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Local News

Surprise! In-Fighting on Dallas Council Actually Brings Progress on Vaccinations

| 1 day ago

The city of Dallas is receiving 5,000 vaccine doses from the state next week, allowing fire department paramedics to vaccinate members of the public for the first time.

The city is also establishing its own vaccine registration sites to help sign up residents who may lack a computer or internet access, or who are just unaware that they need to register with the county. Prior to this, the state had only provided vaccine doses to the county, outside of some for EMTs and other first responders. Now city employees will take a more proactive role in the distribution of the vaccine as well as signing up residents for appointments.

There are now two city registration efforts working independently of one another: a more grassroots-style sign-up push led by individual council members and another approved by the mayor’s office that is being promoted as more intentional and targeted but may take more time, perhaps days, to set up and execute.

The bitter memos written by council members that led to these two initiatives have also triggered a specially called City Council meeting on Monday night. Council members Chad West, Adam Bazaldua, and Paula Blackmon requested the meeting and will “urge the mayor … to designate the city manager as the emergency management coordinator.” The council members also want clarity on the city’s plan to administer the vaccines to the public; they say they have not been briefed. The city says it will use the existing Dallas County registration database and prioritize residents based on recommendations from the state and federal governments. Dallas-Fire Rescue paramedics will administer the doses at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

This is the latest conflict between the mayor and a bloc of council, but, rather ironically, the split this time might generate more resources for the public. We just had to walk through mud to get here.

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Law

How Hospitals Are Asking the Legislature To Enhance Insurance Coverage

| 1 day ago

The Texas Hospital Association is advocating for expanded health coverage, improved Medicaid reimbursement rates, and increased behavioral health funding as the 87th Texas Legislature convenes this month. 

The pandemic has created massive revenue shortfalls that could total $4.6 billion, so the ask for increased funding may be a tall order. Still, THA officials are optimistic that the health challenges wrought from the pandemic will increase the likelihood of advancing their goals. 

Medicaid expansion has become a dirty word for many of those with the power to bring bills to the Texas Legislature floor, even with ample evidence that expanding coverage could boost the state’s revenue. For several years, Texas has led the nation in the number (5 million), and rate (18 percent) of uninsured residents, and expanding the eligibility for Medicaid would not only give vulnerable populations access to regular healthcare, but decrease the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals to uninsured residents who have nowhere to go but the emergency room.

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Local News

Leading Off (1/22/21)

| 1 day ago

Feds Nab Another North Texas Capitol Rioter. Noah Bernard Cooke documented his time inside the Capitol using a GoPro and posted the footage to TikTok and Instagram. At least three tips to the FBI came in, and it was a matter of time before they took him into custody. He is charged with acts during civil disorder, unlawful activities on Capitol grounds, entering or remaining on restricted buildings or grounds, and disorderly or disruptive conduct in or near restricted buildings or grounds. Cooke lived in Savoy, east of Sherman. He spoke to agents during a search of his home, in which he admitted to banging on a window at the Capitol with a flagpole but denied entering the building. He’s at least the fifth person in Dallas-Fort Worth to be arrested.

Eviction Moratorium Extended. The Biden administration has extended the national moratorium on evictions through the end of March. Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, and Denton counties are also getting expanded rental assistance efforts beginning on Feb. 1. Meanwhile, there were 1,978 new coronavirus infections in Dallas County yesterday, along with 27 deaths. The county has used all of its vaccine at Fair Park for the week, which means another 9,000 doses will come on Monday. Judge Clay Jenkins says 18,500 have been vaccinated there in the past two weeks.

Some Southlake Parents Push Back Against Diversity Plan. It has been two years since a video was made public of White students shouting the N-word at a party in Southlake. And after the school district came up with a diversity plan, a group of organized White parents have made their distaste known. Now, the city’s problems have gone national: NBC News goes deep into the matter, profiling Robin Cornish, the wife of the late Cowboys lineman Frank Cornish, and the racism her family has endured there for years. More videos have surfaced, and racial slurs were spray painted at Carroll High School. Some residents formed a political action committee and raised more than $100,000 to fight the plan. Texas Republican Party chair Allen West has spoken out against it at a church in town and a mayoral candidate seems to support it. Meanwhile, the plan is now stuck in litigation.

Foggy Morning Today, Likely Stormy Weekend Ahead. No rain is in the forecast today, but expect some spotty showers and heavy clouds tomorrow. A storm system moves into town Sunday evening into Monday, bringing a threat of severe storms once the sun goes down. Highs are in the upper 50s through the weekend.

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Local News

Dallas Political Battles Further Complicate Fair Vaccine Distribution

| 2 days ago

If you live in Dallas and hope to get the COVID-19 vaccine soon, good luck. Bureaucracy and infighting are in far greater supply.

The mayor is at odds with the county judge and members of the City Council over how to register residents for vaccinations. The state of Texas has threatened the County Commissioners Court with pulling the Fair Park mega center’s vaccine supply, which triggered an emergency meeting to kill an order. And members of the City Council allege the mayor is making it harder to get people living in poor neighborhoods signed up for appointments. It has been a mess.

It started with the vaccination center at Fair Park. The county wants people to register to get their spot, a message that hasn’t been effectively communicated to underserved neighborhoods in southern parts of the city. So when the registry launched, three weeks ago, residents from more affluent parts of town flooded it. That led county commissioners to pass an order that would prioritize residents vulnerable to the virus in 11 underserved ZIP codes, nine of which are south of Interstate 30 and east of Interstate-45 — which in turn led the state to threaten to pull vaccine allotments. Commissioners were forced to rescind the order Wednesday night. (Those 11 ZIP codes were chosen because they ranked high on the county health department’s vulnerability index or were identified by Parkland as the county’s most inequitably served.)

The state allows local governments to prioritize appointments, but they can’t make those decisions without a robust registry. While about 319,000 people have signed up to get the vaccine, county officials say the vast majority of those are from ZIP codes with plenty of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and hospitals. Fair Park’s center was set up to prioritize residents in a part of town that lacks such infrastructure. About 90 percent of the county’s vaccines are actually going to hospitals and clinics that are largely concentrated north of downtown. Including Fair Park, there are just eight providers that have received vaccine between I-45 and Balch Springs below I-30.

In an interview Thursday, County Judge Clay Jenkins said just 27,000 people had registered from those 11 underserved ZIP codes, which are home to about 600,000 residents.

“You can prioritize, but you can’t exclude,” Jenkins said. “We can’t be prescriptive in our order, but we can talk about the need for prioritization.”

Jenkins noticed this problem last week and started reaching out to churches and community leaders to encourage residents from poorer neighborhoods to go to Fair Park. He began vaccinating walk-ups, which was in contrast to the original plan. The mayor learned about Jenkins’ move and got upset, arguing that it was tantamount to special treatment and a policy change that should have been OKed with the city prior to implementation. He even threatened to pull the city’s public health contract with the county.

Here is the problem: those 319,000 people who have signed up on the vaccine registry represent a small fraction of the county’s 2.6 million residents. The state doles out vaccines but local agencies are responsible for getting them into people’s arms. The state has now begun to prioritize hubs like the Fair Park mega-center, which last week received about 9,000 doses. There are now 77 hubs across the state, up from 28 last week. As reported by national outlets yesterday, there was no federal plan to help sort all this out. Local governments have to navigate local politics to get the job done. It isn’t always going smoothly.

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Local News

Highland Park Has a New Academic Rival: DISD’s Solar Prep School for Girls

| 2 days ago

Out of the gate, Solar Preparatory School for Girls was a gamble. It was 2016, just a year since Michael Hinojosa returned as the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. He was rolling out a single-gender desegregation pilot school, the brainchild of the reform team assembled by the previous superintendent, Mike Miles. Miles’ tenure had been so contentious some might say executing on his legacy was an act of courage. Hinojosa was undeterred.

The single gender approach was not altogether new. Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School launched in 2004 and the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy opened in 2011. Both had built solid track records. But the economic integration model, instituted by Miles’ Office of Transformation and Innovation (OTI), had not been tested in Dallas.

Solar Prep would serve a split of students: 50 percent of low-income families in the district, and 50 percent from middle-to-high income families. It was desegregation not by race, but disparate socio-economic experiences. One of the DISD’s “choice” pilots, Solar was designed to lift opportunities for the district’s low-income and socially disadvantaged students and, as a secondary benefit, bring middle class families back into the public school system. Another fundamental element: admission would be impossible to game. Aside from engineering a mix of socio-economic circumstances, enrollment would be based on a lottery system.

Co-founders Dr. Nancy Bernadino and the late Jennifer Turner were optimistic. Bernadino was raised in Pleasant Grove and attended The Hockaday School on scholarship. She wanted to replicate that experience in a STEM* program for public school girls. The all-female launch team had personally experienced gender bias in different academic settings. This resonated with the data produced by the Girl Scouts of the USA, showing that most girls in co-ed schools “lose their voice” by 5th grade. At the same time, the Socio-Economic Status (SES) model advanced by the OTI had been tried in a handful of the 14,000 public school districts across the country, and in each case both disadvantaged kids and those from the middle class experienced a win.

Still, no one was betting, three years down the road, that Solar’s academic achievement among third and fourth graders would approach those attending Highland Park ISD, the richest, and arguably most privileged, district in Texas. Which is why Solar’s 2019 STAAR Achievement Test scores are on the high side of remarkable.

Take a look.

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Public Health

The Annual Homeless Count Is On, But You Can’t Participate

| 2 days ago

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance usually schedules the annual point-in-time homeless count for a cold night in January, when many of those experiencing homelessness are in shelters. But for those residents who aren’t housed, hundreds of volunteers divide Dallas and Collin counties into sections, driving and walking through neighborhoods to count and survey unsheltered individuals. 

These point-in-time counts are federally mandated for any local government receiving U.S. Housing and Urban Development grants to combat homelessness. Questionnaires help cities get a census, but also better understand the situations and needs of those who are living on the streets. They ask whether the individual is a member of a family unit or by themselves. These identify the number of chronically homeless as well as houseless individuals with disabilities. The questionnaires also can help local governments find these people again later.

Cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco have canceled or postponed their point-in-time counts, even as the number of those experiencing homelessness has swelled due to COVID-19. In Dallas, according to the MDHA, the monthly increase in homelessness was 165 people, more than the same increase last year. Because the city has been able to house more people due to increased funding from the CARES act, the increased number of homeless coming into the system may not result in a net gain of those experiencing homelessness. The count will help clear that up.

Between 2019 and 2020, the total number of those experiencing homelessness declined for the first time in three years, though the number of unsheltered homeless increased. In 2020, the point-in-time count identified 4,471 people experiencing homelessness, a decrease of 1.4 percent from the year before. Dallas and Collin counties saw increases of 9 percent each of the previous two years. Unsheltered individuals, which are the people who were found outside of shelters, increased from 1,153 in 2019 to 1,211 in 2020, a jump of just over 10 percent.

Counting involves gathering with strangers and packing into cars. So MDHA officials changed how the count will occur. First, the date has been moved. Cities waited so long for guidance from the federal government about how the count should proceed that the organization didn’t have time to plan it in January. The count will begin February 18. Instead of the normal 1,700 volunteers, the count will be done by street outreach professionals. It will take two weeks to complete.

The smaller group of professionals won’t cover the entire city but will focus on areas where homeless camps are known to be, based on past counts and other outreach efforts. Though the count will take over two weeks, they will be asking where the resident was sleeping on February 18 to get a point-in-time count. They will also be asking a truncated set of questions to decrease the amount of time spent together.

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Local News

Leading Off (1/21/21)

| 2 days ago

In One of His Last Presidential Acts, Trump Commutes Sentences for Dallas Attorney’s Two Clients. Brittany K. Barnett, a former corporate attorney with Winstead and former associate general counsel with Orix, co-founded The Buried Alive Project to obtain clemency for nonviolent drug offenders who have been sentenced to life without parole under outdated federal laws. You can hear Terry Gross’ fascinating interview with her here. Barnett found out yesterday that Trump commuted the sentences of two of her clients–Chris Young, a 32-year-old Tennessee man, and Ferrell Scott, a 58-year-old Dallasite, both of whom were being held in Beaumont. Scott was 13 years into a life sentence issued under mandatory sentencing guidelines that have since been found to be unconstitutional. Joe Exotic, the “Tiger King,” and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton were not included on the list of pardons and commutations.

Gas Leak in Old East Dallas Forces at Least 200 to Evacuate. Dallas Fire-Rescue was alerted around 1 p.m. yesterday about the smell of natural gas at Willow Street and Exposition Avenue. The source was ultimately identified as a 4-inch gas main near the intersection. Residents were allowed to return to their homes around 5 p.m. after the gas line was clamped and the fumes had dissipated.

Dallas County Reports 3,469 New Coronavirus Cases and 30 Deaths. “While these are concerning numbers, and I hope the number of new cases and deaths decreases very soon,” said County Judge Clay Jenkins in a written statement Wednesday, “I am thankful we’ve been able to vaccinate almost 15,000 individuals at the Fair Park mega-vaccine clinic since last week, with thousands of more scheduled for today.” But another kink in the plan to get Dallas’ most vulnerable populations vaccinated was introduced yesterday, when the state effectively forced county commissioners to rescind a decision to focus vaccinations on the county’s 11 most vulnerable zip codes. So far, based on limited county data, it appears that a large proportion of the shots have been given to residents of mostly White and affluent neighborhoods despite the purposeful location of the vaccination site south of I-30, but Jenkins had expressed concern that the proposed remedy might not be legal. The Texas Department of State Health Services later clarified that the county and health providers can, and are encouraged to, prioritize vulnerable populations, but they cannot do so to the exclusion of geographical regions without risking their designation as a state-approved vaccine hub provider. County commissioners plan to revisit the issue later this week.

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Urbanism

Dallas’ New Mobility Plan Admits That Walking Here Is Dangerous

| 3 days ago

The city of Dallas owns and maintains about 4,400 miles of sidewalk, but only 1,200 of those miles are undamaged or unobstructed. A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that judges how safe cities are for pedestrians says Dallas is more than twice as dangerous as the national average, scoring us just outside the 20 most unsafe cities for walking in America.

In considering parking requirements for proposed developments, the city only takes into account what it means for people in cars, not giving any special favor to projects that may encourage the use of public transit or actually reduce the need for a vehicle. Meanwhile, about half of all fatal and severe vehicular crashes occur on just 8 percent of Dallas’ streets, split between the denser core of downtown, Uptown, and Oak Lawn and the high-speed, six-lane arterials you can find all over town. In 2019, 174 people died in traffic-related incidents and another 920 were seriously injured.

These statistics come from the city’s first-ever mobility plan, a project that has been in the works since the Department of Transportation was reorganized, in 2018. Until now, the city has not formally attempted to account for how transportation policies affect pedestrian safety, as well as land use and economic development. Back in 1991, the city considered the very bad idea of widening Harry Hines to eight lanes through the Medical District. By contrast, this plan calls for the opposite: traffic-calming measures where possible and improved infrastructure to make it safer for folks to get around without a vehicle.

This mobility plan, which was unveiled yesterday in a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting, is called Connect Dallas. It identifies some of the city’s transportation problems and provides guidance to prioritize spending on projects that will make it easier and safer for people to walk, bike, and use public transportation. “It really lays out the foundation for other elements such as housing, economic development, and equity and how all of them connect together,” said Majed Al-Ghafry, an assistant city manager. He called it “the framework for how we move forward … in terms of funding strategy.”

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Local News

Leading Off (1/20/21)

| 3 days ago

Dallas County Changes Course on Vaccine Distribution. County commissioners approved a new plan yesterday that will prioritize vaccine distribution for residents of the 11 county ZIP codes that health officials have identified as the most affected by COVID-19. Commissioners were concerned that early vaccine distribution had disproportionately gone to residents of wealthy White ZIPs with fewer documented cases of the virus. County Judge Clay Jenkins abstained from the vote and later expressed his fears that the new order largely prohibits vaccines to be distributed to residents outside those ZIPs, regardless of age or health condition, and questioned its legality. The county reported 1,589 new cases and 16 new deaths.

Some Schools Resist Showing Presidential Inauguration. Plano, Southlake Carroll, and Keller ISDs are among the Texas districts that may not allow students to watch today’s inauguration, with some superintendents citing concerns about students witnessing violence in real-time and others seemingly concerned that the country’s once-peaceful transfer of power (not so much anymore) will be construed as overly partisan. Meanwhile, in his final hours as president, Donald Trump released a lengthy list of pardons, including the commuting of the sentence of James Brian Cruz, a Dallas man halfway through a 40-year sentence for a drug crime whom supporters describe as a peacemaker in prison who has had an outsized effect on the lives of fellow inmates.

Son Sheltered Fugitive Father for More Than a Dozen Years. In 2008, Yaser Said shot and killed his two teenage daughters in a suspected honor killing and left their bodies in a taxi cab outside an Irving hotel. He then sought help from his son, Islam Said, who helped hide his father for more than a decade inside a Bedford apartment and, later, a home in Justin. Yaser Said was finally arrested last August, and Islam Said now faces up to 30 years in prison for sheltering his father, who made his way onto the FBI’s most wanted list.

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Dining Dispatch

Klyde Warren’s Safe Bet on Mi Cocina Picks a Tex-Mex Fight

| 4 days ago

Klyde Warren Park news as of late tends to ruffle feathers. At the end of last year, the downtown Dallas park announced a forthcoming multimillion dollar water fountain, drawing mixed reactions and hefty criticism. The latest dispatch from the downtown park: Dallas chain Mi Cocina will serve its Tex-Mex and Mambo Taxis to parkgoers and nearby urbanites this fall.

Known henceforth as Mi Cocina on the Park, it replaces the glass-walled Savor, which closed in August after seven years at Klyde Warren. Mi Cocina’s newest outpost has a target opening date of September 1.

As with philanthropist Nancy Best’s fountain announcement, Mi Cocina at Klyde Warren has its share of skeptics already. Some folks online have called the team-up disappointing and predictable. Park boosters liken it to an addition to Central Park; others say it’s more like an Olive Garden in New York City’s Times Square. Klyde Warren Park president Kit Sawers isn’t deterred. “One of the things that, frankly, is most exciting to me, especially being from Dallas, is that people care about this place so much. When people care about a place, they’re going to express their opinions,” she told SideDish. 

There were several contenders, including over a dozen local operators, that Klyde Warren’s powers that be had considered. Sawers says there were myriad reasons they eventually went with M Crowd restaurant group’s Mi Cocina.

“It’s an iconic Dallas brand and so is Klyde Warren Park. So that was a good fit. We liked the fact that Mi Cocina was so family focused across all generations, and frankly, across all different socio-economic brackets; people go to the Mi Cocina throughout the community. We also liked the fact that it was a bigger company who could expand when we had events in the park and be able to serve cocktails or little snacks in addition to what our food trucks have during our larger events. Also, probably the biggest reason is we did a lot of surveys of parkgoers and via our newsletter and with our friends groups, and Mi Cocina was the one restaurant that was mentioned over and over again by name as being a perfect fit…because of the price point and for all different reasons. So we feel like a lot of ways we’re just providing with the community requested.”

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: Art Has Always Been Part of the City

| 4 days ago

Art and artists have always been part of the Dallas landscape, and the Dallas Public Library photograph collections have examples of how cultural offerings helped shape the city. The following photographs are some of the images of the arts I have encountered in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Collection and are available through the library’s online catalog.

The late Dmitri Vail shows his paintings and photographs in 1952. Expatriate German artist George Grosz visited Dallas to create a series called “Impressions of Dallas” on behalf of Leon Harris, Jr., vice president of the A. Harris and Company department store. Sculptor Horace Foxall and his works are depicted as part of the Marion Butts collection, as well. The Dallas Public Library’s historic connection to Dallas art is represented by photographs such as the Art Room of the original 1901 Carnegie Library, the contents of which later helped form the Dallas Museum of Art.

Classroom art instruction, art competitions, and influential artists like Everett Spruce and Ruth Uhler are among these historic photographs. Prominent public sculptures occupy other photographs. Take a look in the gallery below.

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Local News

Leading Off (1/19/21)

| 4 days ago

COVID Update. Because of the MLK Jr. holiday, we don’t have new case numbers for Dallas County. So let’s share some positive news, shall we? According to data from the state, 83,577 people in Dallas County have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, and 14,789 people are fully immunized. (Though it should be noted that an early look at who is getting the vaccine shows that more folks from North Dallas and University Park are getting the shots, and some folks aren’t happy that the Fair Park vaccine site was closed yesterday.)

David Kunkle Has Neurological Disorder. This story published Sunday, but it deserves your attention if you haven’t yet read it. Robert Wilonsky came out of retirement to write about Kunkle, the former Dallas police chief, and his wife, Sarah Dodd. The couple bravely shared their struggles with Kunkle’s diagnosis of Lewy body dementia.

Mavericks Drop Third Straight. Last season, the Mavs were the only team that didn’t lose three games in a row at some point. Last night, they did it, falling to the Raptors 116-93. Also, Rick Carlisle got ejected, and Tim Hardaway Jr. went 0-12 from the field. Tough one, buddy.

Wylie Man Arrested for Breaking in to Capitol. The FBI has accused Guy Reffitt of obstruction of justice and unlawful entry. When he started to feel the heat, he told his family, “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors. Traitors get shot.”

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