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We Can’t Let Our Guard Down When it Comes to the Trinity Toll Road

Goodness, a bunch of dust has been kicked-up by a little bit of flooding. The past week’s rains have come just at the right time to spark a whole lot of silly talk about flooding and toll roads and Trinity River Project plans. Opponents of the road are circulating memes that use the floods as an excuse to dance on the road’s supposed watery grave — look, the floodway floods! Over at the Dallas Morning News, a couple of editorial writers try to throw water on the fires of panic and hyperbole. A couple of days ago, Rodger Jones made the somewhat obvious point that yes, we can build a road in a flood plain and make sure it doesn’t flood. Today, Rudy Bush chimes in, reiterating his support of the Beasley Plan and attempting to calm everyone down by saying that a road that occasionally floods isn’t the end of the world, let alone the end of plans for a road in the Trinity River watershed.

However, as I wrote earlier this week, I don’t think anyone believes that we can’t build a road that doesn’t flood. Surely the world has seen greater engineering marvels. The question is whether or not this particular road plan is a stupid idea.

Let’s leave that conversation for another day. Here’s the point I want to make: I’m a bit concerned by both Jones and Bush’s eagerness to call Alternative 3C – the engineering plans for a massive highway with high-five style exit ramps flying every which way – over and done.

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Leading Off (5/22/15)

Denton to Be Fracked Over. The day after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill severely limiting local regulations of oil and natural gas drilling, Vantage Energy notified the city that it would resume its well operations. Denton made national headlines after banning hydraulic fracturing with a vote last November, but the new law undoes that.

It’s West Nile Virus Season. Batches of mosquitoes in Mesquite and Frisco have tested positive for local newscasts’ favorite bogeyman disease. I’m hoping Zac has already put in a call to his inside source on the insects’ summer plans. Developing.

Attempt to Kill Bullet Train Project Fails. A Texas Senate committee voted against a proposal to prohibit the use of state funds to support the effort to build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Texas Legislature Legislates. Lawmakers in Austin have reached a deal to cut property and business taxes, instituted new regulations on the chemicals that caused the West explosion, and protected religious leaders and institutions from a problem that hasn’t been shown to actually exist.

Jordan Spieth Still Good at Golf. The Dallas PGA Tour pro, who won the Masters tournament earlier this year, sits tied with three others at the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth.

Wet Weekend Coming. North Texas has already received more rain so far this year than we got in all of 2014. And more and more is on the way.

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Can I Park For Free in Downtown Dallas?

Question: What’s the rule on parking your car on a public street downtown that has no such sign declaring it a no-parking zone or a commercial loading zone? I found a tiny block sandwiched between a pair of parking garages that has room for three cars along a curb and no such sign. I’m one of those stubborn downtown workers who refuses to shell out a monthly fee to have my own parking space, so finding areas like this is like finding a treasure. I’ve been parking there all week, and today a security guard for one of the two garages came out and told me I couldn’t park there. I asked him to show me a sign forbidding it, and he said, “You just can’t park here, man.” He then threatened to call DPD, which I welcomed before I realized I had no time to deal with it. So who’s right here? He mentioned that it would be difficult for large trucks to enter a loading bay on the opposite side of the curb, an argument I would certainly cede to if the city were to place a sign forbidding me from leaving my car on this public street. — Matt G.

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Help Wanted: Dallas City Hall Reporter/Blogger For D Magazine’s FrontBurner

Recent public discussions about removing elevated-highway barriers that sharply divide neighborhoods and the alternative futures envisioned for the Trinity River floodplain signal that Dallas is on the verge of an important transformation. Whether new ideas or the old guard come out on top in these fights remains to be seen, but it’s clear already just how much is at stake.

Those are a couple of the headline issues, the arguments that have sucked up so much of the oxygen in council debates and municipal elections. But in the ninth-largest city in the United States there are thousands upon thousands of smaller actions taken every day by officials and government staff that have significant effects on the people who live and work here.

D Magazine aims to bring greater attention to all these matters — both those the size of potholes and as big as signature bridges — by hiring a blogger/reporter keen to make a name for himself or herself with thoughtful, data-driven coverage of Dallas City Hall. It’s got to be someone who can spot the opportunities for inquiry in every council or committee agenda, who knows that public meetings usually aren’t where the decisions get made and can find and follow the paper trail to prove it. It’s got to be someone just as comfortable requesting and sorting through reams of data as he or she is talking with sources. We want to move past the political jargon, past the false balance of he said/she said reporting, to get to the facts.

In addition, we want a writer capable of tracking the daily coverage of other news sources throughout the week and offering commentary and aggregation of the best of what our readers need to know. This is an ideal gig for a smart recent graduate who is hungry to become part of the civic conversation. Interested applicants should send a resume and cover letter (including salary requirement) to jason.heid@dmagazine.com.

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Poll: Is It Too Easy to Graduate High School in Texas?

Yesterday Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a measure that reduces the burden on Texas public high school students to pass exams before graduating. Instead of having to pass five end-of-course exams from the ninth grade on, they only have to pass three of the five. (They’ll still have to obtain a special waiver to do so.)

What do you think of this change?

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Will Mike Rawlings Protect the ‘Vision’ for the Trinity River Project?

After his sweeping victory to a second term in last Saturday’s mayoral election, Mayor Mike Rawlings declared that what residents voted for was a “vision for Dallas.”

In terms of the style and substance of Rawlings’ first term as mayor, it is difficult to argue with his assessment of his own appeal. More than anything, Rawlings is this city’s salesman-in-chief, and his first four years in office were spent mapping out visions of the future, from the promising—if still very inconclusive—Growth South campaign to the controversial re-vision of the Trinity Toll Road. Rawlings is bullish about his city’s future, and the part of his job he seems to enjoy the most is when he has the opportunity to spread the good news about this city’s growth and success.

The problem, however, is that Rawlings’ optimism and penchant for sales-pitching leads him to make sweeping proclamations and lean on ambiguities. And the difficulty with having a Mayor of Vision is that it has never been very clear what, outside of broad generalities, Mayor Mike Rawlings’ vision for the future of Dallas actually is.

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Why Voting This Saturday Is Not Enough

I received a mailer this week from the Trinity River Commons Foundation. It’s a four-panel fold-out brochure that is, for all intents and purposes, the real purpose and product of this entire Trinity River Parkway Dream Team design charrette garbage that we have been wading through for the past six months.

On the cover, there’s the now-familiar image of the revised “vision” for the Trinity River Project – the one with the parkway running through elevated berms as the sun sets against digital people who mill about under the shade of trees that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already said cannot and will not be planted in the levee. Overlaid on the image in white italic font is a quote from Mayor Mike Rawlings in which he once again squawks the words “World Class” like some trained parrot sitting on Trinity Commons Foundation Executive Director Craig Holcombs’ shoulder.

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Dallas City Council Candidates Don’t Get Social Media

Remember when President Obama won in 2008 and the post-election analysis showed a significant emphasis on the social media connection by the Democratic campaign? Social media has never been stronger in its impact on the marketing of product and political candidates.

I started out thinking that I could do some analysis and projections of the upcoming Dallas City Council races based on each candidates’ social media presence. I don’t have the many commercially available tools available for social media analysis, such as HootSuite, nor do I have expensive and important polling tools. What I do have available is a bit of technical knowledge to scrape Facebook Likes, Twitter follows, and batch Google searches.

What I found is that the analysis is pretty much impossible. Why? Because the candidates and incumbents are, for the most part, completely disengaged from social media. These are the same folks who will guide millions of dollars into IT, who must read civil engineering documents, and who are completely clueless about such tools as Facebook and Twitter.

Swallow your morning coffee before you spit at your screen as I demonstrate the ineptness.

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Emails Shed Light on Inner Workings of Trinity River Project Funding Schemes

Brandon Formby reports on the latest bit of information to leak out of the trove of Trinity Toll Road-related emails that was released by the City of Dallas after council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston pushed to have access to communications between city staff and former City Manager Mary Suhm as well as Mayor Mike Rawlings’ so-called design Dream Team.

The nugget of the article suggests that a design firm — led by “Dream Team” member Ignacio Bunster-Ossa — was the beneficiary of a private grant of $105,000 that was donated to the city of Dallas by the Trinity Trust under the condition that said design company receive the contract for the work from the city.

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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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Leading Off (5/1/15)

Mike Miles’ Job on the Line. Under a judge’s orders, the Dallas ISD board will convene at 4 p.m.today at district headquarters to discuss the superintendent’s job performance. Most of the City Council has expressed their support for Miles even as trustees Bernadette Nutall, Elizabeth Jones and Joyce Foreman seem determined to push for his ouster. While Miles appeared on Fox 4 and CBS 11 newscasts on Thursday to say he’s remaining focused on what’s best for the children, Brett Shipp at WFAA couldn’t get more than a written statement from Miles for his latest report about possible interference by the super and trustee Mike Morath into a district HR investigation. Friday’s meeting is a closed session, so you may not want to bother getting the popcorn ready.

Rival Protests Today Downtown. A rally and march, organized by Mothers Against Police Brutality, is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Frank Crowley Courts Building to show support for the ongoing protests in response to the death of Freddie Gray in the Maryland city. Meanwhile a second demonstration called “Backing the Blue” has been announced ostensibly to “say ‘thank you'” to the Dallas Police Department, but really just seems designed to troll the other group’s event. And, according to Breitbart, a counter-protest by an open-carry group called Texans Against Gun Grabbers, is also happening at the same time and place. The TAGG organizer issued a statement about the event, with scary overtones: “My whole point is that this event has the potential to be extremely volatile very quickly. For your safety I would stay out of Dallas tomorrow night.”

Dallas Cowboys Pick Byron Jones in NFL Draft. With their first-round pick last night, the team selected a cornerback from Connecticut. Why do I find it funny to think of people playing football in Connecticut?

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Firefighter’s Widow to Mayor Mike: ‘Everything You Just Told Me Is a Load of Crap’

The Morning News reports on a phone call Mayor Mike Rawlings made yesterday to Jenny Wilson, whose husband Stanley died fighting a May 2013 fire at a Dallas condo. Wilson has — quite reasonably, given Dallas Fire-Rescue’s delays in releasing their investigation findings and the suspicious redactions made from early to final drafts of the official report — been quite critical of the city’s response to the death:

Rawlings called to assure her that proposed fixes to department procedures and training will be implemented “in memory of Stanley”:

But Wilson said she thought Rawlings was just parroting top fire officials, who she believes helped cover up for a commander who gave the fateful orders that led to her husband’s death.

“It felt like I was listening to Joel Lavender,” Wilson said, referring to a fire department spokesman. “So when he finally stopped talking, I said, ‘Everything you just told me is a load of crap.’”

She said Rawlings seemed taken aback.

“At that point, my blood was boiling because it sounded like everything I’ve heard from the fire department,” she said. “And like I’m just some small child, and they’re patting me on the head saying, ‘just be nice.’”

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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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What Can We Learn About the Trinity River Project From Yesterday’s Dallas City Council Meeting?

Purely as a piece of political theater, yesterday’s Dallas City Council meeting had something for everyone. There were surprising plot twists, contentious debates, great dialogue, and even moments of hilarious buffoonery. What started as a presentation of the plan the mayor’s urban design “Dream Team” created for the Trinity River morphed into a workshopping of byzantine parliamentary procedure.

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