Dispatches from Dallas, February 23 edition

This is a weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger. Let us know what you think.

This week, in news from Dallas-Fort Worth: the Dallas City Manager resigns; the Mayor gets divorced; the City of Dallas passes a bond package; election news across the Metroplex; the upcoming charter election in Dallas; education and police news; Black history; and another zoo baby in Fort Worth.

Also it’s early voting time, so don’t forget to get out and vote this week or over the weekend.

This week’s post was brought to you by the music of Philip Glass.

The biggest news in Dallas this week is the surprise resignation of T.C. Broadnax, our city manager, who’s been at odds with Mayor Johnson for a while now. Broadnax survived an attempt to fire him in June 2022, but apparently he was figuring out how to go on his own terms. WFAA scooped everybody on Broadnax’s effort to have the council sack him, triggering a clause that would let him set his own last day (June 3) and avoid any employment restrictions by the city. He also kept Johnson from suggesting that he’d masterminded Broadnax’s departure. The Texas Tribune has the story in statewide context (though their story is missing the context of the WFAA scoop); the Dallas Observer has local reactions.

Also, unsurprisingly, the mayor and council are already at odds over how to pick Broadnax’s successor.

Speaking of Mayor Johnson, he’s also been all over the news in the last few weeks, mostly over the many and consequential votes he’s missed at City Council meetings he’s skipped including two on the city bond election (more on that below). Johnson doesn’t attend DFW airport board meetings either, sending substitutes from the City Council instead.

But the big reason Johnson has been in the news this month is his divorce, which might have proceeded quietly if he hadn’t subpoenaed a D Magazine reporter. D Magazine sent one of his colleagues to cover the divorce. Now everybody knows Johnson’s wife caught him at the house with his girlfriend, then a city staffer, in 2021 and that the girlfriend travelled with him last summer. The DMN reports that the mayor also paid more than $110,000 to the woman’s consulting firm last year according to campaign records. Johnson has issued a statement about the divorce. While I generally don’t think much of social media reaction articles, this one from the Dallas Observer sums up the vibes around this mess. Also there’s no direct evidence that any of this has anything to do with Johnson’s love of travel and his aversion to showing up at City Council meetings, but if there are more shoes to drop, someone is going to drop them.

Also, as mentioned in a number of these articles, there’s an online petition to get him to resign, which is not going to happen. I’ve seen some advertisements for it on social media, but they’re going to need more than 100,000 signatures to get a recall on the ballot and that’s what it’ll take to haul Johnson’s butt out of the Mayor’s chair before the end of his term in 2027.

Popping back to the city bonds, the council approved a May election date for a $1.25 billion bond package. D Magazine has an explainer about what’s in the bond and what’s not (repairs to City Hall, as this DMN editorial complains). As expected, nobody is particularly happy with what’s in the bond, particularly housing advocates and advocates for the Tenth Street historic community. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about that between now and the May election date.

In other news:

  • The Star-Telegram issued an endorsement in CD 26: Scott Armey, Dick Armey’s son. Their entire slate can be found here and as with the CD 26 recommendation, it’s mostly whatever you want to call the not-MAGA crowd, with re-election recommendations for a lot of the Paxton impeachers.
  • The Texas Tribune has a report on the Democratic primary in CD 32. Based on what I know (I’m in CD 24), the reporting here seems sound.
  • KERA has a piece on candidate residency with a great headline: When it comes to Texas politics, residency for candidates is ‘a state of mind’. Ain’t that the truth.
  • The DMN has news about Trump endorsements for the primary opponents of four of the “rural 16” in the state House who voted against vouchers. These four also voted to impeach Ken Paxton.
  • I always thought that letting people go to the polls for free on mass transit was a good thing, but Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare disagrees. The County chose not to fund a program with Trinity Metro on a party line vote. Quote: “I don’t believe it’s the county government’s responsibility to try to get more people out to the polls.”
  • While we’re talking about O’Hare and his pet projects, his big voter integrity task force found is considering three cases of alleged fraud for prosecution. These three cases are the result of all complaints about voter fraud in Tarrant County in 2023, by which we can see it was a huge problem.
  • Once the Dallas bond election is over, we’ll be knee-deep in proposed amendments to Dallas city charter, which are coming up in November. Here’s another explainer. The Dallas Observer has a list of possible changes coming to a ballot near me. I notice that one of the items on the possible list changing who runs the city when the mayor’s away. Here’s a piece about a proposal that failed to make it to the ballot: an attempt to move city elections to November in odd-numbered years.
  • Also in the mix for big changes here in Dallas: land-use changes. DMN reporter Sharon Grigsby has a commentary piece on the proposed Forward Dallas city planning document, which has alarmed local homeowners who think it’ll get rid of the single-family home zoning designation. Forward Dallas is a planning document, but won’t change zoning rules. It’s complicated stuff, and if you’re trying to make sense of it, here’s explainer about its placetype designations. I’m still wrapping my head around Forward Dallas myself and I live here, so don’t be surprised if it’s confusing to anyone who isn’t deep into urban planning.
  • One of Texas’ social media outrages this week has been Libs of Tik Tok going after a male teacher at Hebron High School who wore a pink dress to Spirit Day. Apparently his students encouraged him to wear the dress. Social media went to war, with Greg Abbott being disgusted and Texas Democrats being disgusted at him. No word yet on whether the teacher is out of a job permanently.
  • The Star-Telegram has a fact check on US Rep. Roger Williams’ claim that 90% of small businesses have been hit by ‘illegal immigrant’ crime. (No.) Related: One of the Star-Telegram’s op-ed writers has gone down to the border near Eagle Pass and written about her experience. I don’t agree with all of her conclusions, but I do like the first-hand view of the border.
  • Let’s talk about local environmental news. Activist Janie Cisneros is suing the city of Dallas for refusing to accept filings for amortization, or scheduled closure, of the GAF shingle plant in West Dallas. This the next step in West Dallas’ longtime struggle to get the plant out of town. Meanwhile, in Joppa, local activists trying to get rid of the TAMKO shingle plant have discovered there’s no record of a permit the site has needed since 1987. Oops. Meanwhile in Fort Worth, Mayor Parker has opposed the development of a new concrete plant. TCEQ plans to hold a public meeting sometime in the coming months and has extended its comment period until the end of that yet unscheduled meeting.
  • Axios has a piece about how the fact that the Adelsons own the Sands doesn’t mean the league will become more involved with legal gambling, no sir. Put a pin in that because I expect we’ll be revisiting it, certainly here in Texas.
  • As you know if you’ve been reading these updates for a while, the Tarrant County jails have problems. The county is cutting ties with a private jail near Lubbock that violated the state’s minimum jail standards. Meanwhile, as this article about a town hall back in January notes, there have been 60 deaths in the jail’s custody since 2018, though it’s not clear whether that number includes inmates in private jails or just the jails in the county. Sherriff Waybourn claims they all died of drugs or natural causes. Just to give you an idea of who he stands with, check out this fundraising report from last month, which includes a donation from our friends at Defend Texas Liberty. And last month, Tarrant County approved a $200,000 settlement with an inmate who was beaten at the jail, incurring broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a broken cheekbone. The settlement did not include an admission of wrongdoing.
  • The Dallas County jail system passed a surprise jail inspection this year after previous failures but does have some shortcomings to fix.
  • This week I learned that there’s a secret legal opinion that requires the Dallas police oversight board to investigate only those cases that have already been investigated by Internal Affairs. This comes in the wake of the news that the investigation into the case of Dynell Lane, the veteran who was mocked by Dallas police after he was refused the use of a restroom with a medical card, has been delayed.
  • The DMN interviewed two former Southlake PD officers who were fired for writing a swastika on a whiteboard. They claim one of them was calling another officer a “ticket Nazi” for writing too many tickets.
  • Dallas and Collin counties, along with everybody else, were supposed to have a Sexual Assault Response Team in place and submit a report to their commissioners’ court by the end of 2023. Both counties blew that deadline. Other major counties, including Tarrant, Travis, and Harris, and even Denton County, have managed produce their report in a timely fashion, but the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court barely even knew what the Observer was looking for. I’m disappointed in my elected officials.
  • This week a Fort Worth neighborhood was flyered by Nazis. The URL on the flyers linked to an East Texas neo-Nazi group. No word on whether they’re connected to other Nazi/neo-Nazi trouble in Fort Worth in recent months.
  • The city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County have also had their share of major league resignations recently. First, the city auditor has resigned after about 18 months in office; he’ll be replaced in the interim by the auditor whose retirement triggered the search that found him. Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram reported on the ‘toxic leadership style’ of the Tarrant County Public Health Director. He resigned the next day, after a closed-door meeting with his name on the agenda.
  • Sandi Walker, one of Keller ISD’s trustees resigned after she let a documentary crew film students without permission from the board or parents. The Fort Worth Report has some more details and discussion of next steps. The DMN has an editorial about Walker, an anti-woke Patriot Mobile type (the documentary she had to quit over is being made by a Dutch evangelical group), and the dangers of school board capture. As they note, this is the second Keller ISD trustee to quit in less than three months, which is what happens when narrow-minded political activists take over your local school district.
  • In good education news: D Magazine has a writeup of 10 Dallas ISD Programs or Schools You Should Know About That Aren’t Magnet Schools. I’d only heard of about half of these, but I don’t have kids and I live in an area zoned to Richardson ISD.
  • Fort Worth’s Gladney Center is merging with another adoption agency on the east coast. Edna Gladney, the organization’s namesake, is one of those tough Texas ladies from the early part of the 1900s who got things done: in her case, helping unwed mothers and getting their kids adopted, and getting the stigma of bastardy off birth certificates in Texas. Even though I came of age in the years when reproductive rights were protected, I knew that if you got pregnant and couldn’t get an abortion, you went to the Edna Gladney people.
  • A docuseries coming our way will cover the work of Colossal Biosciences, which uses genetic engineering to save creatures on the edge of extinction. They’re also trying to bring back the dodo, which, fine, but I’ve seen Jurassic Park.
  • Here’s a fascinating piece of Black history about the first Black special officer in Fort Worth, who was hired to patrol Black areas and police the Black community under Jim Crow. He held the job from 1896 to 1905, and was apparently run out of town a few years later.
  • Another piece of Black history I learned about this week is is the story of Silvia Hector Webber, the ‘Harriet Tubman’ of the Underground Railroad to Mexico. There’s a forthcoming book on Webber based on recent research into her papers; that’ll go right on my TBR list.
  • Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has donated $2 million toward the National Juneteenth Museum under development in Fort Worth. The donation gets the museum to the halfway point in its campaign.
  • Bailey’s Bar-B-Que in Fort Worth was the oldest barbecue in Texas owned by the original family. It’s now been sold to the folks at Panther City BBQ, a Texas Monthly top 10 barbecue, who will keep the old school alive.
  • And last, but not least, another zoo baby for you: Baloo, a baby colobus, was born January 24 and is already out where zoo visitors can see him.

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