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What Can We Learn About the Trinity River Project From Yesterday’s Dallas City Council Meeting?

Purely as a piece of political theater, yesterday’s Dallas City Council meeting had something for everyone. There were surprising plot twists, contentious debates, great dialogue, and even moments of hilarious buffoonery. What started as a presentation of the plan the mayor’s urban design “Dream Team” created for the Trinity River morphed into a workshopping of byzantine parliamentary procedure.

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Leading Off (4/17/15)

Trinity Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Is Quickly Sedated. Despite Tuesday’s declarations by consultants whom toll road proponents themselves commissioned  — namely that there’s no good reason for putting a highway through a potentially great park — support on the Dallas City Council for the federally-approved design known as Alternative 3C seems not to have softened. At a long work session on Thursday afternoon, toll road opponents moved to drop the massive project entirely and to seek federal approval instead for a low-speed, meandering road whose primary purpose would be to provide access to the adjacent park (just what Mayor Mike Rawlings’ dream team recommended.) But that proposal was roundly rejected, 10-4, and instead the same majority voted to proceed with planning for 3C. There was also an attempt by Councilman Philip Kingston to call a vote that would have forced each member to declare his or her support for (or opposition to) 3C. This irritated toll road proponents, who maneuvered around it with their own amendment to Kingston’s proposed amendment. Rawlings made another of his public pronouncements (about the Dream Team proposal) designed to sound like he’s keeping an open mind: “We have just met this beautiful, in my case, lady, and I’m not ready to get married today.” But he then seemed to show his cards when he put Vonciel Jones Hill — whose dedication to plopping a mega-highway next to the river is unwavering — in charge of seeking public input on the proposals under consideration. “It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house,” said former councilwoman Angela Hunt. Reminder: May 9 is Election Day.

 A Lot of Words About Dez Bryant. He recently fired one advisor, who had close ties to the Dallas Cowboys, and engaged the services of another management company. What does this mean for Bryant’s relationship with the team, which is still waiting for him to sign his contract for next season? Yeah, that’s the question.

Man Detained For Watauga Abduction Attempt. Police have found a person of interest in the failed kidnapping Mike mentioned in Wednesday’s “Leading Off.”

Sex Offender Escapes Fort Worth Halfway House. Charles Sprague is suspected in a kidnapping and robbery in North Richland Hills on Wednesday. He’s been added to the Texas 10 Most Wanted Sex Offenders list.

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SAGA Pod: Jim Schutze on Trinity Toll Roads New and Old; Also, DISD

It’s SAGA Pod After Dark! We stop by Schutze Manor to discuss the Trinity Toll Road, the Mayor, the people who really run this city, the group trying to get the Toll Road done at any cost, the Dream Team plan and more traffic noise. Then we go over the latest non-scandal scandals in DISD and wonder if the Bad Guys have finally won. Also, you can find it on iTunes here. As always, please listen with your ears.

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A D Magazine Guess-tigation: Is Mayor Rawlings Actually a 12-Year-Old Trapped In An Older Man’s Body, Just Like In Big or Vice Versa or Like Father Like Son?

I posed the question in the headline this morning in Leading Off, but after doing so, I started to worry if I’d given enough supporting evidence for my hypothesis. Could I base my entire conclusion on one “holy smokes” quote? Well, sure. I could. But …

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Leading Off (4/15/15)

Probation Officer Admits Role in Violent Drug Ring. Selena Ball pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Ball, 30, of DeSoto, was in what’s being described as a “romantic relationship” with an inmate she was assigned to monitor. If not reporting serious probation violations, and facing up to 20 years in prison as a result, is your idea of romance.

Double Murder Suspect Killed in DeSoto. Colby Robinson was wanted in connection with two murders in Portland. He was spotted at a 7-Eleven. Then there was a chase. Then Robinson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Watauga Girl Escapes Kidnapping. “I was screaming, trying to get out and everything,” the girl said. She apparently chipped her tooth on the car door as she got away. Police are still looking for the suspect.

Johnny Football Attends Local Baseball Game. Looks like Johnny Manziel is out of rehab and back to sitting in prominent seats at sporting events. And the Rangers won.

Pay Your Taxes. It’s that day. I’m sorry. Here’s some free stuff.

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Three Things That Must Happen if Mayor Rawlings Is Serious About His Dream Team’s Trinity Plan

I just got back from the Trinity Commons Foundation annual luncheon during which urban planner Larry Beasley revealed the details of the so-called urban design Dream Team’s plan for rethinking the controversial Trinity Toll Road. Details of the plans are now available online here. Tim will be along to fill in on some details of what went down at he luncheon, and I need a little time to digest it all.

But here’s a one line takeaway: What Beasley essentially presented was a reversion to — and, you could argue, improvement of — the Balanced Vision Plan. No highway. No trucks. No exit ramps flying in every direction. No ugly wall. Just a meandering parkway that provides access to the park and facilitates through-city traffic. Also, no details on how this vision will fit into any funding scheme, or how it meshes with the federal environmental review (Beasley claims it fits snugly, but I’m not immediately convinced), or how heartily Michael Morris chuckled with maniacal laughter when he saw such a quaint vision of a road paraded out in the place of massive highway he wants to fit into his massive regional highway system.

But leaving the luncheon, scratching my head a bit, and wondering with Tim if his initial assessment was correct, that there’s no way the mayor could have ever expected Beasley’s team to recommend Morris’ vision,  I couldn’t help but fixate on the fact that we’ve been here before.

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How City Staff and Toll Road-Backers Misled Mayor Mike Rawlings

As Tim pointed out in Leading Off, there is some tremendous reporting in the Dallas Morning News today from transportation writer Brandon Formby. In his article, Formby lays out the entire chronology of the efforts by former City Manager Mary Suhm and Trinity Commons Foundation Executive Director Craig Holcomb to save the Trinity Toll Road project in the face of mounting opposition. The report comes ahead of today’s private luncheon reveal of the so-called Dream Team’s reworked vision for the road.

The piece pulls back the curtain on just how power brokers have pressed their influence on the mayor, rallying financial support for the pro-road effort, editing his op-eds, counseling him with misinformation or half-truths about the essential features of the road, and coming up with the idea of the dream team and setting the parameters of that groups’ deliberations.

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Michael Morris: Flood Protection Is ‘Most Critical Benefit’ Of Trinity Toll Road

Michael Morris, the transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, is the latest to write an opinion piece about the Trinity toll road for the Morning News. He has previously written or said most of what the piece contains. It mostly notable because he is hitting the “OH MY GOD WHAT ABOUT FLOODS??!1?” part much harder than before.

First paragraph: “Three items about the Trinity Parkway project are critical to remember. First, it is part of the Balanced Vision Plan that has five parts — not four. Second, we are planning for the next 25-plus years, and the region has added, and will continue to add, 1 million people per decade. And third, the most critical benefit of the Trinity Parkway is flood protection.”

Second paragraph: “Eliminating transportation from the corridor would ignore demographic change and eliminate flood protection benefits, and therefore it would be a mistake.”

Third paragraph: “The Trinity Parkway project is a component of the Balanced Vision Plan that includes improvements for flood protection, recreation, environmental restoration, economic development and mobility. The roadway also is an important element that complements and enhances all other components.”

In other words: “Hm, now that everyone is aware of the fact that this road is completely unnecessary — and actually probably pretty harmful — as far as reducing congestion goes, maybe we need it because of flood protection? How does that sound?” Kind of like they’re making it up as they go along.

The rest of Morris’ piece is a master class in throwing out scary numbers with no sourcing and hoping those scary numbers scare you sufficiently. Anyway, while I’m here, I’d like to break down one other sentence.

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Why Marcos Ronquillo Will Never Be Mayor of Dallas

Last night the Dallas Museum of Art held their annual Art Ball fundraiser. As they have in years past, the museum created a parody video (below) intended to stoke chuckles under the tent raised for the black tie hot spot on the city’s social calendar, and perhaps score a little internet buzz in the subsequent days. The video is chock-full of (white) people you should know if you circulate around the halls of power and money and art in Dallas, collectors and patrons, curators and museum administrators, scenesters and socialites. Notably featured is Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who hams it up alongside DMA museum director Maxwell Anderson, who plays the front man in a remake of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” I find the whole thing a little grating and embarrassing, for the museum and everyone involved, though as the DMA’s media relations will surely remind me, I am certainly not in the video’s target audience.

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Angela Hunt Explains When She’ll Run For Dallas Mayor

Former city councilwoman, and persistent fly in the Dallas Citizens Council’s ointment, Angela Hunt stopped by the Old Monk yesterday afternoon to chat with Tim and Zac on D Magazine’s EarBurner podcast about her future political prospects, recent setbacks for proponents of the Trinity toll road, the crane accident at the Dallas Museum of Art, and which television program most resembles her own law practice.

A few corrections and clarifications for listeners:

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Leading Off (4/10/15)

Jordan Spieth Blows 15th Hole at the Masters. He went with the hybrid instead of the 4-iron. Seriously? Sure, he finished 8-under par, one stroke shy of a tournament record, with a three-stroke lead after the first round at Augusta National, but the 21-year-old golfer from Dallas clearly still has a few things to learn. I mean, c’mon, dude’s lost two of his last three tournaments. How good can he be?

Rawlings Has Far More Money Than Ronquillo. Campaign finance reports for the first quarter of 2015 show that Mayor Mike Rawlings has raised $546,227 for his re-election effort while challenger Marcos Ronquillo has collected $101,957. All that cash to win a job that pays $80,000 a year.

Prosecutors Probing Jerry Jones’ World Trade Center Deal. The Dallas Cowboys owner’s company, Legends Hospitality, won the contract to operate the observation deck of One World Trade Center in 2013. That building is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is partly controlled by New Jersey Gov. (and Cowboys fan) Chris Christie. The Manhattan district attorney is investigating whether Jones’ and Christie’s friendship influenced the procurement process. As if we needed another reason to feel dirty when we see this.

Collin County DA Asks Texas Rangers to Investigate AG. Watch out, Ken Paxton. Walker may be coming for you.

Ellis County Fire Chiefs Arrested in Sex Assault Case. The two men were allegedly aware of the incident earlier this year that involved a volunteer firefighter violated by chorizo and a broom stick, and they worked to keep the matter quiet. They were suspended from duty on Thursday and face felony charges of tampering with a witness.

McKinney Teen Wasn’t Bullied. Fourteen-year-old Raymond Howell killed himself last week. Dozens of people rallied outside Boyd High School on Thursday to protest bullying, which some of the boy’s family members said contributed to his suicide. But police report they’ve found no evidence that Raymond was being harassed.

High Heels, Dog Urine Harming Downtown Parks. “It’s one of those only-in-Dallas things, I guess,” says Tara Green, president of Klyde Warren Park.

Opening Day at the Globe in Arlington. First pitch for Rangers vs. Astros is at 3:05 p.m. You’ll have to bring your own Blue Bell.

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Leading Off (4/8/15)

Ellis County Firefighters Charged With Sexual Assault Involving Chorizo. Five were charged with what looks like a hazing-related assault, and one was charged with videotaping it. There are more details in this story, and all of them are unpleasant.

Second Death in a Week at Argyle High School Construction Site. The first one was Thursday, when some heavy metal framework collapsed, killing a 36-year-old construction worker. Yesterday, it seems a 21-year-old man fell off of a trailer. Work on the new athletic facility was halted.

Dallas Police Front Desk Officers Make A Lot in Overtime. Chief Brown says it’s part of a budgetary balancing act. The 11 officers assigned to work security at police headquarters made a combined $330,000 in overtime pay last year. In other Dallas public employee bonus news: 58 executives at Parkland will not get their fourth quarter bonuses for 2014. The scene looked like this.

Local Fake Navy SEAL Arrested in Puerto Rico. Carlos Luna-Gonzalez was arrested last November in Weatherford, then jumped bail and fled. He was picked up yesterday, far away. Mostly I included this story because Parker County sheriff Larry Fowler (a character Zac may have invented) knows how to give a good sound bite.

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Glenn Greenwald in North Texas: NSA Surveillance Program is ‘Antithesis’ of Fourth Amendment

Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer and journalist who became a left-wing celebrity for his articles helping whistle-blower Edward Snowden expose the NSA’s mass-surveillance program, admits enjoying the reaction when critics discovered he would be in North Texas to appear on Glenn Beck’s right-wing radio show—and then to address the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis.

Talking Friday to about 250 people at a luncheon meeting of the NCPA, a Dallas think tank that’s headed now by tea party hero Allen West, Greenwald said of the kerfuffle that was particularly created by his Beck appearance: “I love it.” He recalled trading barbs with “people on Twitter who thought it was a terrible thing to do.” But, he added, “I’ve made it a point to find common ground. I find that’s a healthy thing to do.”

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Why the Morning News Should Regret the Al Petrasek Trinity Toll Road Column

As Tim has noted, having printed Al Petrasek’s absurd arguments for the Trinity toll road alone should be enough to embarrass Dallas’ daily. But online commenters to the column have pointed out an equally troubling matter. Namely, Petrasek is identified only as a “former president of the Trinity Commons Foundation” who’s now retired and lives in Arkansas.

What the newspaper didn’t tell its readers is that Petrasek is retired from having worked as a vice president at HDR Engineering, a firm that has been contracted by the North Texas Tollway Authority for design work on the Trinity project and which could reasonably expect to be involved further (and benefit financially) if the project comes to fruition. Here’s HDR touting its toll road services.

In the comments, Mike Drago of the Morning News responded to this oversight:

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Bureau of Prisons Tries to Silence Barrett Brown

When Barrett Brown was sentenced, he released a statement saying, in part: “The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex. For the next 35 months, I’ll be provided with free food, clothes, and housing as I seek to expose wrongdoing by Bureau of Prisons officials and staff and otherwise report on news and culture in the world’s greatest prison system.” It looks like the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t much care for Barrett’s activities. Last week the BOP shut Barrett out of the inmate computer system used to send email. Yesterday Barrett released this statement:

Following is an account of the events surrounding the sudden termination of my inmate email account by the Bureau of Prisons. I will be submitting it as part of my legal challenge to this suspicious move in the coming week, with the intention of getting a court injunction by which to restore my access until such time as these issues can be clarified.

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