Leading Off (4/23/14)

Preliminary Findings Show a Lack of Oversight Contributed to the West Explosion. Five days after the one-year anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion, the Chemical Safety Board released the initial findings of its investigation, stressing that the ammonium nitrate wasn’t handled properly and that this was a “preventable accident.” The federal agency has been criticized in the past for moving too slowly, and West Mayor Tommy Muska voiced disappointment in how long it’s taken to get “preliminary” results. The investigation is ongoing.

DISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted Ranked Best in the Country. That’s according to U.S. News and World Report’s latest ranking of the best high schools in the nation. At the Dallas magnet school, students must take 11 AP classes to graduate, and 100 percent of those graduates are ready for college.

Arlington Council: Leave Your Guns at Home (or in the Car). The council approved an ordinance Tuesday that bans weapons and “simulated weapons” in City Hall. Concealed handguns were already prohibited, but the new ordinance extends the ban to the antique black-power pistols, replica pistols, and long-barreled guns that can be openly carried in Texas.

Dallas Charter Review Commission in Favor of Raises for Mayor, Council Members. Eric Celeste recommended an even greater increase in the April issue of D Magazine, but the commission voted on a 20 percent pay hike for the mayor Tuesday night and a 32 percent increase for council members. That would take salaries to $71,864 and $49,530 respectively. A month remains before final recommendations must be submitted.

Plus, Holy Road Rage. Be careful out there.

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Former Dallas City Councilman Dave Neumann Did Not Get a Parking Ticket Today, and Likely Never Will

In May 2011, Scott Griggs unseated Dave Neumann for the District 3 slot on the Dallas City Council. Today, Dave Neumann left a downtown event, hopped into a car on Lamar Street, pulled a quick U-turn, and headed off.

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Leading Off (4/18/14)

Earthquake Rattles Northwest Dallas. The 2.5 on the Richter scale was centered near Northwest Highway and Interstate 35E. So what is it that the Pappas Bros have done to anger God? Or are the unholy goings-on at Ojos Locos to blame?

Mesh Mask Bandit Gets 20 Years. Former immigration activist Luis de la Garza had asked the judge for a shorter prison sentence, explaining that he’s eager to return to his community activism. “I want to be OK with my country, because this country has given me a lot of opportunities,” he said, wisely not mentioning that among those opportunities was the chance to commit 20 bank robberies.

Police Name Person of Interest in Deadly Hit-and-Run. Authorities are looking for 24-year-old Dagoberto Castanon in connection with the fatal crash that killed a 13-year-old boy in the M Streets on Tuesday. Castanon reportedly has an extensive criminal history and was even previously deported in October 2012.

UNT Misstated Finances by $23 Million. More money problems for the university, which has hired outside auditors to suss out the full extent of shortfalls that seem to have been hidden by questionable reporting.

Man Thrown From Bridge, Stuck in Mud. Dude gets kicked out of the car by his girlfriend along Interstate 30. A bunch of guys happen by in a van and offer him a lift. Then a little ways down the road, they pull over and throw him off a bridge. He falls the equivalent of two stories, can’t free himself from the mud, and has to call 911 to get him out. Dallas responders bring in the city of Wylie for assistance because Wylie has a hovercraft. Yes, I’ve buried the lede: Wylie has a hovercraft.

It’s Good Friday. One last round of Filet-O-Fish for all you Catholics.

UPDATE: You need to see Wylie’s hovercraft in action. (h/t @_paulknight)

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Leading Off (4/14/14)

One Year Later, Full Scope of Injuries From West Explosion Remain Unknown. The Dallas Morning News reports that the official government survey doesn’t account for people who were treated at private medical facilities as well as those whose injuries (brain injuries, hearing loss, PTSD) developed after the blast. Now, as safety regulations are up for discussion, and lawsuits are working their way through the system, the county is working to conduct a more comprehensive study.

Jordan Spieth Finishes Second at Masters. The 20-year-old from North Texas gave Bubba Watson a solid run for the green jacket but ultimately fell just short, finishing second in Augusta. He would have been the youngest person to ever win the Masters. From a quick Google search (my golf knowledge is not up to par), it looks like should Spieth win next year, he’ll share that record with Tiger Woods.

John Wiley Price Still Under Investigation, Still No Charges Filed. But the DMN is reporting that court documents in the federal investigation show decades of incidents and suspect dealings, stretching all the way back to the mid-1970s. Price is being accused of, among other things, money laundering, influence-peddling, and bankruptcy fraud.

Margaret Crow Dies at 94. The wife of real estate developer Trammell Crow, Margaret Crow was a philanthropist and, as Jeanne Prejean writes, had the kind of life story that makes for great movies. The Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art opened in 1998 in the Arts District. She passed away Friday at her home.

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Leading Off (4/11/14)

WFAA Frames DISD Home-Rule Debate as Race War. Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas ISD trustee Mike Morath are both supporting the effort to create a new charter to change how the school district is governed. They’re white, and they’ve implied that some elements of the school board  are standing in the way of DISD making important changes. Those three board members are African-American, and they accuse home-rule proponents of trying to erode minority representation. Morath fans the flames by saying things like ”this is not to say that race is not a factor … But to say that race is a dominant factor is missing the forest for the trees.”

The Watchers Don’t Like Being Watched. Dallas Police staff are putting out a warning to the city’s cops about a dangerous new threat to their safety: citizens on patrol with video cameras. Concerns were raised recently after a woman affiliated with a group called Cop Rock Cop Block was found to be following and taping an officer. Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association says such behavior could be a threat because police “don’t know who it is pulling behind us. We don’t know they’re there to videotape, they might be part of… if that guy has has just done a kidnapping they could be part of the kidnapping. You don’t know.” I also don’t know what he’s talking about, even if, yeah, I’m sure some of the folks recording the cops are just being jerks.

Man Sues Perot Museum After Accident. According to the suit, 74-year-old Myung Oh of Carrollton was leaving the museum in June 2013 when he fell on the steps and was left a quadriplegic.

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Conan O’Brien Removes Gun Violence From Comedy Bit After Fort Hood Tragedy

I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the taping of Conan O’Brien’s show on Wednesday afternoon at Dallas’ Majestic Theatre. Among the segments we saw live was a bit (which hasn’t been posted online) called “Let’s Mess With Texas,” in which a guy dressed in the shape of the state of Texas battled others dressed as (in order) California, Alaska and “his little buddy” Hawaii, and Florida.

Florida, O’Brien told the audience, was high on bath salts and wanted to eat Texas’ face off (a reference to this incident.) So Texas pulled out a gun and shot Florida dead.

In viewing the show last night on television, I was surprised to find that the ending had been changed.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: How to Make Money

Making money — literally recreating the paper dollars that we carry around in our wallets and trade for goods and services — is expensive. And it’s hard work. That’s my takeaway from the latest entry in our 40 Greatest Stories series, “Confessions of a Convicted Counterfeiter.”

James Brockman goes into detail about the technical hurdles he faced in trying to create his own versions of $10 and $20 bills. It was an obsession of his starting in childhood, and for years he worked to develop a technique that would yield passable currency. There’s something admirable about that level of commitment, even if it was to a criminal enterprise.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The First Muslim FBI Agent

Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was born and raised in Cairo, moved to the United States, was naturalized a U.S. citizen, and recruited by the FBI after he’d worked on a team translating evidence of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. As an agent, he was credited with getting confessions out of Al Qaeda members responsible for the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and members of a terrorist cell in Buffalo, New York. But then it all fell apart for him.

Two fellow agents accused him of being a traitor, saying that he’d refused to wear a wire to record other Muslims. An ABC News report and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly painted him as disloyal, implying that his actions had obstructed an investigation that could have prevented the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. He was suspended from the FBI (for unrelated accusations made by his former wife).

When Todd Bensman wrote about Abdel-Hafiz in the March 2007 issue of D Magazine — one of our 40 greatest stories — the agent had already been reinstated to his job but questions were raised by one former agent.

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Leading Off (3/21/14)

Dallas ISD Home-Rule Effort Continues Communication Struggles. Support Our Public Schools hosted three town hall meetings last night to address concerns and to gather petition signatures in support of DISD wresting control of its own affairs from the state. Our own Dan “Killer” Koller was at the Preston Royal library, where state Rep. Jason Villalba and City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates were among those presenting to an audience “packed in like sardines.” Dan says the event organizers deserve a failing grade for not allowing enough time to take questions or to have a true two-way discussion with those present.

Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued in John Wiley Price Case. A number of associates of the Dallas County commissioner have reportedly been summoned to testify in the FBI’s long-running corruption investigation. It was way back in June 2011 when agents seized $229,000 from Price’s home. This latest news is the first sign of activity in the case since last year.

Kennedale Coach Arrested For Filming Teachers Undressing. Jason Tomlinson allegedly installed a camera under sinks in two faculty bathrooms and captured footage of male and female colleagues using the bathroom, exposing their buttocks and genitals. The camera’s drive contained folders of videos categorized by teachers’ names and with ratings of “fine” or “good.”

Couple Gives Birth to Quintuplets at Baylor. It’s a record delivery for the Dallas hospital — five newborn babies. I already feel sorry for the one boy who’ll have to share his birthday with four sisters.

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Texas’ Marijuana Arrest Rates Are Even More Racist Than We Thought

Last summer we mentioned some of the findings of an ACLU study on the United States’ racially biased war on marijuana. The civil liberties organization has now launched a website that dumbs their facts down to a couple simple forms that allow users to compare states on the disparity between the number of black and white arrests for marijuana possession and to see how much each state spends annually on enforcing marijuana laws.

That spurred me to take another, closer look at the ACLU report.

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Leading Off (3/20/14)

New Computer System Leads to Fewer Warrants For Traffic Violators. According to Channel 8′s Byron Harris, the new system has led to a 98-percent decrease in the amount of warrants being issued for people that don’t pay traffic tickets. Harris then reminded the teacher that she forgot to give us any homework, as the class groaned.

Frisco Prohibits Pedestrians Using Medians. This comes after Ron Martin was arrested for standing in a median to warn drivers about speed traps, and then beat the case because they couldn’t figure out which city ordinance he was violating. So, they came up with one. Feels like a baby with the bathwater situation, but that’s just my gut reaction, which is never, ever wrong, ever.

Mavs Come Back From 22 Points Down, But Lose In Overtime. Ugh. This season may kill me.

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Can We Outlaw Adults Sending Sexts to Children?

Recently the case against a 30-year-old teacher in the Everman school district south of Fort Worth for exchanging sexually suggestive texts with a 13-year-old student was dropped by prosecutors. An appeals court in a similar case out of Houston had ruled that the statute with which the man had been charged was unconstitutional. The situation has led to calls from some corners for the legislature to craft a new law that would re-criminalize this behavior.

But Grits for Breakfasts writes that it’ll be difficult to do so without subverting that pesky First Amendment:

So if, as all nine members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, “everything” covered by the statute in question was “either already prohibited by other statutes … or is constitutionally protected,” I fail to see how the Lege can rewrite the law in a constitutional fashion. As the CCA noted, longstanding US Supreme Court precedents have held that “Sexual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment.”

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The Saddest Number in This New Study of the Dallas Sex Trade

In some of Dallas’ poorer neighborhoods, there are drug-addicted human beings willing to perform sexual acts in exchange for as little as $5 or $10.

That is the most heartbreaking of all the statistics and anecdotes to be found in the study released today by the Urban Institute. The Washington, D.C.-based policy research group examined the underground sex economy in seven American cities, including Dallas. They interviewed law enforcement officials, pimps, child pornographers, and sex workers familiar with the illegal goings-on in sketchy street corners, massage parlors, brothels, topless bars, and high-end escort services to suss out just how big an economic footprint the sex trade makes.

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