Find a back issue

Leading Off (9/19/14)

Police-Fire Pension Fund Losses Total Almost $200M. The board that oversees the retirement money of Dallas cops and firefighters got details of the bad news in a report on Thursday. In venturing into speculative real estate investment, the fund lost $196 million in recent years. That figure includes $90 million on tracts in Arizona and Idaho, $46 million on Napa Valley resorts, and $60 million on luxury homes in Hawaii and elsewhere. Even as real estate values plummeted and the losses mounted, in 2012, fund administrator Richard Tettamant received $78,300 in incentive pay and a $25,000 bonus on top of his $270,000 salary. One consulting company on the failed Napa projects has also been paid $3.6 million. Tettamant, you might remember, was removed from his gig earlier this year.

Man Trapped Beneath DART Train. He fell onto the tracks just as the train was pulling into the station. Fortunately emergency workers were able to free him from where he was pinned, and he’d suffered only a broken arm and some cuts. It could’ve been much worse.

Report Places Blame For Firefighter’s Death. The widow of Stanley Wilson, the firefighter who perished in a six-alarm blaze last year, released the findings of the investigation into the incident. The state report faulted commanders’ assessment of the fire before sending several men, including Wilson, back into the collapsing condominium building.

Madison High Basketball Coach Officially Fired. Roderick Johnson was one of 15 coaches and administrators dismissed in June by Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles following a recruiting scandal that caused the school to be stripped of its state championship. On Thursday, a hearing confirmed the termination. Meanwhile some of the others who lost their jobs have instead been given the option of resigning.

The Governors Rick Dine at Mi Cocina. Texas Gov. Perry and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida on Thursday both attended a fundraiser at the Highland Park Village offices of Republican Party national finance chairman Ray Washburne and then sauntered across the parking lot for some Tex-Mex.

Commie Logo Removed From Vietnamese Restaurant. Not sure how nobody at Yum! Brands wondered whether a big red star was the ideal symbol to feature on their new Banh Shop concept.

Full Story

Jim Schutze Details the DMN’s Slanted Coverage of DISD

News comes today that DMN managing editor George Rodrigue is leaving the paper to work in some capacity at WFAA Channel 8 (we’ll post the memo to staff in a bit). The editor of the paper, Bob Mong, announced earlier that he will step down next year. Here is job No. 1 for whoever fills these top two spots: straighten out the paper’s coverage of DISD. What am I talking about? Please read this post by Jim Schutze. Then, for even more background, read Eric’s post on the same topic. What they’re doing over at the Morning News is irresponsible.

Full Story

SAGA Pod/Learning Curve: Jim Schutze on DISD, the Toll Road, and Moving to Plano

Jim Schutze stops by to discuss his column from this week, which basically covers all the important things in Dallas: How we’re going to get middle-class parents to send their kids to DISD schools (or if we even should want to do that); how that would affect the ability of young couples to stay in the city, as they increasingly want to do; and how the Trinity River toll road (and the thinking behind it) makes all of this harder than it has to be. Also, I play a song on my phone. Because Tim convinced me to. The lesson: Never listen to Tim.

Full Story

DISD Trustee Bernadette Nutall Apparently Can’t Do Math

Take nine minutes to watch the below video. It is truly amazing. What you’ll see: DISD trustee Bernadette Nutall trying and failing to understand a math problem that my 8-year-old daughter could probably grasp. The district budgeted $1.9 million for a program last school year. It spent all but about $400,000. So it is going to roll that amount over to the next school year. The district’s CFO spends nearly 10 minutes trying to explain that concept to Nutall. Watching the video, I laughed out loud at several points. It’s almost like Nutall is trolling the CFO, just screwing around with him.

Eric didn’t think it was so funny. He spent a few minutes yelling into my ear about how this sort of foolishness happens at every board meeting and how it hurts the district because good, smart staffers simply can’t put up with this sort of thing very long before they throw up their hands and go get another job. He’ll have a much lengthier post over on LearningCurve about this. For now, just watch the video:

Full Story

Biggest Grammar Mistakes in Dallas-Fort Worth Signage

Automated proofreader Grammarly recently held a contest seeking submissions of photos featuring the most egregious grammar mistakes on signs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Above you can see the winning entry, and right off the bat I have a complaint.

That sign is obviously filled with purposeful misspellings intended to attract customers’ attention and underline the folksiness of people selling the produce. I think it should have been disallowed rather than given the prize.

Below are the other top entries from North Texas.

Full Story

Should DISD Split Apart, Move Board Elections to November, or Change Its Calendar?

You don’t know the answer to these questions? If you want to take part in the Home Rule Commission public discussions (first two are tomorrow, 9-11 a.m. at W.T. White and 1-3 p.m. at Hillcrest High), you’d better get studying. Lucky for you, I address each of these issues on Learning Curve:

Should DISD be split apart?

Should trustee elections be moved to November?

Should DISD change its school calendar?

Remember, we’ve previously mentioned home rule suggestion posts on student trustees, board accountability, and trustee impeachment, as well as whether home rule is “taxation without representation.”

Get reading, and sign up to talk at these community meetings. Or don’t. I mean, it’s only relevant if you care about your kids/ the city/ your soul.

Full Story

Leading Off (8/29/14)

Judge Rules School Finance System Unconstitutional. It’s the second time in 18 months that State District Judge John Dietz of Austin has decided in favor of the 600 local school districts that sued the state. Dietz ruled that, even after increasing school funding by $3.4 billion during the most recent session, the legislature has still left education statewide underfunded. He also cited inequities in the way state funds are distributed. The state (namely attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott) will appeal.

Dallas County Not Properly Tracking HIV. A state report found 209 adult cases and 139 pediatric cases went “unreported” by the county health department from 2009 to 2012. That’s the largest number of unreported cases in Texas. Failure to follow up to collect information makes it difficult to determine whether a patient’s contacts may have also been affected and means the department can miss out on federal funding to treat patients.

Cowboys Winless in Preseason. They fell to the Denver Broncos, 27-3, last night. It’s the fifth time in franchise history the team hasn’t bothered to win any of its meaningless practice games.

Bitcoin ATMs Open in Dallas. In case you want to exchange your money that’s backed by the full faith and credit of the United States for a crypto-currency backed by the self-assurance of libertarian utopians worldwide. Right now one Bitcoin will cost you about $507.

Full Story

Suggestions for Home Rule Commission: Student Trustees, Board Accountability, and Impeachment

The first three of my posts offering suggestions for consideration by the Home Rule Commission debating whether to rework the DISD charter. Come get a taste:

1. Should we have a student trustee?
2. How can we instill board accountability?
3. Should the board be able to impeach one if its own?

More to come. As always, read with your eyeballs.

Full Story

The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: We’ll Take the Hole SHU-bang

I was released back into the relative freedom of the jail unit the other day after spending a month and a half in the hole, or “SHU,” where I had been confined due to an accusation by a wacky guard that I had instigated a “semi-disturbance.” A lengthy investigation by the prison administration having eventually concluded that there was no evidence that I had instigated anything at all and thus ought not to be punished for such an offense, I was finally let out of the, er, punishment cell. But I did participate in the “semi-disturbance” in question, along with some 30 other inmates, and so I was charged with “Engaging in a Group Demonstration,” pleaded guilty, and had my family visits and phone call privileges taken away for three months. It’s probably worth mentioning that the semi-disturbance/group demonstration which it turns out I didn’t instigate was directed toward the same wacky guard mentioned above, whose wackiness we simply wanted to bring to wider attention. I’ll go into all the wacky details at some later date when I’m out of this wacky prison’s wacky clutches, but in the meantime I have another story from the SHU that I will be kind enough to relate to you now.

Full Story

Leading Off (8/15/14)

DA’s Office Paid Secret Settlement Following Car Crash. In February 2013, Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins was driving up the Dallas North Tollway “reading information” on his cell phone when he ran into the back of a truck. Watkins was in a county-owned vehicle at the time but failed to follow the proper reporting procedures. Eventually the DA’s office paid the man that Watkins hit more than $50,000 and had him sign a settlement stating that he would not talk to the press. The settlement money also came from asset forfeiture funds, which seems to be questionable legally, especially since the spending never went before the county commissioners court for approval.

DA’s Office to Investigate Police Shootings. In the wake of the recent string of officer-involved incidents in Dallas, and the events playing out in Ferguson, Mo., this week, Craig Watkins announced his plan to create an investigative unit to look into any shootings involving cops. “I think it would be somewhat irresponsible if we didn’t address the fact that there is a lack of trust with the police,” Watkins said.

Cheating School’s Test Scores Plunge. An investigation last fall determined that students at Dallas ISD’s Umphrey Lee Elementary were being fed exam answers. So what happened after five teachers and an instructional coach were forced out? STAAR passing rates fell significantly during the last school year.

Cowboys Erect Party Tent Outside Stadium. The Corral, which was a feature at Texas Stadium back in the team’s 1990s heyday, is being resurrected starting with this weekend’s preseason game. Because JerryWorld isn’t big enough, I guess.

Corinth Doesn’t Want Beaver Nuggets. A crowd packed the Corinth City Council meeting last night before a hearing on granting incentives to bring a Buc-ee’s truck stop to Interstate 35E. Neighbors were concerned by the amount of traffic it would attract. At about 1 a.m. this morning, the council voted against Buc-ee’s.

Future Serial Killer in Lewisville. Hard not to reach that conclusion after reading this creepy story about 20 rabbits found killed in a “ritualistic” manner in the Castle Hills neighborhood.

Full Story

Is DISD About To Raise Our Taxes?

Over on LearningCurve, Eric has a look at some numbers that suggest, as he says, we’re about to have a real grown-up, put-the-kids-to-bed discussion about where we’re headed as a city and if we’re willing to pay for change. While you’re at it, you should read his recap of the most recent home-rule commission meeting. It’s actually pretty entertaining. Not only does he find a way to bring up the movie High Fidelity, but he manages to poke me in the ribs, too.

Full Story

Deion’s Prime Prep Scandal To Be Featured on Al Jazeera Tonight

I never watched the Al Gore Network or whatever it was called, so I don’t know what channel Al Jazeera America airs on — or even if Uverse carries it. Also, I don’t know if Uverse is even your carrier. Anyway, let’s not bog down in that. Tonight the show America Tonight will air the broadcast version of this story about Deion Sanders’ Prime Prep. Much of it is a rehashing of material that those of us in Dallas have been following for some time. But the writer did talk to some current and former students and their parents. A sample:

Full Story

SAGA Pod: Jim Schutze on JWP, Inland Ports, DISD, and Hippies

A JWP-heavy edition of the SAGA Pod. We talk to Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze about the biggest news story in Dallas in 2014: the indictment of County Commissioner John Wiley Price. Jim, who has covered JWP for three decades, talks about how JWP went from being a “ray of sunshine,” and “a very brave guy” — someone who “taught courage” to southern Dallas  — to a county official under indictment. Jim tells great stories from covering Price in the ’80s (the one about how Price would intentionally sweat on editors at the Dallas Times Herald is gold). He discusses about how the money for votes has always traveled form North to South, and how Price wanted his cut from the minster networks. He tells about the time Price told Jim the reason “Our Man Downtown” always aligned with downtown interests vs. progressive, East Dallas interests. (“Because you’re a bunch of hippies.”)

LONG DIGRESSION ALERT:

At one point, you’ll hear me consider talking about how the DMN covered the inland port stuff. Look, I’m just too tired to go back over this. Here’s all you need to know: [...]

Full Story