The talk of the town in Dallas so far this week? The guilty verdict returned against former city council member Don Hill, his wife Sheila and two other co-defendants, including D'Angelo Lee Hill's appointee to the city plan commission.
Charged by the federal government of bribing a low income housing developer for votes to support their tax credit applications, prosecutors proved to the satisfaction of a jury that Hill, his wife, Lee and co-defendants Darren Reagan and Rickey Robertson pressured these developers for hundreds of thousands of dollars, under the guise of requiring that they work with minority contractors.
In a federal court trial that has lasted some three months, Hill was convicted on two counts of bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit deprivation of honest services and one count conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Sheila Farrington Hill was found guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of aiding and abetting in bribery, aiding and abetting in extortion, conspiracy to commit deprivation of honest services and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Lee was convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery, two counts of bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion, extortion, conspiracy to commit deprivation of honest services and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
All devastating and sad.
No matter the occasion for gathering, those of us who know them and those who don't, ask one another, 'What do you think?' I'm afraid all of us are at a loss for words. Most of us who know them are at a loss because they are at bottom nice people. They are friendly. They are church members who are cared for greatly by their fellow congregants. Don has been a very admired and respected figure for years. Neither the charges, the tapes or transcripts, nor the verdict, speak to people or the practices of those people with whom many of us are familiar.
Let me be clear: that incredulousness does not extend to some of the people who have been a part of this sorry saga. And I guess that's part of the problem.
I still don't have an answer to the 'What do you think?' question. I have a habit of trying to think over the implications of things like this over. Much of the mean spirited blather pointed toward these two feels wrong and unwarranted. But then you have the verdict. What does it all mean?
The more I think of it, I have more questions than answers:
How could they have been so stupid?
Hill ran for mayor, while under these indictments - what if he had won and THEN been convicted?
What about their children?
Are there ANY statesmen left?
Am I the only one who still believes that politics is a noble calling?
What are the 'legal' ways that politicians get development done that many not be considered ethical?
There are honest contractors who would have benefited through honest process - even if it had taken political hardball. If anyone else fights for them now, will it automatically be considered 'pay to play'?
Redress for racist and unfair practices in the past is one thing; this conviction cheapens the argument - don't public officials who do this type of thing realize this?
How can I show compassion to them and that even now, I wish them the best?
What if they win on appeal?
Did anyone really expect race to be a factor?
Are lofty notions of government as a tool to improve the quality of life of all citizens, just naivete?
Why can't we see that loss of faith in government is too high a price for citizens to have to pay for the failure of our public officials?
The natural reaction is to 'strengthen' the rules that have been broken. Are the rules really the problem?
If the verdict reflects the truth of what happened - how much 'Don Hill' is in each of us?