District 14 Dallas City Council member was officially reprimanded by the council after using his office to post a video on Facebook about a fundraiser.

By Ashley Stanley
Special Contributor

Dallas City Council members engaged in a lengthy discussion on Wednesday about the so-called “Kingston ethical lapse.” The body was charged with voting on a recommendation from the Ethics Advisory Commission to reprimand Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston for using his city office to film a campaign video — a clear violation of the ethics code recently approved by Kingston and his colleagues.

I was there hoping to come away with a story about economic development and performing arts because I attended a presentation at The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth the day before. I wanted to see how this meeting would go and what outrage might ensue, especially with the bond program vote concluded, which included funding to repair several cultural and arts facilities such as the Wyly Theater.  I missed the arts item, but I did hear enough to appreciate Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze’s bathroom-wall article posed early (4 a.m.!) this morning.

Schutze referred to his weekly paper as the dish. If that is true, then I write for the dirt! Councilmember Lee Kleinman called Kingston’s lapse “going too far” and said it was “just wrong,” according to a story in The Dallas Morning News by Tristan Hallman. I missed that part of the conversation, but I sat down in time to hear Councilman Adam Medrano (a personal friend of Kingston’s) say, “Philip made a dumb mistake.” Or did he? Who knows? Who cares? This meeting was all about Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway, and I heard every word from that dude. Council meetings with that guy in office are free, front-row tickets to the funny show.

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In reality, “discussion”was a pop quiz allowing organizers to check a “community involvement” box

My headline is a riff on yesterday’s Jim Schutze piece over at the Observer titled, “Flying Monkeys Shield State Fair Contract Just When it Should Be Set on Fire.” If last year’s citywide kerfuffle about the Fair Park sweetheart deal Mayor Rawlings tried to give pal Walt Humann, complete with a $20 million per year dowry, didn’t tick you off enough, Schutze ices that cake with a Powerball-size shaft State Fair has given Dallas taxpayers.  It’s not super long, go read it … I’ll wait.

Done? … Seriously, go read it … Yes, now … Sheesh!

Also in that piece was a snippet about the obfuscation the city is employing in seeking bids to take over the management of Fair Park (because evidence shows the city is too lazy and inept). That snippet had perfect timing since last night there was apparently the only community meeting the hired consultants will be having.

Who are those consultants?  ABI Dallas, also known as Alpha Business Images, which is owned by Sophia Johnson … the wife of Mayor Rawlings’ very, very well-connected advisor for south Dallas, Willis Johnson (Google him). Seems our mayor is unable to seek input beyond his earmarked Rolodex. First Humann (who attended last night’s meeting) now the Johnson’s.  Who’s next in the alphabet?

Ironically, it was Sophia Johnson herself who spoke about the “complete integrity” of the Fair Park process.

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It’s true: municipal bonds can help Dallas catch up on long-neglected infrastructure upgrades and repairs, but they can make projects cost more in the long run. (Photo: Luis Tamayo via flickr)

By Ashley Stanley
Special Contributor

City Council members were briefed last week about the Citizens Bond Task Force’s and city staff’s recommendations for an $800 million bond program that will appear on November’s ballot.

Stop what you are doing and ask yourself this question: “Do I know what a municipal bond is?” Allow me a minute or two to explain what they are and how they work in layman’s terms.

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Tax vs Income Chart Dallas 1

Our real estate market has never been better. North Texas sales were up 26% in November. Our median home price is now $230,000. Yeah, the trophy home sales are a little soft, but  our region saw some of the biggest property price/value increases in the country in September, just three months ago. We are up a whopping 8% year over year from 2015 (Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index) and only Seattle, Portland and Denver have bigger price gains. We are among the top U.S. cities with the greatest annual home price gains. Nationwide, prices were only up 5.5 percent from 2015. Says Standard & Poors:

“Other housing indicators are also giving positive signals: sales of existing and new homes are rising and housing starts at an annual rate of 1.3 million units are at a post-recession peak,” S&P’s David Blitzer said in the report. “We are currently experiencing the best real estate returns since the bottom in July of 2012.”

Dallas-area home prices are up over 30 percent from the pre-recession high in mid-2007, according to Case-Shiller.

But I am still terrified. And confused. All this could be wiped out by the absolute Class A disaster going on down at City Hall: figuring out how to save the Police and Fire Pension plan. Which has been around since the mid 1990’s. Did everyone just ignore the problems up until now? (Including me — wasn’t on my radar.) And where is the tax revenue on all these gains going? I sat at City Hall in late August and heard, with my own ears, Mayor Rawlings say there was “room in the budget”.

Could this be the next perceived nail in the Dallas real estate coffin? “Bad schools, bad taxes, let’s look in the ‘burbs.”

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dallas-skyline (1)

Above the fold, which means full media attention: the NYT story heads that  “Dallas is staring down a Texas-sized bankruptcy”, and it opines how the city with “the fastest economic growth of the nation’s 13 largest cities” could be, well, Detroit. Yeah, good question.

Its streets hum with supersize cars and its skyline bristles with cranes. Its mayor is a former chief executive of Pizza Hut. Hundreds of multinational corporations have chosen Dallas for their headquarters, most recently Jacobs Engineering, which is moving to low-tax Texas from pricey Pasadena, Calif.

But under its glittering surface, Dallas has a problem that could bring it to its knees, and that could be an early test of America’s postelection commitment to safe streets and tax relief: The city’s pension fund for its police officers and firefighters is near collapse and seeking an immense bailout.

If you live in Dallas, and if you own property here, you should be concerned. Damn concerned. This is like having your house in pre-foreclosure. As the article points out, the city cannot double our property taxes overnight to make up the shortfall, state law prevents that. Mike Rawlings recently went to the state asking for help (money) and the state basically said, um no. He also floated talk of a 130% tax increase to stave off bankruptcy. We can be damn straight sure there will be zero property tax cuts in the future.

What is so amazing to me is that the last City Council meeting I went to, the briefing by Walt Humann for the handover of Fair Park, everyone was sitting around that big horseshoe table talking about a SURPLUS. And in that SURPLUS was enough money to fix up Fair Park, $7 million plus a year. And more high fancy stuff! The house is in pre-foreclosure, I’m going to go jewelry shopping!

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White people on their annual pilgrimage to Fair Park

While the Dallas City Council — well, at least the three appointed Council members Mayor Rawlings asked to work on it — are busy re-shaping the Fair Park proposal that was presented to the entire Council by Walt Humann on August 29, others are still trying to slow the train. The City Council meets on September 21 to finalize the changes, accept or reject the plan. Word is the vote will be 10 for, 5 against.

Mayor Rawlings is now comparing Fair Park to Obamacare. “President Obama said “we gotta get health care done” and then he powered through it”…  that’s how Rawlings wants to “power through” Fair park Care.

Last Saturday morning, a lively panel discussion about Fair Park took place at Paul Quinn College sponsored by the African American Leadership Institute and state senator Royce West.

At the podium were Mayor Rawlings, Walt Humann, Don Williams, Royce West, John Wiley Price and Michael Phillips (author of White Metropolis). The panel was said to be full of fireworks.

Well, now you can take a look for yourself. We’ve posted some of the shorter videos here. You can clearly see that the audience was not pleased with the Mayor’s plan. Listen for the applause after Don Williams spoke. Folks like the notion of getting a park first and serious economic development underway, not just more low paying jobs mowing lawns etc. John Wiley Price –yes! — was amazing. Oh and the 800 lb. gorilla was mentioned, too.

But my favorite part was how Mike Rawlings compared the urgency for getting this plan shoved through to Obamacare: sometimes you just have to get ‘her done. Even if it turns out to be as messed up as Obamacare.

 

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Panel 8.1.16

[Editor’s Note: We’re hosting a robust conversation about the future of Fair Park here on CandysDirt.com ahead of the 8:30 a.m., Aug. 4 City of Dallas Park Board meeting that could help decide the iconic landmark’s fate.]

UPDATE: We have the entire agenda, including the unabridged version of the Walt Humann proposal for managing Fair Park, embedded at the end of this piece.

If you care about the fate of Fair Park, you may want to show up to the Park Board meeting this Thursday. Or at least read the 20-year, $12 million management contract that the Park Board will be voting on.

Park Board Agenda

Monday night’s panel discussion on Fair Park and the potential Park Board vote on Walt Humann’s management contract filled the Hall of State (around 300 attendees.) Despite Mayor Mike Rawlings’ last-minute press conference Monday afternoon to “make sure everybody knows the exact truth of what’s happened,” that everyone’s behind this approach (a private firm managing Fair Park), that the Park Board has been talking to Walt for two years, and “now it’s time to vote.” It was all too dismissive of the community meeting scheduled for later in the day.

The community meeting was organized in less than 1 week, in response to the July 21st Park Board special work session meeting where board members walked out (see about minute 31 of the meeting) in objection to the truncated meeting agenda which limited a thorough discussion on the proposed management contract.  They are expected to vote on the management contract at the upcoming meeting at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, which would then set it up for a city council vote. To enact the management contract for the next fiscal year, the agreement would need to be passed through council before next year’s budget is approved in September. These boards meet once a month, and the council meets twice a month with time required to put items on the agendas … you see the rush.

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