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Are We Witnessing The Fall of the House of Michael Morris?

As Liz mentioned in Leading Off, a planned toll road connecting Garland to Greenville has sparked a statistical feud between the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Last week, when 1,500 people showed up at a public meeting in Rockwall in opposition to the proposed road, one citizen brought to light the fact that the numbers the NCTCOG used to justify their new toll road are dramatically larger than traffic predictions made by TxDOT. If you want to dig into how much larger they are and why, read the well-reported DMN story. What interests me is what this current standoff reveals about how our region’s transportation policy is made.

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Leading Off (9/26/14)

Wylys Must Pay More than $300M in SEC Case. In May, a jury found that brothers Sam and Charles Wyly, founders of Irving-based Michaels Stores Inc., were guilty of fraud. They were found to have hidden their holdings in offshore trusts and to have engaged in illegal trading. On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Sam and the estate of Charles (who died in 2011) must pay $187.7 plus interest, which could bring their total obligation to between $300 million and $400 million. The Wylys had argued their total net worth is only $119 million and that any punishment greater than that amount would bankrupt them. Tough, said the judge.

Need to Borrow Millions? Gov. Perry Can Help. You don’t even need to ask. The Texas Enterprise Fund, which the governor’s office oversees, even awarded $170 million to recipients who never officially applied for it. That’s just one of a number of troubling findings in a state audit report released Thursday.

UT Dallas Repaid State $4.3 Million. The university’s calculation error related to employee benefits is similar to the same one recently discovered at UNT, which has to repay almost $76 million. Maybe the Texas Enterprise Fund can help them out?

Enterovirus-D68 Cases Confirmed in Dallas County. Ten cases of the respiratory illness have been detected in children, which has symptoms much like those of the flu or a cold. Wash your hands regularly. Hand sanitizer is powerless against it, apparently.

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Gay Couples in Texas Have Hard Time Getting Driver’s Licenses

You might have seen this story in the Morning News today. It’s about gays and lesbians who can’t get driver’s licenses because they took a same-sex spouse’s last name. One of the women featured in the story is named Amanda Rodenborg (nee Barbour). Our own Mike Mooney wrote about Rodenborg’s experience with conversion therapy in our September issue. The story got nods from Longreads and Longform. Give it a read, if you haven’t already.

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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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