Friday, November 13, 2009

Political Will and Respecting Citizens

Interesting further reaction from Dallas Morning News on the aftermath of Unify South Dallas' meeting on this past Tuesday.

The meeting with the Dallas' Mayor Tom Leppert was, at the very least, a very healthy and significant show of respect for the citizens of south Dallas. It also represents the emergence of new, young leadership in the area, willing to undertake the hard work of organizing and strategizing with the neighborhood to achieve a measure of wholeness and vitality that has been missing for decades. When I say that IKOJA has done the heavy lifting to prepare for these meetings, I really mean it!

But, along with an editorial recognizing the effectiveness of turning out a constituency which has, itself, devoted weeks to becoming educated on basic issues regarding many of the robust economic development projects that are impacting their present and future, in the online Southern Dallas blog a critique, or a criticism of Unify South Dallas that deserves an reaction.

Editorial writer Tod Robberson raises an important and valid question: when council representative Carolyn Davis held her meeting with south Dallas residents on Thursday morning and afternoon, why wasn't USD there to ask her the questions raised in their Tuesday meeting?

"I was under the impression", Robberson writes, "that members of Unify South Dallas were going to attend and pose some important questions to Davis. Well, that didn't happen. Can anyone out there explain why? I was hoping to hear someone -- anyone -- ask Davis why she voted to support a special use permit for a sports bar to open on South Lamar last year, or why she continually allows the expansion of metal recycling plants up and down Lamar, or what she's doing to prevent houses from being gutted by scavengers and drug addicts along Colonial and Marburg and Pine and Stoneman and Lawrence and Hatcher and Pennsylvania and Bannock ..."

"Rev. Gerald Britt and Unify South Dallas need to be asking how, exactly, the revitalization of S.M. Wright can occur as long as the blight between it and South Lamar continues unabated. And the place to pose those questions is at the meetings Davis offers. They need to confront her and other elected official face-to-face, demanding satisfactory answers."

"It won't work for Unify South Dallas to hold their meetings to discuss the future of their neighborhood (while Davis remains a conveniently safe distance away in Austin), or for Davis to hold her meetings (while Unify South Dallas is nowhere to be found), and for both sides to think that the very serious problems of South Dallas are magically going to be solved."

"They won't, I assure you. You guys have got to start talking to each other."

The rest of Tod's post raises some very important and very fair critiques relative to the prospects of USD and Councilwoman Davis' working together for the good of South Dallas.

The problem is that the presupposition that USD is refusing to work with the councilwoman is incorrect.

From the beginning, members of this coalition have reached out to her, met with her and invited her to the meetings. For any number of reasons, she has declined to be a part of the sessions which were designed to help her constituents understand, by communication with the experts, what is happening in these communities in her district.

Councilwoman Davis was invited, accepted and then declined to come to the Tuesday's meeting. As a matter of fact, the meeting was postponed to accommodate the councilwoman's schedule, as well as that of the Mayor.

There have been at least four members of USD that have had meetings with her over the past 6-8 weeks that the coalition has been operative and a standing invitation for her to come be a part of those meetings. The idea that USD is operating in a political vacuum, is far from the truth. In fact, USD has actually added to the value of Ms. Davis' representation, because an educated constituency can be held accountable for working with their council person to bring about the sustained health and well being of their neighborhoods.

As to why USD wasn't at Ms. Davis' meeting, the truth of the matter is, USD's meeting on November 5 was planned weeks in advance. USD got word of Ms. Davis' meeting by email that made circulated over the weekend prior to Tuesday's meeting. The focus of the coalition, was primarily on Tuesday.

In response to Tod's question, as to why there was no one at Ms. Davis' meeting to ask the critical questions he poses? Quite frankly, I and other leaders have indeed asked those questions public meetings and in private conversations.

What was the answer we received? Tod gives the answers we've received in his own post.

"Finally, I asked the questions that I listed above, and Davis didn't offer satisfactory responses. She is convinced that the city is required to grant special use permits to would-be sports-bar owners. "They have to go somewhere," she said. "If we don't let them go there [on South Lamar], then where can we tell them to go?" That was her rationale for supporting the special-use permit even though she claimed to oppose it."

"She says there is nothing she can do about the massive growth of metal-recycling plants in her district because of the idiotic (my word) decision of council members in the 1970s and '80s to concentrate them there. She again answered, well, where would we put them if they can't go on Lamar? Who's gonna pay to move them?"

"Her responses had an air of "my hands are tied on this," which I found very frustrating."

If Tod finds those answers frustrating after hearing them one time, how frustrating does he think it must be to those of us who live, work, worship, own property, have friends and relatives who live in the area? Its not that no one from USD didn't want to ask the questions. Its that the questions have already been asked and answered.

That's the reason Unify South Dallas came together. Those answers are no longer sufficient.

Contrary to popular opinion, south Dallas residents do care about their community. For 6-8 weeks, I've watched as 30-50 people have given up Saturday morning to learn more about transit oriented development, plans for the S.M. Wright Parkway, Lamar Street, Turner Courts and Rhoads Terrace, DART, plans for the Frazier redevelopment. They've come to learn about the prospects for jobs and job training, small business opportunity and the Fair Park Trust Fund.
They put together an agenda of issues which they wanted to present to their mayor AND their city council representative and they were willing to adjust their schedule to have the meeting when she said she could be present. South Dallas residents do indeed care. But up until now, south Dallas residents have been under informed.

Ms. Davis has every right to hold her meetings and, the fact is there were USD representatives present at the early meeting on Thursday. This is not about whether or not a council representatives have the right to meet with her constituents. That answer is obvious.

What is not clear, is whether constituents in that same district have the right to expect her to meet with them?

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