part of three decades working for Citigroup, eventually becoming a senior vice president in the IT division. He decided to move to Dallas a decade ago, during his first visit to the city. Some friends drove him past the spillway at Garland Road. He saw cyclists riding around White Rock Lake; he’s an avid rider. He noted the temperature: 80 degrees in Dallas, 40 in New York.
“About eight minutes later, I had an epiphany,” Veale says. On the way back to the airport, he signed papers to buy a unit at the still-under-construction One Arts Plaza. He moved in three years later, in 2009.
For a time, he was just a typical well-heeled retiree, traveling and getting involved in nonprofits related to education and microlending. Then he met Rawlings when he was campaigning for mayor. Veale was impressed and wrote to everyone he knew in town, telling them why they should vote for Rawlings. His letter got the attention of The Container Store co-founder Garrett Boone and his wife, Cecilia. Through the Boones, he met DISD trustee Mike Morath, who asked him to join the district’s technology advisory committee.
That student who thought he’d become a city manager was awakened. Veale says he “spent a lot of time sucking down data from the internet” and started running his own numbers, finding systemic problems with how the city is run. He saw, and sees, a city that cannot address infrastructure issues, that has the wrong priorities, that has no real source of incremental revenue other than raising taxes and drawing bad TIF districts. “I realized things are running amok here,” he says.
He started writing letters and meeting with city staff and City Council members to give them what he calls his spiel, which revolves around his virtuous cycle for attracting and retaining jobs and residents. And he’s gotten their attention. Councilman Philip Kingston says Veale’s contributions are “very valuable.” (This even after Veale invited Kingston to lunch to decide if he wanted to vote for him, made Kingston fill out a questionnaire, and ultimately supported someone else.)
Veale isn’t sure how much influence he actually has, not that he cares much. Early on, he set reasonable goals. “I decided, You know what, Mike? You might not get 100 percent of what you want, so what’s success, to keep you going?” he says. “And I thought, Well, if 5 percent of what you throw out there sticks on the wall, you’ve accomplished something.”