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Leading Off (5/15/15)

City Likely to Dispose of Plastic-Bag Fee. Several companies have sued Dallas over the ordinance that requires retailers to charge customers a 5-cent fee for the use of plastic bags, which went into effect at the beginning of this year. So now five city council members have signed a memo calling for the repeal of the measure, while five others have expressed support for an all-out ban of plastic bags instead. A ban is expected to have a better chance of being upheld by a court than does the fee.

Mesquite Man Charged With Lying to Feds About ISIS Allegiance. Bilal Abood, 37, allegedly traveled to Syria to support the Islamic State.

The Amazing Race Finishes in Dallas. The season finale of the CBS reality TV competition, in which teams of two race around the world, airs tonight at 7 p.m. It’s the second time the million-dollar winner has been crowned in North Texas. (Season 5, back in 2004, ended in Trammell Crow Park.) Based on the preview at the end of last week’s episode, the teams fly from Peru to Dallas-Fort Worth, head to JerryWorld for some sort of football skills competition, travel to Johnson County to play cowboy, and rappel down Reunion Tower before hitting the final mat on the Continental Avenue Bridge. All this fun was filmed on a Saturday, December 6. As a fan of the show, I can tell you that the woman featured in the sneak-peek clip above is just about the most insufferable human you could imagine being stuck with on an international globe-trotting adventure, and her poor partner is maybe the most patient man on the planet. They are one of several teams who were forced to contend with this season’s gimmick. They were matched on a “blind date” and never met until embarking on the race. Because of the way the footage of their difficulties has been edited all race long, I’m expecting them to win it all. The Hyatt Regency (attached to Reunion Tower) is hosting a watch-party.

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Leading Off (5/14/15)

Head Shop Owners Arrested Over K2 Sales. Last summer DEA agents seized cash, cars, and synthetic marijuana from the Gas Pipe and its owners. Yesterday, those owners, Gerald “Jerry” Shults and his daughter, Amy Lynn Herrig, were arrested and charged with conspiring to sell the substance known as K2. Both Shults and Herrig are in federal custody and deny the allegations.

Van Mayor Criticized for Golfing. The city of Van was devastated by a tornado a few days ago. So people are pretty upset that mayor Dean Stone missed a scheduled press conference yesterday to play golf. Not a great look.

Some Places Have More Home Burglaries Than Others. The fine folks at our local CBS affiliate put together a map of the which zip codes in North Texas have the most home burglaries. Bad news for the people in East Fort Worth, Southeast Dallas, and East Plano.

District Attorney Will Hold Town Hall Meeting in Pleasant Grove. In anticipation of tonight’s forum, the Dallas Morning News put out a long-ish story rehashing the paper’s editorial complaints about Susan Hawk, which have more to do with her not answering the paper’s questions about her time in rehab than any specific policies or cases. There’s mention of what seems like a minor car accident and an unfiled financial report, and there are no fewer than 12 references (not counting the headline) to Hawk not answering questions or not commenting for the story. This is what it looks like when newspaper reporters don’t get the interview they were hoping for.

Oh Man I Miss Ron Washington. The former Texas Rangers manager, who resigned last Fall, has apparently been helping out with the University of New Orleans baseball team, in his hometown. Yesterday the 62-year-old Washington was spotted in the UNO dugout wearing a bright orange shirt that read MY BUCKET LIST: 1. Beer 2. Ice. In other news, the Rangers beat the Royals.

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Leading Off (5/11/2015)

North Texas Sees More Severe Weather. I was driving very urgently back from Austin on I-35 yesterday and beat the storm moving into Italy and Hillsboro by about 20 minutes. I felt like the Millennium Falcon bursting out of the exploding wreckage of the Death Star. But seriously, the brief tornado that hit Denton did some damage, while the one that went through Cisco, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth, killed at least one person. Flooding is still a danger.

Mayor Mike Rawlings Wins Second Term. Rawlings won handily, beating challenger Marcos Ronquillo with three-quarters of the vote. Three sitting City Council members who support the Trinity tollroad won re-election, but Carolyn King Arnold and Mark Clayton, who ran as opponents of the tollroad, won crowded races in District 4 and District 9, respectively. Until the runoff election in June to decide the four remaining seats, the Council is split 6-6 on all things Trinity Parkway.

High-Speed Rail Plan At Risk. A last minute addition to the state budget bill, made by State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), would effectively kill the private plan for a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas by limiting the involvement of the Texas Department of Transportation in the project past the environmental study phase. Neither Mayor Mike or the new mayor of Arlington are pleased.

Irving Doctor Indicted In $5 Million Fraud Scheme. Dr. Hector Molina, of Molina Medical Housecall Services, and his associate, Blanca Mata, who is not a doctor, were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and health care fraud. Allegedly, since 2012, Molina has been billing Medicare for home visits made by Mata (again, not a doctor) as visits he had made. Molina also billed for home visits he claimed he made in Dallas while he was out of the country. Happily, he has been found out.

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Leading Off (5/8/15)

Apocalypse Now? Thursday night and early Friday morning brought North Texas tornadoes and flooding, tens of thousands without power, a train derailment that sent two locomotives into a creek, a gas well fire possibly caused by a lightning strike, and the biggest earthquake these parts have ever seen.

FBI Sent Warning About Gunman. Just hours before Sunday’s attack outside an anti-Muslim cartoon contest, the feds alerted Garland cops that Elton Simpson might show up, though the local police spokesman says officers on the scene “had no idea, no information” that Simpson and his accomplice were on their way.

Saturday Is Election Day. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Precinct locations found here. Vote if you haven’t already. Peter already did a fine job of guilting you into it.

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Leading Off (5/6/15)

White House Investigating Possible ISIS Link in Garland Shooting. As Jason told you yesterday, ISIS is claiming credit for the attack this weekend in Garland. A White House spokesman said it was too early to say if the Islamic State was involved. Sen. Ted Cruz, ever the Obama fan, says federal officials should have intercepted the gunmen before they reached the anti-Muslim event in Garland. Meanwhile, the mother of one of the gunmen says she’s glad her son didn’t kill anyone. And a reporter remembers living next door to the same gunman.

Grand Jury Will Review Grapevine Police Shooting. In February Ruben Garcia Villalpando was shot and killed by a Grapevine police officer along the side of the road. The district attorney hasn’t released video of the shooting, saying it might compromise a criminal investigation. But the Lewisville police have released video from an arrest in December 2014, when Garcia Villalpando’s blood alcohol level was .30, nearly four times the legal limit to drive. Though clearly inebriated, he is also calm and cooperative. The CBS I-Team also looked into the background of Robert Clark, the officer who shot Garcia Villalpando. Clark was an officer at DFW for less than a year when he quit, and wasn’t hired at least one other force because of “deception and lack of moral turpitude.”

UNT Basketball Player Found Dead in Dorm. Eboniey Jeter was a 6’0 redshirt sophomore forward. She was discovered in her Mozart Hall dorm room yesterday morning. Her cause of death is still pending.

Carbon Monoxide Leak in South Oak Cliff. Several ambulances were deployed. At least five people were transported to the hospital, though officials believe the conditions are not life-threatening. The main suspect: a boiler room leak.

Domestic Abusers Must Turn Over Guns. Officials began confiscating firearms from convicted batterers yesterday in what is being called the most comprehensive program of its kind in the state — and possibly the country. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any opposition.

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Why We Should Listen to Laura Miller’s Solution to the Scott Griggs Accusations

I was grateful that my weekend was mostly spent writing a story for the upcoming print edition about a good kid who catches a lucky break and makes the most of it. It was a rosier plot line than the one that unfolded over the weekend as city council member Scott Griggs was charged with a felony for threatening a public employee, bringing a possible sentence of upwards of 10 years in jail.

Jim Schutze offered an intriguing take on the whole ordeal yesterday, walking through the facts and suggesting that the charges are a form of retribution for exposing emails from city employees regarding the Mayor’s Trinity Toll Road “Dream Team.” I’m sure we’ll come back to those emails soon, but first, just a taste of what depressing realities they may reveal about how our city functions:

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Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Garland Attack

So reports the BBC about the Islamic terrorist organization that controls parts of Syria and Iraq:

It said that “two soldiers of the caliphate” carried out the attack at a conference centre near Dallas.

IS’s al-Bayan Radio news bulletin said the exhibition “was portraying negative pictures of the Prophet Muhammad”.

Both suspects were shot dead after opening fire at the contest on Sunday.

Correspondents say that it is believed to be the first time that IS has claimed to have carried out an attack in the US.

Of course, ISIS (or ISIL, or IS, or whatever you want to call them) might just be opportunistically taking credit for an operation it had nothing to do with. Does this news change how safe you feel from terrorist attacks?

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Who Can We Blame for This Garland Shooting?

Here’s what we know: A group called the American Freedom Defense Initiative held a “Draw Muhammad” event yesterday in Garland. Organizers offered more than $10,000 for people to draw cartoons of Islam’s prophet and invited a Dutch politician known for his anti-Muslim views. Just before 7 p.m., two armed men showed up and shot at a security guard, wounding him in the ankle. Then Garland police killed both gunmen, who appear to be from Arizona.

Before the bodies were moved, reporters from outlets both foreign and domestic were on planes headed this way. Local comment sections and social media feeds were almost immediately filled with people either celebrating the deaths — posts on Facebook joked that the best art at the exhibit were the chalk outlines on the sidewalk — or decrying the event and its organizers as “irresponsible.”

At a press conference last night, some conservative media outlets pressed Garland police spokesman Joe Harn on why there was additional security at the event — measures that may have saved countless lives.

“Because of free speech,” someone suggested.

“I didn’t see anything about free speech in there,” Harn replied.

So what was it then?

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Leading Off (4/24/15)

Early Dallas ISD STAAR Results Disappoint. District eighth-graders taking the state’s reading test performed worse than last year’s students, while the fifth-grade passing rate increased slightly.

3 DISD Trustees Really, Really Want to Fire Mike Miles. On Thursday, Joyce Foreman, Elizabeth Jones, and Bernadette Nutall tried, and failed, to replace board president Miguel Solis because they’re unhappy that Solis has put off scheduling a board meeting to discuss the performance of the district superintendent until after the May election.

What the Cluck, Arlington Council? The city, you’ll remember, helped foot the bill for JerryWorld and got its own suite in return. Over the past five years, at nearly every event, two-thirds of the tickets have been used by the mayor, council members, and their spouses — to the surprise of no one.

Molina High Teacher Arrested For Student Relationship. Mary Todd Lowrance, 49, had confided her indiscretion to a co-worker.

Million-Dollar Lake Palestine Home Collapsing. In the ongoing battle between man and nature, nature scores another win.

Ralph Strangis Quits Dallas Stars. The popular broadcaster has decided to move on to “new challenges” after a 25-year career with the team.

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Leading Off-ish (4/23/15): The Zac-is-on-Vacation Edition

Dallas-Fort Worth Earthquake Risk Has Tripled.  That’s just since 2008, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Granted, the risk is still pretty low, and we have yet to experience any catastrophic seismic activity. Yes, the energy production business — pumping chemicals and wastewater into the faults — is to blame.

Central Expressway in McKinney Temporarily Closed Due to Flooding. St. Delkus promised us a deluge, but thing were pretty light around my place in Oak Lawn. Meanwhile, the Collin County suburbs are being punished by our creator for their insolence?

Dallas Cop Fired For Sex With Teen, Prostitutes. Jorge Guzman had an inappropriate relationship with a teenager in the Dallas Police Explorer Program.

Plano ISD Will Stop Locking Unruly Children Away. Sounds like a sensible policy change.

We Should All Just Go Work For Southwest Airlines. The carrier has posted a record $453-million first-quarter profit.

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Leading Off (4/17/15)

Trinity Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Is Quickly Sedated. Despite Tuesday’s declarations by consultants whom toll road proponents themselves commissioned  — namely that there’s no good reason for putting a highway through a potentially great park — support on the Dallas City Council for the federally-approved design known as Alternative 3C seems not to have softened. At a long work session on Thursday afternoon, toll road opponents moved to drop the massive project entirely and to seek federal approval instead for a low-speed, meandering road whose primary purpose would be to provide access to the adjacent park (just what Mayor Mike Rawlings’ dream team recommended.) But that proposal was roundly rejected, 10-4, and instead the same majority voted to proceed with planning for 3C. There was also an attempt by Councilman Philip Kingston to call a vote that would have forced each member to declare his or her support for (or opposition to) 3C. This irritated toll road proponents, who maneuvered around it with their own amendment to Kingston’s proposed amendment. Rawlings made another of his public pronouncements (about the Dream Team proposal) designed to sound like he’s keeping an open mind: “We have just met this beautiful, in my case, lady, and I’m not ready to get married today.” But he then seemed to show his cards when he put Vonciel Jones Hill — whose dedication to plopping a mega-highway next to the river is unwavering — in charge of seeking public input on the proposals under consideration. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house,” said former councilwoman Angela Hunt. Reminder: May 9 is Election Day.

 A Lot of Words About Dez Bryant. He recently fired one advisor, who had close ties to the Dallas Cowboys, and engaged the services of another management company. What does this mean for Bryant’s relationship with the team, which is still waiting for him to sign his contract for next season? Yeah, that’s the question.

Man Detained For Watauga Abduction Attempt. Police have found a person of interest in the failed kidnapping Mike mentioned in Wednesday’s “Leading Off.”

Sex Offender Escapes Fort Worth Halfway House. Charles Sprague is suspected in a kidnapping and robbery in North Richland Hills on Wednesday. He’s been added to the Texas 10 Most Wanted Sex Offenders list.

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Dear Dallas City Council: Please Learn from the Trinity Mistakes of the Past

Today at 1 p.m. the Dallas City Council will convene a special meeting to discuss the latest plans for the Trinity River Project. The plans were developed by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” task force, a group of some of the best urban thinkers in North America who revealed a vision Tuesday of a “gracious and harmonious parkway” for the Trinity.

On the agenda is a resolution that will create “a team, including regional and State agencies and professionals, from appropriate disciplines, to determine any actions that would be necessary to implement the findings of the Trinity Design Charrette.”

There is every reason to believe that that group will not be able to realize the Dream Team’s vision because of the reality of the funding, flood control, and environmental requirements already written into the DNA of the Trinity River Project as it is conceived today.

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Leading Off (4/15/15)

Probation Officer Admits Role in Violent Drug Ring. Selena Ball pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Ball, 30, of DeSoto, was in what’s being described as a “romantic relationship” with an inmate she was assigned to monitor. If not reporting serious probation violations, and facing up to 20 years in prison as a result, is your idea of romance.

Double Murder Suspect Killed in DeSoto. Colby Robinson was wanted in connection with two murders in Portland. He was spotted at a 7-Eleven. Then there was a chase. Then Robinson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Watauga Girl Escapes Kidnapping. “I was screaming, trying to get out and everything,” the girl said. She apparently chipped her tooth on the car door as she got away. Police are still looking for the suspect.

Johnny Football Attends Local Baseball Game. Looks like Johnny Manziel is out of rehab and back to sitting in prominent seats at sporting events. And the Rangers won.

Pay Your Taxes. It’s that day. I’m sorry. Here’s some free stuff.

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Leading Off (4/10/15)

Jordan Spieth Blows 15th Hole at the Masters. He went with the hybrid instead of the 4-iron. Seriously? Sure, he finished 8-under par, one stroke shy of a tournament record, with a three-stroke lead after the first round at Augusta National, but the 21-year-old golfer from Dallas clearly still has a few things to learn. I mean, c’mon, dude’s lost two of his last three tournaments. How good can he be?

Rawlings Has Far More Money Than Ronquillo. Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2015 show that Mayor Mike Rawlings has raised $546,227 for his re-election effort while challenger Marcos Ronquillo has collected $101,957. All that cash to win a job that pays $80,000 a year.

Prosecutors Probing Jerry Jones’ World Trade Center Deal. The Dallas Cowboys owner’s company, Legends Hospitality, won the contract to operate the observation deck of One World Trade Center in 2013. That building is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is partly controlled by New Jersey Gov. (and Cowboys fan) Chris Christie. The Manhattan district attorney is investigating whether Jones’ and Christie’s friendship influenced the procurement process. As if we needed another reason to feel dirty when we see this.

Collin County DA Asks Texas Rangers to Investigate AG. Watch out, Ken Paxton. Walker may be coming for you.

Ellis County Fire Chiefs Arrested in Sex Assault Case. The two men were allegedly aware of the incident earlier this year that involved a volunteer firefighter violated by chorizo and a broom stick, and they worked to keep the matter quiet. They were suspended from duty on Thursday and face felony charges of tampering with a witness.

McKinney Teen Wasn’t Bullied. Fourteen-year-old Raymond Howell killed himself last week. Dozens of people rallied outside Boyd High School on Thursday to protest bullying, which some of the boy’s family members said contributed to his suicide. But police report they’ve found no evidence that Raymond was being harassed.

High Heels, Dog Urine Harming Downtown Parks. “It’s one of those only-in-Dallas things, I guess,” says Tara Green, president of Klyde Warren Park.

Opening Day at the Globe in Arlington. First pitch for Rangers vs. Astros is at 3:05 p.m. You’ll have to bring your own Blue Bell.

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