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Leading Off (10/31/14)

Last Day of Early Voting. Dallas County Republicans got off to a strong start, but Democrats are scrambling to close the gap. In the most closely watched county race, district attorney Craig Watkins has been outspent by GOP challenger Susan Hawk. If you care about the outcome, get to the polls.

Bentley to Reunite With Nina Pham. The former Ebola patient/nurse’s dog has tested negative for the virus, and will be returned to Pham on Saturday. He’s been kept in quarantine since Pham’s apartment was decontaminated by health officials.

Last Man Seen With Missing Woman Says He’s Being Harassed. Enrique Arochi made the rounds of the local newscasts to publicly state that he had nothing to do with the disappearance of Christina Morris. Arochi was the last person spotted with Morris, who has not been seen since Labor Day weekend at the Shops at Legacy in Plano. He says he’s lost his job as a result of the police investigation into the case and that he’s being harassed by friends and family of Morris, who have been protesting outside his parents’ home.

Kissing Bugs in North Texas Carry Deadly Disease. Welcome to your new nightmare: “Little did she know then, she had just met a kissing bug. So named because it attacks exposed skin — sometimes near the mouth or eyes — while you’re sleeping. You may get swelling at the site of the bite, or you may not know what happened. But the kissing bug can carry something called Chagas disease, a potentially deadly condition, which attacks the heart. It may be decades before the damage is done. But much like mosquitoes and West Nile, not every kissing bug carries Chagas disease, sometimes called the ‘silent killer.'”

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Leading Off (10/24/14)

Porsche at Center of New Allegations Against DA’s Office. The car was parked for months at the courthouse parking garage before Ace Parking (which manages the garage) asked United Tows to haul it away. Thing is it was a vehicle belonging to the county government and intended to be used in drug stings. The owners of United Tows says Craig Watkins’ staff accused them of car theft, even though it appears the company followed all the legal procedures required of it. The Morning News sought records detailing the process by which the DA’s office bought back the car from United Tows, but has had to file a lawsuit to get those details released.

It’s Going to be in the 90s This Weekend. Yes, we’re getting to the later part of October, when things would — you’d expect — be cooling down a bit. But instead the forecast calls for unusually high temperatures for the season. Meanwhile the continued drought is prompting more significant watering restrictions, and we have an unusually cold winter to look forward to.

SMU Makes Offer to Mack Brown. The school’s football team is looking for new leadership after former coach June Jones bolted after the second game of what’s been a dreadful season for the Mustangs. They’ve reportedly had “preliminary discussions” with Brown, the former University of Texas at Austin head coach who led the Longhorns to a national title for the 2005 season. The dollar figures they’ve discussed are $4 million a year for eight years.

Lawn Care Company Flying Too Many Flags. If you’ve ever trekked up to my hometown of Denton and exited onto Dallas Drive on your way to the Courthouse Square, after you descended the hill along which I received the first two speeding tickets of my life, you saw a fleet of orange trucks sitting along the right side of the road, usually adorned with letters spelling out some community announcement about a Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast or a VFW barbecue or somesuch.  And you saw a whole lot of American flags.  The orange trucks belong to Frenchy’s Lawn Care, which is owned by Vietnam vet Andre “Frenchy” Rheault. Well, after many years of displaying as many Old Glories as he likes, the city’s code enforcement department has told Rheault that the flags have to come down. Only one American flag, one Texas flag, and one miscellaneous flag are allowed on any one property. Rheault plans to fight.

Topless Cheerleaders Use Drugs. Photos of the Lamar High School students engaging in naughty behavior made the rounds of social media and have caused quite a ruckus in Arlington.

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Poll: What Will the Trinity Lakes Look Like?

We all had a good laugh along with Wylie H. Dallas yesterday as he pointed out the absurdity of some of the depictions featured in the Trinity Lakes Amenities plan presented at a city committee meeting yesterday. But Dallas is going to do something with the river, eventually, right? So what’s most likely to become reality?

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Questions About Jill Jordan’s Bewildering ‘Trinity Lakes’ Briefing

On Friday afternoon, a Facebook post by Robert “Fingers of Fury” Wilonsky captured my attention. Said Wilonsky: “If you read one Dallas City Council briefing all weekend, make it this one: the surreal Trinity Lakes Amenities Design Plan.” How could I resist? To the extent I had any lingering doubts, he helpfully provided two illustrations: one of an alarming number of people crowded under a freeway overpass, evidently engaging in some sort of hyper merry-making; and another of a small tree-lined four-lane boulevard. Hmm … I had the sense this would prove enlightening.

Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan’s cover memo to the briefing document helpfully closed with the statement “Please feel free to contact me if you need additional information.” After reading through the 99-page attachment, I actually had quite a few questions, so I prepared to contact her. Upon closer reading, however, I noticed that: 1) she didn’t provide her contact details; and 2) even if she had done so, the memo was addressed exclusively to “The Honorable Members of the Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee,” and I’m not a member.

Therefore, lacking such access, I am posting my questions here, in the hopes that they might reach Ms. Jordan and Judge Vonciel Jones Hill (the Committee chair) prior to the meeting:

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SAGA Pod/Learning Curve: Schutze on Ebola and DISD

I think the headline is pretty straightforward. A few other things you should know:

• Jim starts off the podcast by coughing. He is so old and broken.
• We record it in his house, because he forgot that he didn’t have a car that day.
• At one point he tries to silence one of his dogs. I don’t even want to get into how he did this.
• If you’re wondering where ALL the antiques are, they’re in Jim’s house. I think you hear eight different clocks clang and ring and cuckoo during our talk.
• About Ebola, we focus on our officials’ reaction, the question of whether Presby can recover from its bad PR, and Peter’s question about how many will be infected before we panic. On DISD, we talk about the proper role of school board trustees, why black trustees ignore those rules, and how the city’s racial history fits into all this.

Here is the embed:

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Toll Road Backers’ Strategy: Pretend to Re-evaluate Its Worth

My column in the current issue of D Magazine tries to answer the question of why the Trinity toll road advocates won’t let this unpopular boondoggle die. Because I write these columns five to six weeks before they appear in print and online, time will always cause some portions of my column to be wrong/irrelevant/laughable by the time it appears. In this case, it’s the portion where I describe the strategy of the toll roads’ backers — the coalition of the willing.

Well, it’s not wrong. I say they will try to fund the toll road in phases. That’s still probably true. But it’s not the most immediate, important part of their strategy.

That would instead be the scenario currently being promoted by said coalition to various business interests around town, which goes like this: [...]

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Dwaine Caraway Sliding Through a NSFW Dallas Observer Slideshow

A not-super-happy-but-for-unrelated-reasons FrontBurnervian pointed me to four shots of Dwaine Caraway — here, here, here, here — from a slideshow described as follows: “AP Rhino, one of the longest running nightlife promotion companies/venue owners in Dallas celebrated their 12 Year Anniversary party Friday night at Synn. DJ Jessy Jam provided the sounds, and special guests included Dallas Cowboys Receiver Dwayne Harris. Roderick Pullum was our man.” NSFW because most of the shots include women wearing body paint and, from the looks of it, not much else. I already knew Caraway was a man of the people.

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Who Is Clay Jenkins?

Clay Jenkins, a freshman politician in an obscure political office, is back in the national spotlight thanks to the Ebola scare. Yesterday he described Dallas’ response to Ebola to Rachel Maddow as one of “unapologetic compassion.” If those words sound familiar — Maddow, compassion — that’s because this is the second time Jenkins has made the network news rounds. In July, he controversially tried to open county facilities to migrant children.

But who is this guy? That’s what I tried to find out in this profile from the October issue.  Once labeled John Wiley Price’s “water boy,” he has emerged as a local political force. He was a hell raiser in his youth, survived a near-death car wreck, and, after some early term muffs, has demonstrated a knack for the political hardball of county politics. But will he even win his reelection this November? Here’s a taste:

In college at Baylor, Jenkins continued to distinguish himself dubiously. He was arrested twice, once for reckless driving after he led Baylor security and Waco police on a car chase he’d planned and a second time for criminal trespassing in a women’s dorm during a panty raid. Strangely enough, he was never arrested for his role as the famous Baylor Pie Man, a hit man for a student-organized ring that offered to throw pies in people’s faces—professors, ex-boyfriends—for a fee. 

Read the whole thing here.

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Should a City’s Police Force Look Like Its Citizens?

Last week, FiveThirtyEight took another dive into the topic of the demographics of police forces. In the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., protests, they’d previously looked at what percentages of cops in the 75 biggest U.S. cities are residents of the municipalities that they serve.

The reason that would seem to matter is the notion that when officers live in the same communities in which they work, the public is better off. The cops have a greater personal investment in making the city a great place to live, and the residents feel like the cops aren’t separate from, an antagonistic to, them.

Some cities require their police to be residents, so FiveThirtyEight decided to examine what effect such rules have on the demographic makeup of a police force — whether they aid, or make more difficult, the supposed ideal of having a department that looks very much like the community it serves.

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Secret Deal to Dump Delta Signals More Crony Capitalism at Love Field

Just over five months ago, Dallas residents and the City Council were surprised to learn that the city of Dallas had secretly commissioned a study that supported city staff’s determination that the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division had erred when it determined that Virgin America, rather than Southwest Airlines, should receive the two American Airlines gates that American had determined it no longer needed.

Cheered on by the city of Fort Worth, here and here, Dallas city staff proceeded to throw all sorts of roadblocks up against what should have been a straightforward lease approval. The process quickly devolved into a national farce, possibly because the idea that allowing one airline to control 90 percent of the gates at an airport would serve competitive interests is ridiculous on its face. Council Member Vonciel Jones Hill featured prominently, arguing that the city (she?) was in a better position than both the contracting parties (American Airlines and Virgin America) and the Department of Justice to determine what was best for the citizenry. Finally, after weeks of opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations at City Hall (during which time Virgin was compelled to launch a high-cost public relations campaign, and Sir Richard Branson was compelled to interrupt his vacation for a trip to Dallas to beg for the gates as part of an effort that directed critical international spotlight to what appeared to be crony capitalism at work), Virgin was finally given the green light by city staff to actually take possession of the gates that appeared to have been rightfully its own from the outset.

Fast forward to this past week: once again, residents and elected officials found themselves surprised to learn that city staff had taken action to thwart an airline’s ability to operate at Love Field.

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Leading Off (10/3/14)

Storm Wreaks Havoc. The high winds, rain, and hail that blew through North Texas Thursday afternoon left hundreds of thousands without power during at least some portion of last night, temporarily halted DART train service, knocked down trees, collapsed a building in the Fort Worth Stockyards, and tore the roof off a dorm at Arlington Baptist College, among other widespread damage. Having lost power, UT-Arlington canceled all classes Friday, all Arlington ISD schools are closed, as well as 40 Dallas ISD campuses and some schools in Mesquite and Richardson. DART hopes to be fully operational by this morning rush hour, with red, orange, and green lines normal, but only bus service available on the eastern stretch of the blue line.

Ebola Patient’s Family Held Under Armed Guard. Those who shared a Vickery Meadow apartment with Thomas Eric Duncan, the man diagnosed with the virulent disease, are under an order not to leave their home or receive visitors. However, one of the family’s children attended a DISD school on Wednesday morning. In order to enforce compliance, a guard has been stationed on site. Meanwhile, Texas Health Presbyterian issued a release Thursday evening to explain that a failure of two of its record-keeping systems (one for nurses, another for doctors) to communicate resulted in key information about Duncan’s recent travels not being considered during his initial Sept. 25 visit to the hospital, which led to his release.

Texas Can Enact Strict Abortion Restrictions. A federal judge’s decision overturning legal requirements for abortion facilities is under appeal. On Thursday the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state can go ahead and enforce those measures even as the appeal process is under way.

Trinity Toll Road Supporters Have Gone Silent. This follows reports that a) the road isn’t projected to significantly affect traffic congestion and b) that the city council is likely under no obligation to fund it. Councilman Scott Griggs, who opposes the $1.5 billion, 9-mile route, has a theory on why North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris and others have been unavailable for weeks to make comments on the issue, “I imagine they’re trying to come up with a new reason for it,” he said.

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Leading Off (9/29/14)

There Are So Many Tires In The Trinity River. Tons, in fact. And until recently, the job of removing them was left to volunteer groups. Now, a Dallas-based company called Good Earth Inc. has a city contract that will pay out $850 per ton, with a cap at $2.8 million over three years. They have pulled 114 tons of rubber thus far.

City Pension Funds For Same-Sex Spouses Stalled. The City Council has taken steps to protect LGBT municipal employees by adopting resolutions that call for equal treatment and to amend personnel rules with language prohibiting discrimination. However, city pension benefits for these employees and their spouses are still in flux, because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriages.

World’s Biggest Passenger Jet Lands at DFW Airport. The double-decker A380, which is almost 8 stories tall and can carry 500 passengers, begins scheduled service this week. It’s so massive that the airport had to make about $4.5 million in renovations to accommodate it. Should you feel like flying in something I find fairly terrifying, you can go to Sydney, Australia on Qantas, or Dubai on Emirates.

TxDOT v. NCTCOG. In a charming battle of bureaucratic acronyms, the North Central Texas Council of Governments is using high traffic estimates to justify a toll road that would stretch from Garland to Greenville, through Dallas, Collin, Rockwall, and Hunt counties. The Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts are much lower. There’s other stuff going on, too, like the fact that NCTCOG’s estimates for population growth in Rockwall and Hunt counties is significantly higher than state estimates. Anyway, just read this.

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The City of Dallas Isn’t Sharing in the Region’s Economic Boom

While scrolling through my Facebook timeline the other day, I was startled by a post from something called “Dallas Economic Development” which trumpeted the “fact” that “Dallas is a top 10 city for affluent residents.” This leapt out at me, because I suspected it to be untrue, so I decided to dig further.

Checking the Facebook page for “Downtown Economic Development,” I discovered that it is sponsored by the City of Dallas Office of Economic Development, which “supports existing and prospective businesses and the development and redevelopment of downtown and neighborhoods in southern Dallas.” Hmm … seemed legit, so far. To the extent I had any remaining doubts about the veracity of this “fact,” the Downtown Economic Development post referenced a Dallas Morning News blog post by Pamela Yip headlined “Dallas vaults into top 10 population centers for affluent.”

Hmm … I know Ms. Yip to be pretty careful when it comes to her writing, so I decided to press on. Her post made the claim that “Dallas and Houston were big beneficiaries of the trends, leading in the growth of high net worth individuals and wealth. The cities recorded the most aggressive rates of wealth growth among the affluent, both in 2013 and in the last five years, the report said. The cities also were the largest gainers in the growth of affluent residents.” Now I was definitely intrigued, as this simply did not square with the city of Dallas that I know.

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