Leading Off (4/23/14)

Preliminary Findings Show a Lack of Oversight Contributed to the West Explosion. Five days after the one-year anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion, the Chemical Safety Board released the initial findings of its investigation, stressing that the ammonium nitrate wasn’t handled properly and that this was a “preventable accident.” The federal agency has been criticized in the past for moving too slowly, and West Mayor Tommy Muska voiced disappointment in how long it’s taken to get “preliminary” results. The investigation is ongoing.

DISD’s School for the Talented and Gifted Ranked Best in the Country. That’s according to U.S. News and World Report’s latest ranking of the best high schools in the nation. At the Dallas magnet school, students must take 11 AP classes to graduate, and 100 percent of those graduates are ready for college.

Arlington Council: Leave Your Guns at Home (or in the Car). The council approved an ordinance Tuesday that bans weapons and “simulated weapons” in City Hall. Concealed handguns were already prohibited, but the new ordinance extends the ban to the antique black-power pistols, replica pistols, and long-barreled guns that can be openly carried in Texas.

Dallas Charter Review Commission in Favor of Raises for Mayor, Council Members. Eric Celeste recommended an even greater increase in the April issue of D Magazine, but the commission voted on a 20 percent pay hike for the mayor Tuesday night and a 32 percent increase for council members. That would take salaries to $71,864 and $49,530 respectively. A month remains before final recommendations must be submitted.

Plus, Holy Road Rage. Be careful out there.

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Leading Off (4/14/14)

One Year Later, Full Scope of Injuries From West Explosion Remain Unknown. The Dallas Morning News reports that the official government survey doesn’t account for people who were treated at private medical facilities as well as those whose injuries (brain injuries, hearing loss, PTSD) developed after the blast. Now, as safety regulations are up for discussion, and lawsuits are working their way through the system, the county is working to conduct a more comprehensive study.

Jordan Spieth Finishes Second at Masters. The 20-year-old from North Texas gave Bubba Watson a solid run for the green jacket but ultimately fell just short, finishing second in Augusta. He would have been the youngest person to ever win the Masters. From a quick Google search (my golf knowledge is not up to par), it looks like should Spieth win next year, he’ll share that record with Tiger Woods.

John Wiley Price Still Under Investigation, Still No Charges Filed. But the DMN is reporting that court documents in the federal investigation show decades of incidents and suspect dealings, stretching all the way back to the mid-1970s. Price is being accused of, among other things, money laundering, influence-peddling, and bankruptcy fraud.

Margaret Crow Dies at 94. The wife of real estate developer Trammell Crow, Margaret Crow was a philanthropist and, as Jeanne Prejean writes, had the kind of life story that makes for great movies. The Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art opened in 1998 in the Arts District. She passed away Friday at her home.

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Why You Should Pay Attention as the Charter Review Commission Tackles Redistricting

There’s another meeting of the city charter redistricting committee this evening, and you should start paying attention. Even though the ongoing effort to rework Dallas’ charter is not as sexy/controversial/batcrap-crazy as the leading civic spectacles of the day (345 teardown, DISD home-rule debate), it’s every bit as important.

It’s not because of the issue I wrote about, council pay, in which I advocate $100,000 annual salaries for council members. (The commission is largely in favor of a council pay raise, but no one thinks they can get close to that number, because OUTRAGE!) No, the big issue they’re beginning to tackle in earnest is changing the redistricting process — and getting rid of the borderline-sleazy backroom dealing that went on in the 2011 redistricting battle is priority No. 1.

How will they do that? Who knows, because they first have to come to a consensus, and then the council has to approve the plan. Tall order. But I have some pretty good guesses as to the solutions they will/should explore that include and go beyond this fine DMN editorial on the subject.
How will they do that? Who knows, because they first have to come to a consensus, and then the council has to approve the plan. Tall order. But I have some pretty good guesses as to the solutions they will/should explore that include and go beyond this fine DMN editorial on the subject.

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Leading Off (4/7/14)

TxDOT Land Purchases Under Federal Investigation. This is what we know: In 2009, businessmen Kevin Bollman and Wade Blackburn started snatching up land the state would eventually need to widen I-35E in Denton County and make repairs in Dallas. They say they used public records in deciding where to buy. By 2011, the state was purchasing large swaths of the land, costing taxpayers millions. Now, the whole ordeal is under investigation.

Final Four Festivities Wrap Tonight. It’s been one heck of a weekend, no? The March Madness Music Festival finished off its three days of fun last night with a three-hour Bruce Springsteen show. The cold and rain kept the space from filling to capacity, but those who made it out were certainly rewarded. Tonight, Connecticut faces Kentucky (sigh) in the National Championship Game. And then, we can all set our sights on whether DFW will be home to the Final Four again in 2017.

Rain Pushes Duck Commander 500 to Today. For hours, attempts were made to get the track ready for the race, but it just wasn’t possible. The race is now scheduled for 11 a.m. today at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Country Music Awards Headed Here in 2015. In more big event news, Jerry Jones is bringing the awards show to AT&T Stadium next April. He was on hand for the announcement last night in Las Vegas.

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The Literalist Mind of George W. Bush, Artist

You get the sense from Jenna Bush Hager’s interview with her father, former Most Powerful Man in the World George W. Bush, this morning on the Today show that even his family would have been less surprised to see him have become a house painter in his retirement than an artist.

The occasion was the opening of a new exhibit featuring Bush’s portraits of world leaders at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

I’ll leave the art criticism to our Peter Simek. What I found most revealing about Mr. Bush in this segment is one short exchange with Jenna about his portrait of Tony Blair:

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Leading Off (4/4/14)

Storms Pummel Denton and Collin Counties. Last night as the weather rolled through, tornadoes were spotted, cars and buildings were damaged, Twitter feeds were filled with photos of huge chunks of hail, and most of the “G.I. Joe” episode of Community was preempted by nonstop meteorology. So, yes, the damage was severe.

SMU Loses NIT Championship Game. Though the Mustangs led by seven points with about six minutes left, they fell to Minnesota, 65-63, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “We didn’t handle prosperity very well,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “We had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game.”

Transportation Official Says Poor Left Out of I-345 Debate. Michael Morris of the North Central Texas Council of Governments claims the voices of minorities have been missing from the discussion over the future of a stretch of road that connects U.S. Highway 75 and Interstates 30 and 35 in downtown Dallas. Morris says proponents of the effort to remove the highway are white, wealthy, and they don’t live in the neighborhood. Urban planner Patrick Kennedy, who’s spearheaded the effort, said his group is beginning to reach out to South Dallas neighborhoods to discuss their ideas for the corridor. NCTCOG released estimates Thursday that two-thirds of the 200,000 daily trips on the road are coming from or driving to somewhere in Dallas.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings Says I -345 Must Be Repaired Before It Can Be Removed

The mayor released this statement last evening regarding the proposed removal I-345:

I have participated in several discussions over the last few weeks with local business leaders, concerned citizens and the Texas Department of Transportation about the status of I-345.

While I remain undecided about the proposal to tear down the highway, I am convinced that repairing it is necessary before any decision is made about the future of I-345.

I learned that canceling or postponing renovations will increase safety concerns for travelers on the highway, and I refuse to compromise the safety of our citizens for any idea, regardless of its merit.

It is also important to understand that tearing down I-345 would be very expensive, with TxDOT estimating a cost of approximately $1.9 billion to fund demolition and associated street and bridge improvements. And it’s a time-consuming process as well. Similar projects have taken up to 10 years to complete.

Patrick Kennedy is skeptical:

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Frustrated Mike Rawlings Leaves For Houston

Saying he was “fed up” with the controversy surrounding his role in the home rule effort, Mike Rawlings accepted a position as mayor of Houston late Sunday night. He was introduced at a press conference earlier this morning (pictured). Ignoring normal procedure because this way would be quote “oh my lord, soooo much more fun,” the Dallas City Council has decided to put Dwaine Caraway back in charge as interim mayor.

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Leading Off (3/28/14)

Appeals Court Upholds Texas’ Abortion Restrictions. On Thursday the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling that the tougher requirements passed last year by the legislature are unconstitutional. The law has already forced 19 clinics to shut down, and more closures are likely as more of the law’s provisions go into effect this year.

Hoarder’s Body Found in M Streets Home. Though police had been looking for 67-year-old Skip Bynum since last Saturday when friends expressed concerns about his well-being, he couldn’t be located due to large piles of debris throughout his home. Contractors hired to clean the home out discovered Bynum on Thursday.

Denton Woman Sets World Record for Breast-Milk Donation. Alyse Ogletree has given 53,081 ounces to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. Another point of pride for my hometown.

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Highways Are Bleeding Dallas. So Why Are You Surprised We Want to Kill One?

Maybe you love your car. Maybe you love driving. Maybe you love the highways that allow you to have your big home in a lovely neighborhood miles and miles (and maybe even miles more) from downtown. Maybe you even love your commute, getting to spend a couple hours each day listening to the latest Radiolab podcast or working your way through the Game of Thrones audiobooks or whatever. Bully for you. Those of us who live in and care about the city’s central core are generally happy to let you be. We don’t tread on you, not normally.

Except now. You’re killing us. You and your neighbors in the Stonehollow Creek Meadow on Townlake Castle Village II subdivision. I’ll let Patrick Kennedy explain:

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The First Muslim FBI Agent

Gamal Abdel-Hafiz was born and raised in Cairo, moved to the United States, was naturalized a U.S. citizen, and recruited by the FBI after he’d worked on a team translating evidence of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. As an agent, he was credited with getting confessions out of Al Qaeda members responsible for the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and members of a terrorist cell in Buffalo, New York. But then it all fell apart for him.

Two fellow agents accused him of being a traitor, saying that he’d refused to wear a wire to record other Muslims. An ABC News report and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly painted him as disloyal, implying that his actions had obstructed an investigation that could have prevented the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. He was suspended from the FBI (for unrelated accusations made by his former wife).

When Todd Bensman wrote about Abdel-Hafiz in the March 2007 issue of D Magazine — one of our 40 greatest stories — the agent had already been reinstated to his job but questions were raised by one former agent.

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I-345 Panel Discussion Set for Thursday

Now First United Methodist Church is getting in on the act. On Thursday, Patrick Kennedy from A New Dallas will lead a panel discussion on “bringing investment to downtown and the surrounding disadvantaged areas.” Translation: tearing down I-345. Other panelists include the Dallas Morning News‘ architecture critic Mark Lamster, CitySquare’s Larry James and Gerald Britt, and BC Workshop’s Mark Lea. The “Let’s Do Lunch!” event runs from 11:30-1. Pompeii and Cup Cakin’ Machine food trucks will be on site, and the conversation will take place in the Fiedler Atrium.

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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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Leading Off (3/21/14)

Dallas ISD Home-Rule Effort Continues Communication Struggles. Support Our Public Schools hosted three town hall meetings last night to address concerns and to gather petition signatures in support of DISD wresting control of its own affairs from the state. Our own Dan “Killer” Koller was at the Preston Royal library, where state Rep. Jason Villalba and City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates were among those presenting to an audience “packed in like sardines.” Dan says the event organizers deserve a failing grade for not allowing enough time to take questions or to have a true two-way discussion with those present.

Grand Jury Subpoenas Issued in John Wiley Price Case. A number of associates of the Dallas County commissioner have reportedly been summoned to testify in the FBI’s long-running corruption investigation. It was way back in June 2011 when agents seized $229,000 from Price’s home. This latest news is the first sign of activity in the case since last year.

Kennedale Coach Arrested For Filming Teachers Undressing. Jason Tomlinson allegedly installed a camera under sinks in two faculty bathrooms and captured footage of male and female colleagues using the bathroom, exposing their buttocks and genitals. The camera’s drive contained folders of videos categorized by teachers’ names and with ratings of “fine” or “good.”

Couple Gives Birth to Quintuplets at Baylor. It’s a record delivery for the Dallas hospital — five newborn babies. I already feel sorry for the one boy who’ll have to share his birthday with four sisters.

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