Leading Off (3/24/14)

I-345 Tear-Down Debate Continues. The Dallas Morning News ran this I-345 explainer on the front page of the Sunday paper. There’s no new news here, but it does provide a bit of I-345 history, namely that it was built in 1974 as suburbs like Irving took hold. There was also a nice traffic count graphic in the paper, but that didn’t make it online. To refresh, some 200,000 cars travel the 1.4-mile stretch on weekdays. Patrick Kennedy and co. want the 75-45 connector eliminated, but TxDOT is set to spend $100 million to renovate it instead. As is to be expected, and can be demonstrated here, debate persists, some of it well-reasoned, some … not.

Plastic Bag Ban Proposal Up For a Vote Wednesday. Dwaine Caraway has been working on this for a year and is expecting a partial ban, at the very least, to pass when City Council votes Wednesday. There are a number of options up for discussion, including a total citywide ban, a “responsible retailer” option that charges stores for distributing the bags, and an “environmental fee” that has customers paying for bags. Several council members are vehemently opposed to any change.

Bike Share Program a Possibility for Fair Park. The Dallas Park and Recreation Board has approved $125,000 for the project. If City Council passes it, some 15-20 bikes could appear in Fair Park by May. This is an impossibly small (yet expensive) program. For comparison, Fort Worth started with a $1 million grant, 300 bikes and 30 stations.

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Dallas Will Commission Public Art, But Don’t Ask Them to Actually Maintain It

There’s controversy brewing over an aging piece of public art at White Rock Lake.

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Leading Off (3/17/14)

City Council Members Upset Mayor Rawlings Doesn’t Consult Them. Alternative headlines: “Mayor Mike Rawlings Hard at Work on Several Initiatives” or “Mayor in Desperate Need of Better PR Team.” Tip: Inform council members of plans before media inquiries, avoid much of these issues.

SMU Not Headed to NCAA Tournament. Some 1,000 people gathered in Moody Coliseum for Selection Sunday, anticipating SMU’s entrance into the tournament for the first time in two decades. But the 23-9 Mustangs never got called. There’s all kinds of speculation as to why they won’t appear (bad losses at the end of the season, their American Athletic Conference affiliation), but the team will be a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

TxDOT Officials Claim They Spend More on Repairing Roads than Study States. A report released this month from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense alleges that the Texas Department of Transportation spent 82 percent of its $3.4 billion budget between 2009 and 2011 on expanding roads rather than maintaining them. Another Smart Growth report has TxDOT spending just 11 percent of its budget between 2004 and 2008 on maintenance and repair, but officials maintain that number was closer to 35 percent.

Trimble Tech Group Holds Vigil for Local SXSW Victims. Tech senior Curtisha Davis and her boyfriend, 2013 Tech grad Deandre Tatum, both remain hospitalized in Austin after sustaining injuries in the crash that killed two and injured more than 20. A small group of parents, friends, and Tech alumni gathered on the school’s steps Sunday night to pray for the victims.

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Bag It Up: Why the Dallas City Council Should Say No to Banning Plastic Bags

Because a few local residents can’t or don’t want to dispose of their single-use plastic bags like everyone else, Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway wants to ban the bags outright. That’s a silly, knee-jerk “solution” to an exaggerated problem. And it deserves to be treated as such when the full council votes as expected on the issue this month.

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Leading Off (3/7/14)

Dallas to Launch Bike Sharing Experiment. The city’s Park and Recreation Board approved the idea of contributing $125,000 to start a program with 15-20 rental bicycles at two locations in Fair Park this summer. The measure still needs the approval of the Landmark Commission and the City Council. Proponents hope that, if successful, it’ll serve as a model to gain support for a citywide effort. The program will be shut down during the State Fair — you know, the one time of year most people actually visit Fair Park.

Police Lieutenant Caught Sleeping, Impaired on Duty. A fellow officer snapped a picture of Lt. Mike Magiera asleep while at work, and WFAA has video of him failing a sobriety test. Magiera says he was just napping during an unpaid break, and that he was on pain pills due to severe pain following an accident. Investigators are determining what discipline Magiera should face.

Dallas Stars to Retire Mike Modano’s Number Saturday. The highest-scoring American player in NHL history will be honored at the American Airlines Center before tomorrow night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. I’m sure I speak for all extremely casual bandwagon hockey fans when I say thanks, Mike, for icing all those memorable power plays. No one hat-tricked across the blue line better, or did a more professional job of keeping his nose out of the crease.

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Leading Off (2/24/14)

DART Contract Up For Extension. MV Transportation’s two-year pilot period will come to an end in September, but some DART staffers insist the contract should be re-opened for other bids. MV operates a fleet of paratransit vehicles that service the elderly and disabled. Some allege that since MV took over from Veolia Transportation in 2012, there have been problems. MV has even been fined some $335,000 for performance issues. Still, some board members insist there isn’t enough time to accept new bids. The contract is expected to be extended Tuesday.

Despite Felony, Constable Running For His Old Job. Who says a felony holds you back? Not this guy. Derick Evans is actively campaigning for his former Dallas County constable Precinct 1 position, the one he was removed from after he was convicted of running illegal raffles. Two federal lawsuits are also pending against the county from when Evans held the constable position, and he was accused of a vehicle-towing scam.

The Fascinating Tale of Eric Brauss. It’s not so fascinating for those who say he scammed them out of millions, but the Dallas Morning News details the rise and fall of the Dallas-based developer who eventually fled to Brazil and died last late last year, though some believe that’s just another part of his scheme to evade prosecution.

Times Criticized for Wendy Davis Cover.  Last week, I pointed you to The New York Times Magazine’s profile of Wendy Davis. This week, the Times’ public editor responds to complaints alleging sexism in the story.

Westbound Lanes of LBJ Closed After Fatal A.M. Accident. Be careful out there during your morning commute.

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Tom Blanton, CEO of Fracking Concern Currently Suing Dallas, Has Died

Tom Blanton stepped out of his home on Eagle Mountain Lake for his morning walk and never came back. He died along the way of a heart attack at 67 years old. Two weeks later, Trinity East, his oil and gas company, sued for the $19 million it paid a cash-strapped City of Dallas back in 2007 for the right to drill and frack the gas-suffused shale beneath.

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Trinity East Sues Dallas Over $19M Paid For Drilling Leases

Wilonsky scoops the Dallas city attorney’s office in finding out about the lawsuit filed this morning by Trinity East Energy, which paid the city $19 million for mineral rights on public land in northwest Dallas only to have the council change the rules on drilling:

The Dallas City Attorney’s Office was unaware of the suit until contacted by The Dallas Morning Newsthis morning. We expect a reply later today.

The suit maintains that when it signed its deals with the city on August 15, 2008, it received a letter from then-Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm saying she was “reasonably confident” Trinity East would be able to drill on the 22-acre tract of land on the west side of Luna Vista.

In a statement issued this morning, Trinity East Energy President Stephen Fort says, “This is about a deal, plain and simple. We had a deal with the City of Dallas, and they went back on it. The city made promises to us and took our money. They sold us minerals but then denied us the ability to extract them.”

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Leading Off (1/27/14)

Fort Worth Woman Taken Off Life Support. After a two-month battle that played out on networks across the country, 33-year-old Marlise Muñoz can finally be laid to rest. The controversy over whether a pregnant woman can be taken off life support turned into national news when two days after suffering an embolism, Muñoz’s family was denied that request. John Peter Smith Hospital cited a 1999 Texas law that states a pregnant woman must be kept on life support until the fetus is viable. The fetus, in this instance, had suffered the same loss of oxygen Muñoz had and was “distinctly abnormal.” The family sued the hospital, and on Friday, state district judge R.H. Wallace ruled in their favor. The hospital did not appeal. Life support was withdrawn Sunday.

Grade Changed for SMU Basketball Player. It looks like Keith Frazier, an SMU star, shouldn’t have graduated from Kimball High School last year. A Dallas Independent School District audit shows that Frazier didn’t have enough credits and was failing three classes as the 2013 academic year came to a close. But a week after classes ended, at least one of those failing grades changed to passing. There’s also a line in this WFAA investigation that claims Frazier transferred to Kimball in 2012 to play ball, a violation of Texas rules. This whole situation just makes me sad. Students deserve better.

Civil Rights Activist Adelfa Callejo Dies at 90. Callejo grew up protesting and became the first Hispanic woman to graduate from SMU law school. She would become a prominent Dallas lawyer, fighting for immigration and education causes and battling oppression she faced as a Mexican-American woman with a law degree. Nicknamed La Madrina, “The Godmother,” Callejo preferred to call herself the “millionaire militant,” reports the Dallas Morning News, insisting that her “wealth bolstered her independence.” She died Sunday after a fight with brain cancer.

Taxi Fight Leads to Identity Theft Bust. Security breaches are currently top off mind (Target, Neiman Marcus, and now Michaels, possibly), but in 2011, a massive ring fell apart after one of the participants assaulted a taxi driver over $40. This led police to the Le Meridien Hotel, where a room was searched and police uncovered “piles of money” and social security numbers used to file fraudulent tax returns, making them millions. Five people have since been convicted.

The Next George Bush. Politico has a profile of George Prescott Bush, son of Jeb, nephew of George W. Bush, and grandson of George H.W. Bush. The 37-year-old is running for commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. The piece calls him a lock for the position but raises a more interesting question: what will George P.’s entrance into politics mean for the Republican party and the state? It’s worth a read.

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The Other Side: A.C. Gonzalez’s Vote Was Never Really in Doubt

An update on how the A.C. vote went down: There is still a lot of discrepency between the players involved as to just how possible it was that anyone besides Gonzalez was going to be voted city manager. I said Tuesday that the anti-A.C. side felt it was one vote away from securing enough votes for Oakland administrator Deanna Santana.

But others who were involved in trying to swing votes say that number is only partially true. They say some of the anti-A.C. members were hearing what they wanted to hear. Specifically: they say some anti-A.C. members ignored that even when there were seven people willing to not vote for Gonzalez, it was very unclear that those seven would agree to back Santana or the other candidate, David Cooke.

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Leading Off (1/22/14)

A.C. Gonzalez is Dallas’ Next City Manager. Tuesday’s vote was unanimous, though a couple of days ago it wasn’t, and now he’s ready for his new set of challenges. Congratulations, sir. And good luck.

Texas High School Juniors Failing Tests, Nearly 25 percent Might Not Graduate. Fifteen tests used to be required, but that number was dropped to just five this year. Still, some 338,000 students could potentially not graduate in 2015 because they aren’t passing the tests. These figures come amid complaints that funding issues remain throughout the state and that wealthier districts receive more money than their less-fortunate counterparts.

200 Laptops Missing from Prime Prep Academy. Last week, a mother claimed that the school wouldn’t allow her to withdraw her student. This week, Prime Prep, which once purported being on the cutting edge of technology, is missing 200 of its laptops. According to a News 8 report, a contractor hired by the school may have been instructed to sell them. And they were purchased with taxpayer dollars. So there’s that.

Zebra Mussels Continue to Invade Texas Lakes. Well crud. The invasive little buggers have made their way into Lavon Lake. But scientists aren’t panicking or particularly surprised. They think the mussels may have hitched a ride on a boat. However they came, they shouldn’t pose an immediate threat to the North Texas Municipal Water District, but water intake pipes could be affected down the line.

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A.C. Gonzalez Came One Vote From NOT Being City Manager

As I said on Twitter yesterday morning and the DMN then double-secret confirmed, our new city manager, A.C. Gonzalez, had the necessary votes locked up 24 hours ago. But that doesn’t mean this was a done deal. In fact, 48 hours ago, anti-A.C. forces on the Council only needed one more vote to hire Oakland city administrator Deanna Santana. Here’s how the arm-twisting shook out, according to five on-background sources I kept in contact with as the drama played out over the weekend.

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