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by Tom Pauken    Wed, Jan 4, 2006, 02:21 PM

Abbe Lowell
Jack Abramoff hired himself a good criminal defense lawyer in Abbe Lowell, a well-connected Washington insider. Indicted on three counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion, Abramoff could have faced up to 30 years of prison time. By cooperating with the Federal prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of improper activities by Washington lobbyists and politicians, Abramoff now faces a maximum sentence of 11 years with the opportunity to have that time reduced. Getting such a substantial reduction in the time his client will have to serve in prison is quite an achievement for Abbe Lowell, particularly since Abramoff is viewed as the central figure (and most culpable party) involved in this Washington-based scandal.

Lowell is a longtime Democrat who worked on Jimmy Carter’s Presidential campaign. According to Julia Campbell of Court TV, Lowell was Bill Clinton’s chief defender "as the chief investigator hired by the Democrats on the House Judicial Committee" when Congress was considering the impeachment of President Clinton. Abbe Lowell also represented Congressman Gary Condit who was under suspicion in the disappearance of Chandra Levy. Other politicians represented by Lowell include former House Speaker Jim Wright and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, according to Ms. Campbell.

The London Daily Telegraph today referred to Abramoff as "Casino Jack". Just the other day I named Jack Abramoff as "the bad guy of the year", in an article here at DallasBlog. Reading the allegations in his indictment will give you some idea of the level of corruption involving Abramoff.

Now that Abramoff’s lawyer has saved his client from having to spend the rest of his life in prison, we will soon see who Abramoff will take down with him. Understandably, a lot of folks who have been involved with Abramoff over the past decade are very nervous right now. Criminal defense attorneys in the D.C. area will be making a lot of money over the next couple of years, thanks to Jack Abramoff.

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by    Wed, Jan 4, 2006, 01:00 PM

In 2006 I will be closely following a few stories that are very significant to those of us South Of The Trinity. The ongoing saga of New Orleans is at the top of my list. I believe that what happens there will have an impact on race relations in Dallas. For example, the latest police shooting of a mentally ill Black man in New Orleans has already threatened to reactivate tensions between the police and the African-American community. However, this latest shooting has an interesting twist to it since the Black police chief of New Orleans has cleared his officers of any misconduct in the shooting. Maybe, we all watch too much television and, thus, we expect dozens of armed police officers to be able to subdue a mentally ill man without having to shoot him down in the streets in front of shocked innocent bystanders and the world. Those of us South of The Trinity wonder if having an African-American police chief makes any difference if the culture of the police department is to shoot to kill. And we wonder if the mentally ill man had been white, would he have been gunned down for merely waving a knife at police officers who are supposedly trained in methods other then violent force. I don’t know the answer to these questions but I will be attempting to find them in the coming year.

The 2006 bond package promises to be the largest and the most needed in our city’s history. South of The Trinity voters stand ready to vote against any portion of a new bond package that attempts to turn Executive Airport into a busy, noise-producing airport that negatively impacts the quality of life in the surrounding community. Yet, we stand ready to wholeheartedly support the rebuilding of Dallas’ national icon, the Cotton Bowl. I suspect much will be written about the cost of the new bond package. Hopefully, enough will be written about the need for the continued redevelopment of downtown, sensible development of the southern sector, continued improvement of our mass transit system, and the building of our world famous Performing Arts Center. The point must be made that all of these much needed developments can only be financed through a large bond package. None of us is willing to finance these developments with taxes so high we could not enjoy a prosperous and growing Dallas.

Finally, I will be monitoring how Mayor Laura Miller will impact the bond election. It is my sincere hope that Mayor Miller is a positive force in the debate regarding the bond package. But I recognize our mercurial mayor has shown time and time again a divisive political style that appears racially insensitive and thus she becomes a liability to the political welfare of a city as diverse as we are. Maybe she will use her considerable charm to unite us instead of dividing us. I do not intend to give her a pass as others in the mass media have done. I am still very interested in the Mayor’s relationship with Southwest Housing and the FBI City Hall investigation. I still wonder why the mass media refuses to follow this story to its logical conclusion. The mass media’s refusal to investigate Mayor Miller as the media has investigated Black city leaders has caused those of us South Of The Trinity to link the FBI, the white mass media here, and Mayor Miller together in a relationship that threatens the very foundation of race relations in Dallas, Texas. Of course, the truth will help solve this problem. I hope along with the efforts of others to help find the truth. That’s how we see it in the beginning of 2006 from South Of The Trinity.

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by Tom Pauken    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 07:15 PM

Carole Strayhorn
She was a Democrat. Then, she was a Republican. Now, she’s an Independent. Carole Strayhorn announced Monday that she is a candidate for Governor of Texas in 2006 as an independent. By the time of the filing deadline, running as an independent was the only avenue for her to take to achieving her long standing ambition of becoming Governor of Texas.

In a December 8th article for DallasBlog, I laid out the reasons why it made sense for Mrs. Strayhorn to run as an independent. (Link here to read that story.) Clearly, she faced a very difficult task in overcoming Perry’s huge lead among likely Republican voters in a March primary. Her other alternative was to run on the Democratic ticket, but that meant persuading Chris Bell and Bob Gammage to drop out of the race. Strayhorn’s political guru, Mark Sanders, along with some of her trial lawyer supporters tried to persuade Bell and Gammage to get out of the race, so that she could run as a Democrat, but it was to no avail.

A source close to the Strayhorn camp tells DallasBlog that a principal concern of her campaign team about running as an independent was the difficulty of getting on the ballot in Texas. It takes more than 45,000 signatures to be certified as a statewide, independent candidate for office. While Kinky Friedman has been laying the groundwork to get on the ballot as an independent for much of 2005, Strayhorn does not have the grassroots organization in place to help get her on the ballot. Thus, it will be a more difficult task for her to put together a team of volunteers and paid workers to get signatures so that she can meet the Texas requirements.

It is no sure thing as Ralph Nader found out in the last Presidential election when he was unable to get enough signatures to qualify as an independent candidate for President. Only registered voters who do not vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries are eligible to sign a petition for either Strayhorn or Friedman.

The lack of professionalism exhibited by the Strayhorn campaign in their press conference announcing her candidacy yesterday was surprising given her reputation for detailed preparation for such event. That is not a good sign about the state of the organization of her campaign.

Assuming that Carole Strayhorn gets on the ballot, what is the political fallout from her decision to run as an independent? Notice how she called herself a Republican even while announcing her candidacy as an independent. Strayhorn will take Republican and independent votes in November that otherwise would have gone to Rick Perry were his only opponents the Democratic nominee (Gammage or Bell) and Kinky Friedman. While Friedman draws votes from likely Democratic voters, Strayhorn will take many or more Republican votes away from Perry. That’s why the Republican State Chairman was quick to bash Strayhorn. Here is what Tina Benkiser had to say about Strayhorn: "Carole Strayhorn has lied, deceived and now abandoned the very people who put her in office all for her own selfish ambition."

Pundits like Gromer Jeffers, Jr. shouldn’t be so quick to write off the Democrats prospects in the Governor’s race, as he does in his front page story Tuesday in the Dallas Morning News, particularly if Bob Gammage turns out to be the Democratic nominee.

Overnight, Carole Strayhorn has changed the dynamics of the race for Governor of Texas in 2006. The final outcome is much less certain than it was two days ago.

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by    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 11:59 AM

Downtown Dallas.jpg

In 2004 the Dallas Morning News did the seemingly impossible: it united the Dallas City Council. The News published a special section titled “Dallas at the Tipping Point.” Its thesis was that Dallas was a city in rapid decline and that it was fast approaching a “tipping point” from which there would be no turning back. The section was partly reportorial and partly a report by the management consulting firm of Booze Allen Hamilton. It was impressive, well documented, and should have been must reading by anyone who lives and pays taxes in the city. According to the members of the Council it was bunk.

The response of the council to the Morning News effort is perhaps most indicative of why Dallas was a city in decline. The people with the responsibility for managing success couldn’t even see, or maybe admit, failure.

This past year the News published an update. It tried to be a bit kinder by suggesting that changes like a new City Manager and Police Chief and new employees at the street level were taking some small steps and making some incremental progress but on whole the assessment was the same: decline.

It is hard to say that a city with Dallas’ crime rate and poorly performing education system can be in anything but decline. But set aside the volumes of Booze Allen stats. One word captures the decline of Dallas: Haggar. A Dallas brand known nationwide, whose family members have served on every board in town including the City Council, left Dallas for Irving. When is the last time you can recall a name brand company relocating to Dallas from the suburbs or anywhere else. I cannot recall one in 10-years.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. This past year saw the groundbreaking of what will be two spectacular Arts District facilities and a signature bridge across the Trinity. There are construction cranes again over downtown. And the crime rate did edge down. However, encouraging, these are but candles in the gathering darkness. The fact remains that our school district performs terribly, our basic infrastructure is still coming apart, and our crime rate is among the highest in the nation and the FBI is crawling all over City Hall.

One key problem identified by Booze Allen was a lack of accountability at City Hall. Translated from consultant speak the charge was simple: no one is in charge. There were two efforts to correct this problem in the form of two elections to put the Mayor in charge of the city. The first overreached and was opposed by everyone except an increasingly unpopular incumbent. The second was defeated because most people had ceased to care except for the city’s African Americans.

And there lies the problem: racial politics. Black Dallas struggled for decades to get what they considered their rightful piece of the city’s political pie. They got it in the form of four members out of 14 on the present Council. Black Dallas simply didn’t want to give up power on a powerful Council to a Mayor they voted overwhelmingly “no” on both propositions. More, noting that Dallas will soon be a majority Hispanic City many African Americans believed Ron Kirk would be both the first and last African American Mayor the City will ever see. Holding on to 28% of the council seemed preferable to a powerful Mayor they doubted would ever again be black.

And so Dallas is still stuck with a government with no one in charge and absolutely no hope of any change any time in the foreseeable future. No wonder Haggar left.

The Booze Allen study also talked about the lack of strategic direction. Mayor Miller had, of course, brought in a Booze Allen competitor, McKenzie & Company to provide a strategic plan and vision, and at no charge. The plan was fine, and useful and generally ignored.

But does Dallas really need a Strategic Plan? Or does it simply need to do what cities do they way those things are suppose to be done? What are cities about? They are about providing services: protection of life and property, drivable roads, drinkable water, etc. The city’s strategy should simply be to do these things well and efficiently. It requires a mindset among the city’s management and employees that they are to serve the taxpayers. Paving roads and hiring cops doesn’t require grand strategy. It requires trained motivated employees, efficient processes, and money.

There is a simple six step program that can carry Dallas where it needs to go even if the Mayor were elected by the Council.

Step One: Get rid of the city’s Civil Service system. No one gets fired in Dallas. They get paid vacations waiting for the City’s Civil Service Commission to reinstate them. No other Texas’ city operates this way. While the system may have been put in place decades ago for the best of good government reasons it is a failed anachronism. City Hall is full of deadwood that needs to get cleared out. That won’t happen until the Civil Service system is axed. Axing it would be a far more powerful way to change things than bulking up the powers of the Mayor.

However, it would be no less difficult. While the deadwood cuts across all demographics,

Minorities, particularly the city’s African Americans, would have to be convinced this wasn’t simply a way of firing minority city employees. It would also take an initial toll on city employee morale. But the struggle would be worth it. Until know they can lose their jobs for failure to perform there will be no incentive for employees to perform as needed.

Step Two: Create a Privatization Commission. I have no idea if there is single city service that it makes sense to outsource. But I bet there are plenty. Unfortunately, the Mayor is hostile to the concept and few politicians are inclined to outsourcing and while I have no idea what Mary Suhm’s views are on the subject few managers are anxious to shrink their empires. But it is well worth the try. A Citizen’s Commission that could take a clear eyed look at each department and city function could decide if there was tax dollars to be saved or greater efficiency to be had.

Step Three: Replace the City Auditor with an elected three-man Ombudsman Commission with power to investigate reports of wrong doing, poor service, inefficiency, etc. The Ombudsman Commission should have subpoena power. This is no criticism of the City Auditor. But Dallas has a corruption problem that can be solved only when those in power know that someone with the power of the people behind them can look where it wants and find what it will.

Step Four: Conduct a top to bottom productivity and quality review. The kind of consulting Dallas needs is the kind that will look at the city’s processes with a clear eye for efficiency. The Dallas Observer’s Jim Schutze wrote last year about the multi-step process the city employed to fill pot holes. Jim had the right idea: send on truck to see if the hole needed filling and if so shovel in the asphalt, and if didn’t drive on. I have talked to dozens of city employees who want to do well that explain they are hemmed in by absurd processes or no processes at all.

I am a partner in a firm that has helped major corporations get their employees to take responsibility for quality and productivity. Long before I joined it our CEO was doing wonders for companies with budgets the size of Dallas. Obviously, I am not suggesting the city hire us, but I do know what is possible and there are firms that can help Dallas dramatically transform its workforce.

Step Five: Establish a one-time Citizen’s Commission for IT Infrastructure. There is every indication that Dallas government is relatively inefficient because it is technologically deficient. IT done right can in and of itself make an enormous difference. IT done wrong can drive up budgets and do more harm than good. But IT can be done right. It can revolutionize purchasing, dramatically cut losses from theft or incompetence, and cut wait times for services.

Step Six: Offer pay competitive with private industry and tie raises to productivity increases. If City Hall is run efficiently, with the latest IT and processes, it will realize productivity gains that can fund significant pay increases. My bet is that handled right City workers would buy into all of the above if they thought serious raises and public acceptance and a job perceived to be well done were waiting at the end of the rainbow.

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by    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 11:31 AM

Will Pryor
By unofficial count, 93 Dallas County Democrats filed for county offices by the 6 p.m. deadline on January 2. This is the largest number of Democratic candidates to file in Dallas County in recent memory, perhaps the most in history. When Democrats last dominated the county, there were fewer offices on the ballot.

The mood was more-than-upbeat at a standing-room-only, post-deadline party at Poor David’s Pub on Lamar—the largest in 20 years or more. Judges Sally Montgomery and Dennise Garcia were present as the first countywide Democrats to seek re-election since Judge Ron Chapman.

Democrats will have contested primaries in some 15 races , including those for District Attorney (Larry Jarrett, Craig Watkins, B.D. Howard), County Clerk (Greg Albright, John Warren, Darryl Brigham, Harry Trujillo), Commissioner District 4 (Scott Chase, Rose Renfroe), House District 107 (Andy Smith, Allen Vaught), House District 100 (incumbent Dr. Jesse Jones, Barbara Mallory Caraway), House District 109 (incumbent Helen Giddings and Cedric Davis, Sr.), and a number of countywide judicial ra ces .

Charlie Thompson
Republican Pete Sessions will be challenged by well-known Dallas lawyer Will Pryor in Congressional District 32 and Charlie Thompson will challenge Jeb Hensarling in CD 5.  All but two state house districts are contested by the Democrats. Among those, Phil Shinoda will take on Will Harnett in state house district 114, Harriet Miller will try again in House District 102 against Tony Goolsby, and Katy Hubener will again seek House District 106, which she narrowly lost to Ray Allen (who did not seek re-election) in the last election. She will face the winner of the Republican primary, in which two candidates have filed. (Look for this district, followed by District 107, as potential Republican losses in Dallas County , with the wild card being HD 102 for a potential third.)

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