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Jim Schutze Won’t Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Conspiracy Theory

Photo by Allison V. Smith

Jim Schutze’s column this week is interesting. In it, he argues that politics has injected itself into the Police and Fire Pension System. Mayor Mike Rawlings wants the pension audited. According to Schutze’s conspiracy theory, Rawlings is giving the pension grief over its investments because he sides with the Nasher, which has no legal recourse in its fight over glare with the pension-owned Museum Tower. As evidence for his conspiracy theory, Schutze offers two exhibits: 1) a conversation that took place among the mayor and three members of two police associations, the details of which the two sides disagree on, and 2) the timing of the mayor’s request for an audit.

I’m going to ignore No. 1. As I say, the mayor and cops tell different stories about what happened. Let’s look at No. 2. Here’s what Schutze writes:

The first news organization in Dallas to raise serious questions about the financial underpinnings of the pension fund was the Dallas Observer, in a story by Anna Merlan published July 26, 2012. … Whatever the story accomplished, it was utterly ignored by city officials and by The Dallas Morning News until the sunburned sculpture garden came along.

After going over the discussion the mayor had with the police association guys, Schutze returns to the issue of timing. In sarcastically downplaying the timing of events, he writes:

Let’s even stipulate that the mayor and The Dallas Morning News just happened to be reading through old copies of the Observer and came across Merlan’s story at about the same time the sunburned sculpture garden story came along, entirely by sheer coincidence.

Schutze’s conspiracy theory goes like this: Merlan writes a great story about the pension’s high-risk real-estate bets. No one cares about said story. Then the issue of the glare off Museum Tower comes up. THEN the mayor and his buddies begin to care about the pension’s finances, because it’s the only way they can put pressure on the pension to fix the glare problem it has created.

There is one huge problem with this theory. Merlan’s story about the pension’s finances came out about four months after the glare issue became a matter of public debate. Michael Granberry was the first to publish a story about the glare, late on March 28, 2012. Now, Granberry only got there first because he caught wind that I was working on a story. Not sore about it. That’s just the way things go sometimes when you work for a monthly magazine with a long lead time. I was reporting the story for our May issue. We went ahead and posted the article sometime in early April, though the first time-stamped reference I can find is April 19. Then, of course, for the month of May, Schutze saw this cover image every time he went to Whole Foods for oat bran or whatever. Then June rolled by. Then most of July. And then the Observer published Merlan’s story.

Here’s what I find really hard to process. Between the publication of Granberry’s glare story and the publication of Merlan’s financial story, Schutze wrote six items about the glare coming off Museum Tower. In fact, Schutze and I were already fighting about the glare issue in late April.

What happened with Museum Tower is far less sexy than Schutze believes. The glare issue came up. In writing about the glare, I touched on the risky nature of the pension’s investments. Fine, if you want to say I did not “raise serious questions,” then I won’t quibble. Four months later, as the controversy continued to marinate, Merlan’s fine story advanced the ball. No question. And then city leaders started digging deeper into the pension’s finances, asking to see audits and so forth. It was a logical progression.

Schutze is a great writer. There is no one better in this city at taking a complex civic issue and building a narrative from it. But sometimes he falls in love with his own storytelling and that love leaves him blind to the facts.

  • Ted

    After the A. C. Gonzales salary story I’d be open to hearing why anything BUT conspiracy theories would be a good basis for evaluating decisions made by the City of Dallas.

  • Anonymous

    “Sometimes”?

    — Phelps

  • Wylie H Dallas

    The other issue, which I discussed in my response to Schutze’s column, is that the requirement for and timing of the actuarial review the City is attempting to undertake are dictated by State law.

  • Joe

    “I’m going to ignore No. 1. As I say, the mayor and cops tell different stories about what happened.”

    That doesn’t seem like a fair way to deal with the issue, does it? Are we now in a world where if the parties disagree about facts, we simply decided to ignore the issue?

    What I find interesting in this whole thing is how the two issues–(1) using pension funds for speculative real estate development; and (2) using politics to direct the investment of pension funds–are viewed as separate issues when they are in fact the same issue. Using pension funds for real estate investment necessarily makes the pension subject to political pressures because real estate development is all about political influence. Deals don’t get done in Dallas unless the right politicians sign off.

    It seems like the short answer to the debate is simple: the pension fund shouldn’t invest in real estate development in Dallas because doing so subjects the fund to complete disaster if you upset the wrong politicians. It doesn’t matter if the issue arises because you upset the rich arts crowd and the people who do their bidding or if you upset Southern Dallas politicians because you don’t give them a piece of the action. The result is the same and entirely predictable.

  • Tim Rogers

    Joe, that’s a pretty solid point. I know what the pension system would say: “We invest in Dallas projects because it creates jobs and contributes to the economic vitality of the place where our pensioners live.”

  • Wylie H Dallas

    I’ve heard Tettamant and Tomasovic make those points before, and that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the pension fund’s role. Its job is NOT to serve as an economic development agency. Instead, it has one mission: to prudently manage taxpayer and beneficiary contributions to maximize the value and safety of their retirement savings.

  • Tim Rogers

    Jeeze. That is SO boring!

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Exactly… It’s much more fun to engage in city/empire building, so long as others are picking up the tab.

  • Harley Crimson

    Why is it that all the journalist Tim bashes have fuller hairlines than he does? Schultze, Floyd, Blow etc. That might be a conspiracy theory we can all hang our hats on.

  • Anonymous

    And that answer illustrates the folly of allowing the pension to get involved in speculative real estate investments because doing so necessarily allows politics to play a role in investment decisions. For whom should the Pension create jobs? Where in Dallas should the Pension contribute to “economic vitality”? Embracing that argument effectively concedes how politicized making this type of investment necessarily becomes.

  • Tim Rogers

    Your conspiracy theory is easily shot down when you realize that EVERY journalist has a fuller hairline than I. Unless we’re talking beards. I’ve got J-Floyd beat in that department.

  • Harley Crimson

    Oh I agree with that. You and Scientology are experts in bearding.