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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.

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Leading Off (9/12/14)

Planners Back Off Tolling Central. The Regional Transportation Council met Thursday, and its members indicated they’re not moving forward with plans to toll some lanes of U.S. Highway 75. Of course, the move comes only after the Texas Transportation Commission, which is in charge of state-owned highways, said it wouldn’t support tolling. And the RTC didn’t actually take any action Thursday and could still move to toll other highways as a funding mechanism to increase traffic capacity throughout North Texas.

Lawsuit Against Jerry Jones May Be Too Late. The statute of limitations on civil claims of sexual assault is five years. The incident at the center of Jana Weckerly’s suit against the Dallas Cowboys owner, which was filed this week, took place five years and 10 weeks ago. But legal experts say Weckerly’s attorneys could argue that she was of unsound mind for more than 10 weeks of that period, or that Jones was out of the state on business for longer than 10 weeks since the alleged crime occurred. Either finding would make it possible for a judge to decide that the case can proceed.

Mineral Wells is Thirsty. The home of Crazy Water is looking for new water sources, as its primary reservoir (Lake Palo Pinto) has dropped from 28 feet to 14 feet in the last six months. If drought conditions don’t improve, the town could run dry by May of next year.

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Why Are District Attorney and Judicial Elections Partisan?

Yes, Republican Susan Hawk, who’s seeking the Dallas County district attorney’s job, is most likely making the argument out of convenience and self-interest, but isn’t she absolutely right that we shouldn’t be electing our top prosecutors based upon party affiliation?

“Our District Attorney should be focused on law enforcement, not partisan politics,” Hawk said in a prepared statement. “Today, party politics permeates our DA’s office, from hiring and firing to who gets prosecuted and who goes free. When it comes to upholding the law, it shouldn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat.”

Hawk is running for DA against incumbent Democrat Craig Watkins, an unabashed Democrat who contends political ideology should be considered by voters when choosing a district attorney.

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How a North Texas Man Became the Leader of the Syrian Opposition Government

This weekend, the New York Times ran a fascinating story about how a director of operations at a North Texas-based telecommunications company became–for a few months anyway–the interim prime minister of an alternative government opposing the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.

Ghasson Hitto grew up in Syria, in a Kurdish family. His older brother was imprisoned for 14 years for voicing opposition to the government of Bashar al-Assad’s father. At 19, Hitto moved to America, married a midwestern woman, and had four children, at least one of which played varsity football in high school.

A year into the conflict, Hitto’s oldest son, then 24, moved to Syria. Hitto started his involvement by volunteering to work on humanitarian aid projects in the fall of 2012.

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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.

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Leading Off (9/5/14)

Dallas Park Board Skeptical of Privatizing Fair Park. Like Peter mentioned yesterday, the big idea in this week’s report from the mayor’s task force on Fair Park is turning over management of this important city cultural asset to a nonprofit. Well, the Park and Recreation Board got talking about the recommendations on Thursday, and its members weren’t terribly enthusiastic about the notion. Possibly their reluctance is related to how much sway they hold over what happens at Fair Park, operated now by the city Park and Recreation Department, which reports to the Park Board. But also factoring in is the fact that there’s no existing nonprofit group that would seem to be a good fit for running Fair Park.

Dallas Police Involved in Shootings Get Desk Duty. Following a recent string of incidents, the city’s police department has made policy changes that will keep cops who were involved with shootings off the street for a month afterward. In part, Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence said, this is being done to safeguard the mental health of officers who use deadly force in the line of duty. “There is an emotional and psychological impact on you,” he said. “Whether it is good or bad, that’s up to the individual.”

Woman Disappeared From the Shops at Legacy. Christina Morris, 23, was last seen at about 4 a.m. Saturday in a parking garage after spending the evening with friends.

Teenager Gets Life in Prison For Killing 6-Year-Old. Tyler Holder, 18, also was sentenced to an additional 40 years for shooting one of the Arlington cops who’d come to arrest him. It’s an ugly story.

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TCU’s Project ISIS Changing Names

The director of an alternative education program at TCU called Project ISIS has decided to change name of the project. The school was facing the same problems as this company, this institute, this Egyptian goddess, and apparently thousands of women like this. The old program name stood for: “innovating strategies, inspiring students.” The new name, LiiNK, stands for: “let’s inspire innovation ‘n kids.”

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Are Your Cell Phone Calls Being Intercepted?

A corner-office-dwelling FrontBurnervian passes along this Popular Science story in which Les Goldsmith, the CEO of a company that makes a hyper-secure $3,500 mobile phone, says his team has located at least 17 phony cell towers across the United States. The accompanying map places one of those in or near Dallas.

The fake towers are known as “interceptors,” basically equipment used to (not surprisingly) intercept the calls and data coming out of passing phones. Who’s responsible for this? It’s a mystery:

What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.  So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors?  Or are some of them Chinese interceptors?” says Goldsmith.  “Whose interceptor is it?  Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases?  Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it?  The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”

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Rafael Cruz Says More Things That Upset People

I know Rafael Cruz, father of Ted Cruz. He once baked a pretty incredible flan for Elizabeth Lavin and me. And I wrote a story about him for our January issue. So it didn’t surprise me when I saw news of his latest controversial remarks.

While speaking to the Williamson County Republicans last month about minimum wage and race relations, he he cited a black member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, Jason Riley: “Jason Riley said in an interview, Did you know before we had minimum wage laws, Black unemployment and white unemployment were the same? If we increase the minimum wage, Black unemployment will skyrocket,” Cruz said. “See, he understands it, but the average Black does not.”

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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.

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How an Office Romance Went Off the Rails and Brought Down the NCPA’s John Goodman

Back in June, when the National Center for Policy Analysis fired its CEO for alleged “sexual misconduct and breach of fiduciary duty,” the free-market think tank had more than a dozen directors on its board. Chief executive John C. Goodman denied the charges at the time, you might recall, and said his dismissal was based on trivialities. Today the NCPA board is down to just five directors—and insiders say the Dallas nonprofit is struggling to survive.

So, what happened to bring all this about? The apparent implosion has come as the result of an office romance between Goodman and a staffer that went way off the rails, leading to an unusual “job promotion” that backfired badly:

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Middle-Class City Workers Don’t — Can’t? Won’t? — Live in Dallas

Because I know you all can’t get enough of talk about municipal worker salaries, this morning I read more interesting data regarding the residency of city of Dallas employees. It was contained in a memo packet that was distributed to Dallas City Council members on Friday.

You already know that a relatively small percentage of Dallas cops live within the city limits and that only 36 percent of all city workers are Dallasites. This new information points to the fact that, as City Councilman Philip Kingston noted to me, “We seem to do worst with our middle income earners.”

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Only 36 Percent of City of Dallas Employees Live in Dallas

As I wrote previously, yesterday’s post about the relatively low percentage of Dallas Police officers who live within the city proper got me curious about what those numbers look like for all city employees. So I asked.

According to the city public information office, as of last year (the most recent info they had) 36.2 percent of 12,316 city of Dallas employees are also residents. The city’s data claims a slightly higher percentage of cops (21.7 percent) than was in the FiveThirtyEight post (19.1 percent.) The fire department has fled the city at an even higher rate though, with only 17.2 percent of its uniformed personnel Dallasites.

The city charter requires only that the city manager, auditor, attorney, and secretary live in town. If you look at the department by department breakdown below, you’ll see that cops and firefighters are the least likely employees to be residents. Among the city’s civilian workforce, 48.6 percent call Dallas home. Sanitation Services boasts a 70.1 percent residency rate among its 321 employees.

See the full data below.

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