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Leading Off (2/27/15)

Winter Is (Still) Coming. The forecast calls for snow this morning, freezing rain tomorrow.

Trustees Interrogate Dallas ISD Staff on Hiring. For more than three hours the board put questions to administrators over whether they told the truth about the purpose of $6.4 million approved in October for the hiring of teachers. Some believed the superintendent’s explanation, some did not.

And the Hits Keep Coming For DISD. The Morning News reports that Texas Education Agency investigators found 60 district employees had not been fingerprinted and that an additional 120 had been fingerprinted but not in the correct way. Proper fingerprinting is necessary to conduct criminal background checks. Furthermore, according to the TEA report, Superintendent Mike Miles submitted a statement saying that DISD was in compliance with fingerprinting requirements even though an internal district audit had indicated otherwise.

Lancaster Police Release Report on Dez Bryant Incident. Rumors of an incriminating video featuring the Dallas Cowboys receiver led to media requests for information about what happened in that Walmart parking lot in 2011. According to the cops, there was no offense committed, and they have no video of what occurred. Could there be any less news in this news?

Mockingbird Pedestrian Bridge May Finally Get Built. The project, providing a path for pedestrians and cyclists over the six-lane street, is a key link in the plan to extend the Katy Trail. City officials have said construction should begin this fall.

Congressman Pushes For Chris Kyle to Get Medal of Honor. Republican Roger Williams of Cleburne introduced a bill Thursday proposing the late American Sniper receive the prestigious award for his Iraq War exploits. He’s probably got a better shot at this than he did the Best Picture Oscar, anyway.

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Let the Rural Opposition to the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail Project Begin

You knew it was only a matter of time before someone from out in the hinterlands of Texas started to make a stink about the proposed high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas, which, up until now, was moving along surprisingly smoothly. Well, now Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe has introduced House Bill 1889 which would require that the high speed rail project be approved by every city and county along the route in order to move forward. And you know the chances of that: zilch. So the Texas Central Railway will focus on trying to defeat the bill.

Curiously, the proposed route of the high-speed rail line does not go through Metcalf’s district, not that the representative cares. He likes roads and hates cities, which is enough to hate high-speed rail:

“We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways,” Metcalf said. “We do not need a high speed railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path.”

Sigh. Democracy can be so tedious.

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Jill Jordan Explains the Highway Spaghetti Planned for the Continental Pedestrian Bridge

This morning Rudy Bush tweeted that there was an interesting Trinity toll road conversation going on during the open microphone section of the Dallas City Council meeting, so I decided to head on over to the city’s handy online video section and check it out. A trio of speakers, including a property owner in the Design District, talked about the value of that neighborhood’s proximity to the Trinity River park and how the proposed toll road could negatively affect the potential for the Design District to become even more of a premier neighborhood and destination.

The highlight of the open microphone session came at the tail end. During his remarks, the property owner expressed concern about the contradictions apparent in multiple Trinity toll road renderings produced by different agencies, like the NTTA and TxDOT, which show exit ramps from the proposed road swamping the Continental Pedestrian Bridge and even depicting cars driving on the pedestrian bridge. The owner asked for some clarification, and when he was finished, council member Sandy Greyson called Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to the microphone to sort out the confusion.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings: ‘I Didn’t Back Out of Tuesday’s Debate’

Marcos Ronquillo’s campaign has issued a release saying they are “disappointed as Rawlings pulls out of Tuesday’s debate.” You can read the full thing, below. I caught Rawlings at his personal office a bit ago. He was headed in to City Hall. He assured me that he is insane and that only insane people should be on the road right now. “Tim!” he said. “Please don’t leave your kitchen in East Dallas! You’d be a fool to try to drive to your office!” I swear to you, Wick, that’s exactly what he said. In any case, Rawlings said he never agreed to participate in tomorrow’s debate. His position all along, he said, has been that he won’t do any of these events until we know exactly who is running; the filing deadline is February 27. He called the release from Ronquillo’s camp “just politics.”

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How a Subway Could Transform Downtown Dallas

A downtown Dallas brimming with street life, and under-street life, with shops and churches and schools, and much more affordable rents? Jim Schutze waxes on about how a subway line built beneath Elm Street could help make this fantasy a reality, leaning heavily on the vision of real estate developer John Tatum. But we’ve got choices ahead:

The tragedy Tatum sees about to unfold downtown is that Dallas is about to make two decisions — the second downtown DART rail alignment and the Trinity River toll road — that will seriously cripple if not kill the chances for achieving Fantasy Downtown. A decision to build the toll road would waste a huge sum of money, $1 billion to $2 billion, that the city should spend on rail instead. With that kind of money to spend on itself, Dallas could achieve some all-important independence of suburban DART board members who have always fought any concentration of resources downtown.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings Dodges Topic of Trinity Toll Road

Take a minute to read this post by Jim Schutze. It’s about Councilman Philip Kingston getting kicked out of a breakfast meeting because, it appears, Mayor Mike Rawlings didn’t want him asking questions about the proposed Trinity toll road. Here’s the upshot: Rawlings has decided that he is not going to debate anyone on the toll road. He told Schutze: “I have made it real clear to people who have asked me that I am not going to debate the tollway situation.” And: “There is nothing on the ballot that the citizens are voting about.” So he’s not going to debate anyone on the toll road because we’re not voting on the issue. He couldn’t be more wrong.

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Where Is Mayor Rawlings’ Leadership on Legislative Effort To Gut Municipal Budgets?

Nothing reveals the inherent contradictions in the shriller corners of the far right political persuasion than a solid debate over taxes. On the one hand, we’re used to hearing the mantra repeated with regimental gusto that government is bad and that the best policy decisions are made at the local level. On the other hand, taxes equals bad.

So, it’s interesting when these two credos run up against each other as they did yesterday in Austin when mayors from Texas’ major cities gathered to voice their opposition to legislative efforts – endorsed by Governor Greg Abbott – to introduce “revenue caps” and “appraisal caps” to limit property tax growth. In this instance, taxes-equals-bad runs directly against local-knows-best. And because Texas’ urban mayors understand the needs of their constituents, what it takes to balance a municipal budget, and how the lack of a state income tax and the mercurial nature of other revenue sources make property tax absolutely vital to the provision of city services, they all oppose the legislature on this issue.

Well, I should say all of Texas’ urban mayors except one. This Dallas Morning News article about the meeting of the mayors is quick to point out that there was one big city that didn’t have a representative at the meeting: Dallas.

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Grocery or Big Box In Downtown Dallas? Or, Why Inequality Needs to be Part of Urbanism Conversation.

There’s an interesting tidbit on Unfair Park this morning about the possibility of a new, large-scale retailer coming to the ground floor of 1401 Elm, the largest vacant building in the Central Business District.  The Observer’s Stephen Young makes a heads-up observation. Back in January 2014, the developer of 1401 Elm requested TIF funds from the city, and the request said the project would include 25,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 40,000 square feet of office. Now, the developer has come back to the city with a revised outlook: how about just 65,000 square feet of commercial space? That, according to city staff, would allow the developer more flexibility for things like bringing in an upscale grocer to take over the building’s 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

But wait. Young points to a Dallas Business Journal article from December in which Jack Gosnell, who is brokering the retail for the site, suggests that the same space might be good for a “big box retailer or a department store.”

Cue panic. Could Sam’s Club be invading downtown too?

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How the Mayor Should Handle Ethics Complaints About His Well-Stocked ‘Officeholder Account’

Mayor Rawlings pinky swears he won’t touch money in his officerholder account that came in before he announced his re-election bid in December. He also said that he became aware of the loophole that allows incumbents to receive unlimited contributions back in 2011, and believes we “gotta change that,” but, you know, hasn’t gotten around to it. Now he will, at some point in the next six months, which sounds like after the election.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that response terribly satisfying. Here’s a better idea.

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Leading Off (2/13/15)

Guns to Fix What Ails Texas Education System. Apparently so, seeing as a Texas Senate committee voted Thursday to allow handguns to be carried on state university campuses, and Anna ISD is making plans to arm teachers at its high school.

Rats Broke Dallas Zoo Monorail. The train has been inoperative since last summer, the third time it’s been down for an extended period in as many years. The nonprofit that operates the zoo is planning a $3 million fix to the 25-year-old system, which has suffered repeated damage as rodents have chewed through the power cables.

Government Regulation Shutters Small Business. The organizer of the Eutopia swingers club — DFW’s newest Lifestyle Venue! —  says he’s decided to move his erotic parties out of Arlington rather than appeal the city’s order to cease operating out of a home there.

Video Shows Cop Car Driving Wrong Way. A woman captured cell phone footage of a Dallas Police cruiser reversing against the flow of traffic on the Central Expressway frontage road at Fitzhugh Avenue and posted it to the department’s Facebook page. The DPD asked for more details and has turned the matter over to a traffic supervisor.

New Revelations at Trial of Chris Kyle’s Killer. Michael J. Mooney, New York Times best-selling e-book author, will be along in a little while to weigh in on what we’ve learned so far.

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Mike Rawlings’ Kangaroo COG: Who Deserves Blame for the Wasteful Toll Road Planning Charade?

From the beginning, we knew the entire thing was a set-up, orchestrated to produce precisely this conclusion. We wrote that it was all an attempt to allow Rawlings a way to distance himself politically from the Toll Road ahead of the May election (From Formby’s story: “I believe the leaders of the city will make that appropriate decision [to expand the road to six-lanes] at that point,” [Rawlings] said. “I will not be one of them.”) This wasn’t the “dream team.” It was the urban planning equivalent of a kangaroo court. The dream team was actually the Kangaroo COG.

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Poll: How Long Should Dogs Be Allowed to Bark?

Right now Dallas pet owners risk a citation if they allow their dogs to bark continuously for as long as 15 minutes. Yesterday the City Council’s Quality of Life Committee discussed lowering that limit to only 5 minutes, though and assistant city attorney warned that could result in a spike of complaints that code enforcers could have difficulty keeping up with. Councilman Rick Callahan suggested making it 10 minutes, and Councilwoman Sandy Greyson agreed that might be the “magic number.” What do you think?

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