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Making Dallas Even Better

Poll: Should Dallas Consider Raising the Minimum Wage?

This week, as Rudolph Bush notes, the Dallas City Council will have a discussion about whether vendors on city contracts should be required to pay their employees a “living wage” of $10.25 per hour, rather than merely the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour.

Meanwhile, other big cities in the United States have already set their own wage standards higher for all workers — including $10 in Chicago and $15 in Seattle. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is pushing for a $15 minimum nationally. But cost of living varies widely depending on where a person resides, so a higher federal standard would be only a little help in some places while overkill (killing jobs) in others.

Even so, if the City Council decides that those paid on city projects need to be better paid to support themselves and their families, why shouldn’t that same concern (if state law allowed it) extend to everyone who works within the city’s limits?

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Uptown Sam’s Club Opponents Live to Fight Another Day

You probably saw the news yesterday that an appeals court judge ruled in favor of the Dallas residents group that is still trying to block the development of that Uptown Sam’s Club project. You can read more about the ruling here, but it basically boils down to this: a judge rejected the city of Dallas’ claim that the non-profit organization formed by residents to fight the Uptown Sam’s Club had no legal standing to fight the developer in court.

In short, Judge Phyllis Lister Brown said, “Um, yeah. Of course the citizens do have legal standing. Because, you know, duh.” Or in legal terms: “Protecting the quality of neighborhood living is a civic purpose. … Therefore, the Association has a nonprofit purpose and is a nonprofit association to which the Code applies.” Funny that the city of Dallas needed a judge to remind them this.

So, what does the court ruling mean?

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Why Can’t Businesses Place Signs on Downtown Sidewalks?

Question: Why aren’t businesses allowed to put signs on the street downtown? How are people supposed to know they exist if they cannot? (For example, Hospitality Sweet in 400 N. Ervay; Serj across the street from them.) — David H.

What luck! Just last night, during my habitual bedtime reading, I finished Article VII of Chapter 51A of the Dallas City Code, which governs signage and other signage-related activities. It was among the most riveting passages so far of my trip through the regulations of local municipal governance. I am continuously awed by the ability of lawyers to take the language of Shakespeare and Keats, Twain and Hemingway, and fashion it into the verbal equivalent of pouring out a medium-sized container of thumb tacks and jamming them one by one into the back of your hand. A taste:

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Poll: Should We Stop Honoring the Confederacy?

A memorial to Confederate soldiers was vandalized over the weekend in Denton, sparking another conversation about whether in 2015 we should continue to honor those who fought in open rebellion against the United States. What do you think?

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Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund Could Run Out of Money by 2038

That’s according to credit rating agency Moody’s, as the Observer reported earlier today:

On July 9, a revised audit of the system revealed it had about $3 billion in assets, 6 percent less than was reported to the pension fund’s board in May, according to Moody’s. The asset revision was the second for the plan in 2015, which highlights the risk the fund poses to the city’s credit. As the pension system’s unfunded liabilities grow, so does the weight on the city, which is on the hook for its police and firefighters pensions.

Because of the audit revision, earlier this month the pension’s board reduced how much it expects to earn from investments in the future from from 8.5 percent to 7.25 percent. At a rate of 7 percent, Moody’s projects the pension system could be out of money by 2038.

Remember that the city is on the hook for the unfunded liability. Says Wylie H. Dallas:

The good news is that all the dirty laundry is now being aired… the bad news is that the problem is so huge that the City’s financial stability is now at risk (something else I also predicted).

We are very, very fortunate to have Lee Kleinman for Dallas, Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston working hard to address the issues. If it weren’t for their continued pressure, we would likely still be in the dark about the magnitude of the problems.

D CEO noted back in April that the city is fortunate that its other public pension fund — the Employees Retirement Fund of the City of Dallas — seems well run, favoring traditional stocks and bonds over flashy real estate:

Connecticut-born [Cheryl] Alston, who’s 49, has been executive director and chief investment officer for the fund, which covers the city’s civilian employees, since 2004. During those 10 or so years the fund has posted average returns of 8 percent a year, putting it in the top 13th percentile of 408 U.S. public pension funds, according to data compiled by research firm Wilshire Associates.

Alston says credit for that should go to her board, whose seven members all have financial expertise and support an investment approach that she describes as conservative and opportunistic. “We look at risk, return, and liquidity,” Alston explains. “A lot of investors like illiquid investments and in [the financial crisis of] ’08, that hurt them. They had to sell assets to make their payout.”

Poll: What Is Dallas’ Biggest Problem Right Now?

This morning’s “Leading Off” was a bit of a buzzkill, what with its news of air polluted by fracking, a rise in violent crime, and the arrival of true Texas summer heat, not to mention a tirade against Craig Holcomb. Take this along with Peter’s post yesterday about potholes, and this city just about seems on the edge of collapse.

Anyway, which issue most urgently needs to be addressed?

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Leading Off (7/14/2015)

The Barnett Shale is Off-Gassing More Greenhouse Gasses Than Previous Thought: The EPA botched its initial estimates, and as it turns out, fracking in the Barnett Shale is responsible for 64 percent of all methane in our local atmosphere. The good news: most of those emissions are the result of human errors and mechanical failures.

Let’s Put Those Increased Violent Crime Numbers in Perspective: The Dallas Morning News breaks down the much-reported 10 percent increase in violent crime. The takeaway? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. You could argue the increase reflects a return to a historical norm. And if violent crime continues at pace through the end of the year, murders will be at the same level they were 2013 and 2012, while aggravated assaults would only see a 0.4 percent increase over last year.

When Will We Finally Run Craig Holcomb Out of Town? Read Eric Nicholson’s look into the laughable bike share program in Fair Park. I mean, it couldn’t be more stupidly designed, so it will come as no surprise that the usage numbers are equally laughable. But here’s the important bit: when Nicholson tried to get the usage numbers through an open records request, he was stonewalled by the Friends of Fair Park, which operates the program. That decision to not to release the bike share numbers was then upheld in a ruling by the Texas AG.

I mean, seriously? Bike share numbers? We’re keeping those under lock-and-key? Why? Because Friends of Fair Park – which is run by Craig Holcomb, who also heads the Trinity Commons Foundation – doesn’t want more mud on his face for a program that anyone who has any idea about anything looks at for two seconds and thinks, “Good God, that is the sorriest excuse for a bike share program I have ever seen in my entire life.” I mean, seriously? How long are we going to let Holcomb meddle in the city’s business? How long are we going to let him lord over his two little fiefdoms, which happen to involve two of Dallas’ greatest civic assets – Dallas and Fair Park – both of which have languished for decades under the weight of curiously stupid ideas? For the love of all things good, Criag Holcomb, will you please just drift off into a quiet retirement and leave Dallas alone? Please. Thank you for your service. Now go away.

New Designer Drug in Town: It’s called Flakka, and it doesn’t sound like too much fun. Effects include “murderous rage, paranoia, ultra-violence, and running around screaming.” Or basically what it feels like to read about Craig Holcomb’s meddling in Dallas affairs.

It’s Finally Texas Hot: After cool temps and so much rain, we can’t really complain about DFW finally flirting with 100 degrees (heat index popped up to 109 in some places yesterday). Well, unless the AC goes out in your entire apartment complex. Then you can complain.

Troy Aikman Hates Potholes. So Does, It Turns Out, Every Other American

Over the weekend, Dallas Cowboys legend (and former auto dealership owner) Troy Aikman was driving in Dallas. Presumably his car hit a pothole. Or maybe he spotted a pothole ahead of him in the road and swerved to avoid it. Maybe he hit a few potholes in a row, or maybe his entire trip felt like he was dodging potholes like Giants linebackers. Whatever the case, Dallas Cowboys legend Tory Aikman was fed up with the damned potholes, and so he got mad. So mad, in fact, he did what all Americans do these days when we’re mad. We Tweet:

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Leading Off (7/13/2015)

New Criminal History Monitoring Program Introduced at DFW Airport. The TSA has chosen DFW and Logan Airport in Boston to test an FBI pilot program called “Rap Back,” which is part of the Bureau’s massive biometric identification database. Rather than relying on just a one-time background check, the Rap Back program will use the fingerprints provided when an employee starts a job to continuously scan for future “felony-level” offenses. Per the Morning News, “other types of employees, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and even Little League coaches, may eventually be scrutinized by the program.”

Standoff At Omni Hotel Ends Peacefully. A man staying at the downtown hotel barricaded himself in a room Saturday afternoon, and allegedly told a friend who brought him a drink that it would be the last time that friend saw the man alive. The friend had noticed a gun in the hotel room, and alerted hotel security. SWAT was called, and streets surrounding the hotel blocked off. Happily, the man was taken into custody without incident.

Jordan Spieth Wins Again. He beat Tom Gillis at the John Deere Classic to go in to The Open in Scotland on an even higher note.

Greg Hardy’s Suspension Reduced To Four Games. The Cowboys’ defensive end had originally been suspended 10 games after the NFL found that choking and smacking his girlfriend was against the league’s personal conduct policy. But now his 10-game sentence has been reduced to four games, equal to the punishment of Tom Brady, who is suspended for deflating some footballs.

Jac Alder’s Memorial Is Tonight. Celebrate the life and work of the late founder of Theatre Three at Dallas City Performance Hall. The parking lot under the building with be free for the event. Doors open at 5:15, and the memorial starts at 6 pm.

Leading Off (7/10/15)

Violent Crime Up in Dallas. Through the first half of 2015, the total number of murders, rapes, aggravated assaults, and robberies is up 10 percent. No one has a firm explanation for the spike, but police say they are flooding high-crime zones with more manpower to try to stem the tide.

Bush and Clinton Play Nice. Though former presidents George W. and Bill each have a family member vying to win the White House in 2016, they shared the stage last evening to celebrate the graduation of the first class of Presidential Leadership Scholars at the Bush Presidential Center:

“Last night my granddaughter spoke to me in Mandarin,” Bush said, before the crowd, and Clinton, erupted in laughter.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

Former Morning News Editor Takes UNT Gig. Bob Mong, who retired from our local daily newspaper in May, is apparently already sick of spending more time with his family. He’s been named the lone finalist for the presidency of the Dallas campus of the University of North Texas. The current president, Ronald Brown, is being promoted to run the university system’s health care programs, including the newly announced medical school in Fort Worth. I’ll always remember how Mong took the time to write me a short note of praise for a column I’d written for the group of community news sections I once ran at the DMN. He understood that it means a lot to know the guy in the big office on the other side of the building is actually reading your stuff, especially when it’s not the stuff on the front page. He was extremely kind and supportive of our team’s work — not to mention a surprisingly good softball player. Big congrats to him.

Blind Alligator Removed From the Trinity in Fort Worth. “Nuisance Alligator Hunter” is not a new Animal Planet series. It’s something someone can be licensed to do, someone like Chris Stevens, who was called in to catch a 10-foot-2-inch reptile that showed up in the river near the city’s downtown after heavy rains in June. The animal was safely moved to a nature preserve.

Lake Dallas Mayor Resigns Without Explanation. Tony Marino stepped down as the top elected official in the small Denton County city last night, just a few weeks after the shady shenanigans in which he and the city manager/police chief seemed to have engineered the ouster of a newly elected city council member who’d been critical of them. Marino’s replacement, Mike McCaleb, vowed to bring the “wounded” city back together, descending from the dais to address those in attendance:

McCaleb began to cry. “I’m a big baby, too,” he said. “My sister used to accuse me of having a bladder behind my eyes.”

Many residents laughed at his joke.

Sounds like it was an easy room.

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The New York Times on the Federally Subsidized Dallas Exodus

The New York Times reports on the success of an experimental housing policy the federal government rolled out in Dallas. In short, the new program offers vouchers to people who qualify for housing subsidies. That’s not new. Here’s the new bit: if the person receiving the voucher wants to move to a more expensive neighborhood, the government will give that person more money.

The thought is that by helping families move into better neighborhoods, they will have a better chance of breaking the cycles of poverty that persist in poorer parts of town. Better schools, safer neighborhoods, short commutes: in the long run it all translates into lower costs for everyone, those receiving the subsidies and the government. So far, this strategy has been proven successful, even if the program is not perfect:

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Ask John Neely Bryan: How to Fix Dysfunctional Dallas City Hall?

Question: It seems like many of our city council members have a hard time getting along. Office harmony at 1500 Marilla has to be near an all-time low. We have to fix this — city governance is too important to be bogged down by petty strife. Based on your history, how should we best resolve this? Mediation? Arbitration? Reconciliation? Duels? — Freddie M.

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The Canaries are Yelling in the City Hall Coal Mine

Elizabeth Findell has a story in the Dallas Morning News that is ostensibly about council members yelling at city staff members and a general loss of decorum at Dallas City Hall. Throughout the piece, various subjects offer their thoughts on why things have gotten testy down at city hall. Council member Sandy Greyson blames it on social media. Council member Lee Kleinman says many elected officials don’t have much experience as managers. The article ends with the suggestion that what has happened is a generational culture shift.

But you have to read between the lines of the article to get at the real story, which is not so much about manners in governance as it is about a city government whose very structure creates a contentious relationship between elected officials and city staff.

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Leading Off (7/6/2015)

North Texas Residents Were Really Determined To Blow Stuff Up Saturday. Dallas Fire-Rescue confiscated more than 1,000 pounds of illegal fireworks and put out 45 firework-related fires on July 4th. Meanwhile, a firefighter in Azle was injured in a blaze possibly started fireworks, as well. Luckily, no one here strapped a mortar to his or her head. That would just be completely nuts.

Rick Perry Went On an Independence Day Charm Offensive in New Hampshire. “The candidate had an almost theatrical, hyperactive zeal as he marched with two dozen or so supporters through the streets of Merrimack. He began the parade pantomiming drumming motions, in time with a local marching band several floats ahead. ‘Happy birthday, y’all,’ was his refrain along the parade route. In Perry-speak, women he’s never met before were greeted with a “Hey, girl.’ Men are ‘Hey, man’ and any plurality of voters was ‘Hey, gang!’ He greeted children with fist bumps and an exclamation of ‘Bam!'”

Mavs Sign Free-Agent Center DeAndre Jordan. Apparently, Chandler Parsons attached himself to Jordan’s hip to convince him to pick Dallas. Thanks, Chandler Parsons.

Fort Worth Teen Charged With Making Terroristic Threats. Nineteen-year-old Nicholas Amrine has been in custody since June, after a pastor at Convergence Church in Fort Worth notified police of posts on Amrine’s Facebook page, which apparently warned people not to attend an upcoming church event and shows him posing with a rifle. He threatened a mass shooting “like Columbine.” Amrine was placed in state hospital, but was formally arrested and charged last week.

 

 

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Leading Off (7/3/15)

Hood County Threatened With Gay-Marriage Lawsuit. Two men in Granbury want to exercise the right to which the Supreme Court last week affirmed they are entitled, but the men so far have been denied. They’ve now moved towards taking legal action against the county government for not issuing them a license. Meanwhile dueling rallies converged upon the courthouse Thursday to express their support for, or opposition to, the county clerk’s refusal to comply with the law.

UNT, TCU to Partner on Medical School. It’d be only the second program in Dallas-Fort Worth to confer M.D. degrees. Though neither university has confirmed the news, sources told the Fort Worth Business Press that the board of trustees for the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth is expected to vote on the plan Monday. UNT already operates the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine there, and the school’s previously announced intention to add a medical school has been opposed in the past by osteopaths. TCU would provide much of the funding that the state has so far declined to contribute to the effort.

Murder Rate Up in June. Dallas saw 20 homicides during the month — the most since August 2013 — and police don’t have a solid explanation for the uptick.

Interim DISD Chief Supports Teacher Evaluation System. Dallas teachers who had hoped the departure of district superintendent Mike Miles would spell the end of a controversial means of determining which classroom educators are getting the job done may be disappointed to hear Miles’ temporary replacement, Michael Hinojosa tell WFAA, “We need to support the teachers but also they need to realize these initiatives are going to move forward.”

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