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Good News Dallas
by Trey Garrison    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 08:42 PM

Mayor Laura Miller, council members Pauline Medrano and Angela Hunt, Chief of Police David Kunkle, and representatives from various city departments met Tuesday morning with over 150 people at a town hall meeting held at the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum to discuss the troubled entertainment area's future.

City officials and staff for nearly two hours listened to and discussed the problems plaguing the area including crime, crime, zoning, and special use permits.

“Our vision is to make Deep Ellum a place where people want to come to eat and shop, listen to great music, have a great time, and know that it is safe,” Mayor Miller told the audience, mostly resident and business owners in the area east of downtown.

She said she would create a task force to tackle the problems the area faces.

The Deep Ellum Task Force will be made up of one representative from each of the following: the Deep Ellum Foundation, the Deep Ellum Association, Deep Ellum Residents Council, a restaurant representative, a live music bar owners representative, and a dance club/bar representative. This new task force will meet monthly at a location in Deep Ellum with representatives from various city departments including Police, Code Compliance, Development Services (Zoning), and Streets.

Gianna Madrini, President of Deep Ellum Association said “We are so delighted that the Mayor, Chief Kunkle, the Council members and city staff took the initiative to be here. We want to get back to our roots-arts, music-and make this a great neighborhood to live in, and we can do that with the city’s help.”

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by Carolyn Barta    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 05:25 PM

Gov. Rick Perry is actually courting legislators to support a new gross receipts tax on business in the upcoming special session on school finance, but some area Republican members are balking. After meeting with Perry here in small group sessions, some said they prefer to use the surplus to “buy down” local property taxes, but there clearly is no consensus.

John Sharp, Perry’s appointee to head the Texas Tax Reform Commission, was with Perry when he tried to rustle up support for the one percent gross receipts tax his commission has recommended. Sharp is in the process of drafting legislation to be introduced at the special session this spring.

One area legislator, however, said some members want to deal with the single issue they’ve been presented by the Texas Supreme Court -- the illegal statewide property tax -- by simply giving local districts more state funds from an available surplus that would reduce their dependence on local property taxes and give them some breathing room. Most districts are either at or near the $1.50 property tax cap and have no discretion left for raising money locally.

The state now has a $4.3 billion surplus that could be used to allow schools district to reduce their tax rates by 20 to 30 cents. The reasoning is that the Legislature controls the cap, so it can either lift the cap or buy it down. This solution won’t eliminate recapture but it will give the districts, and local property taxpayers, some relief, at least in the short term.

Using the surplus to buy down local taxes would put a temporary patch on the troublesome school finance system that would probably satisfy the Supreme Court and enable legislators to get out of the session politically unscathed. They could then wait until the next regular session to deal with meaningful tax and education reform.

Sharp and Perry say a one percent gross receipts tax would raise about $4 billion and with higher sales and cigarette taxes, the Legislature could buy down the local property tax rates by about 50 cents.

However, one legislator said members don’t trust Perry to simply use the money for education; they feel he’s looking for a new revenue stream to fund his Trans Texas Corridor and to pay for an increasing Medicaid case load and other expenses.

Nine House members from across the state, including some from Dallas suburbs, have sent a letter to the governor asking that he consider the option of using the surplus to buy down local property taxes, thus postponing substantive tax and education reform until the next regular session in January, 2007.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn reported Feb. 8 that $4.3 billion in general revenue-related funds were available to be appropriated or re-appropriated. They include a contingency appropriation of some $1.8 billion earmarked for public education that has not yet been spent. Strayhorn, who’s running for governor as an independent, also reported last week that since 1999, Texas has dropped from 25th to 40th in the nation in per-student spending.

Perry already has said that that the Legislature may not be able to accomplish education reform in a special session with tax reform. But he is advocating a broader business tax to replace the current inequitable franchise tax that is expected to produce less revenue over time. A broader tax would capture more sectors of the economy.

Some Republican members, however, fear the effects a broader business tax would have on small businesses and say exemptions already are being carved out for lawyers and doctors. Others have tough races in the fall elections and don’t want to have to defend a vote for new taxes.

As for Perry, he knows he needs to produce some leadership in this special session or he, likewise, could be in political trouble. As a result, he has adopted a different approach with members, engaging in some give-and-take. In the past, sources said, he would meet with members, announce what he wanted to get done and then leave as staff answered questions. By contrast, he seemed much more approachable in recent meetings.
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by Trey Garrison    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 01:10 PM

Theoretically 2008 could be a very hectic summer for Dallas - the Mary Kay convention (booked), the GOP convention (bid on), and now the the city is submitting a bid for the Democrat convention.

San Antonio is also on the Democrats' list.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller told DallasBlog that while the city is making the bid for the GOP convention, the Mary Kay convention gets top priority.

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by Trey Garrison    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 12:42 PM

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller plan to force a series of votes on indecency legislation when the Senate Commerce Committee takes up a broad-based telecommunications reform bill in the spring, according to the Hollywood Reporter and Reuters.

The unlikely allies have introduced legislation to expand indecency regulations to cable and satellite TV providers, include violent content under the same regulations as indecent content and codify the current children's television rules.

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by Mike Fisher    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 12:10 PM

As Texas QB Vince Young readies to move to the NFL, he is said to be flunking tests. But really, it's the people around him who deserve the failing grades. Click on 'The School of Fish' for more. ...

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by Carolyn Barta    Tue, Feb 28, 2006, 11:20 AM

Repeal of the Wright Amendment isn't just a local issue.  Other cities are weighing in. Some with Southwest Airlines connections want Wright repealed, including Memphis, Nashville, Omaha and Manchester, N.H.  Other cities, however, fear losing their American service to DFW if Wright is dumped. They include Evansville, Ind., Knoxville, Tenn., and Toledo. See Robert Dodge's  page 1 story at

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by Brian Bodine    Mon, Feb 27, 2006, 09:24 PM

According to the San Antonio Express News, a survey by Tax Foundation indicates that Texas ranks number seven in tax friendliness to business.

The article reports that the absence of an individual income tax in Texas and the state’s tax structure are the reasons for the high ranking.

Click here for article 

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, Feb 27, 2006, 06:45 PM

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle will host a town hall meeting on “Turning Around Deep Ellum” at the Gypsy Tea Room on Tuesday morning at 10:30 a.m.

Council members Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, along with members of the Deep Ellum Association, the Deep Ellum Foundation and local residents and property owners invite the public to discuss issues ranging from crime, parking and the preservation of the urban landscape.

This meeting will serve as a forum for businesses, residents and property owners to collaborate with local officials to develop a new strategy and a 90-day initiative to improve Deep Ellum.

For more information, call Gianna Madrini, president of the Deep Ellum Association, at 214.748.1176

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, Feb 27, 2006, 01:57 PM

Black drivers are 2.4 times more likely than whites and Hispanic drivers are 2.2 times as likely as whites to be subjected to consent searches by police in Dallas.

And a new study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says Dallas Police are almost five times as likely to push traffic stops into consent searches, no matter what the driver's race.

As we noted last week, the Dallas Police Department has a low number of complaints filed against it alleging racial profiling – only 10 complaints filed of 838,418 police contact incidents in 2005. However, police admit the numbers they collect aren’t sufficient to determine if there is a trend in racial profiling regarding traffic stops.

A study by Austin-based Texas Criminal Justice Coalition purports to show in a study titled Searching for Consent: An Analysis of Racial Profiling Data in Texas that minorities in the Dallas area are more than twice as likely to be consent searched.

Consent searches are when an officer involved in a traffic stop does not have probably cause to search a driver's vehicle, but requests to do so. Most drivers, unaware of their rights or intimidated by police, agree to the search.

According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, because consent searches are performed entirely at the discretion of the individual officer, the data that these searches produce may provide a more accurate measure of racial profiling than the data produced by non-discretion searches, which results from situations in which officers are required to perform searches.

Texas law says that if an officer does not have probable cause to search a vehicle, a driver can refuse the search without consequence.

As a result, many Texans, regardless of race, are subjected to over-searching. The report warns that these over-searching policies ultimately diminish public safety, and it urges departments to use more efficient policing practices.

“The over-use and inconsistent use of consent searches in Texas is not just a minority issue or civil rights issue, but also a public safety issue,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Consent searches divert resources from crime-fighting tasks that improve public safety. Our officers’ time and energy should be spent on productive techniques, not on a hit or miss tactic that is diminishing the community’s faith in law enforcement.”

Report data indicate that 2.3 percent all drivers (103,705) statewide were subjected to consent searches at traffic stops in 2004. Remarkably, fully 10.7% of DPD searches were consent searches - 1,704 consent searches out of 15,943 searches.

In addition to the alleged inefficiency of and ongoing racial disparities produced by consent searches, another concern lies in the constitutionality of this police practice.

“The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right to be free from unreasonable searches. Law enforcement shouldn’t be allowed to force people into giving up their rights at traffic stops through trickery or intimidation. The practice violates fundamental principles of protected liberty,” said Will Harrell, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Dallas County Sheriff's had much more level numbers. In Dallas County Sheriff traffic stops, blacks were only 0.2 times more likely than white to be consent searched, and Hispanics were 1.1 times as likely as whites.

Other fun numbers:

Whites are 26.3 times more likely to be consent searched by Dallas Police Department than by Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

Blacks are 4.4 times more likely to be consent searched by Dallas Police Department than by Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

Latinos are 2.4 times more likely to be consent searched by Dallas Police Department than by Dallas County Sheriff’s Department.

The full report - including details on various departments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area - can be downloaded here.

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by Trey Garrison    Mon, Feb 27, 2006, 01:38 PM

A slate of ethics complaints against Mayor Laura Miller and 10 council members were dismissed this morning by the Ethics Advisory Commission.

The 11 complaints, filed by Richard P. Sheridan, all stemmed from his complaints about the city's policies regarding homeless people. The commission found that the complaints were entirely political in nature, and there were no violations of the ethics code.

"This is a complaint by someone who is unhappy with the political decisions of our elected officials. This is not the forum for these kinds of complaints," commission member Gloria Tarpley said.

Sheridan, a self-styled homeless advocate who appears professional and calm but has a car with enough homemade bumper stickers to make him look crazy as an outhouse rat, attended the morning meeting and didn't comment when his complaints were dismissed.

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