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September 02, 2003

Angry Dallas City Council Meeting

By Byron LaMasters

No surprise here. Last week, Andrew blogged on the firing of Dallas Police Chief Terrell Bolton. And in typically Dallas fashion, the way you look at the issue is oftentimes determined by your race. A lot of Blacks see Bolton's firing as a racist attempt to get rid of the first African-American Police Chief in Dallas. Some have even claimed that there was a secret deal between Mayor Laura Miller and the Hispanic community to fire Bolton, then appoint a Hispanic Police Chief. On the other hand, it seems as if Hispanics and Whites are more likely to see the firing as a necesary change needed to lower Dallas' high crime rate.

I've written before on Dallas Mayor, Laura Miller's Black Problem, so when it is all put together, it made for a quite contentious city council meeting this week. Anyway, for all the action, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Angry supporters of ousted Police Chief Terrell Bolton filled the City Council chambers Wednesday, demanding to know why the city's first black chief was fired Tuesday and why he wasn't given an opportunity to resign.

"We want answers. We want answers," said Frank Ward.

City Manager Ted Benavides, who has said that he alone made the decision to fire the chief, sat silently as speaker after speaker railed from the microphone. But before the meeting ended, he agreed to meet at 9 a.m. Thursday with those who have questions about the chief's firing.

Mayor Laura Miller was the target of several outbursts from the gallery during Wednesday's raucous council meeting, which had to be suspended twice.
Mr. Benavides said Wednesday he acted because controversy over the chief had eclipsed discussion of how to bring the city's crime rate under control.

"The focus was on the chief," Mr. Benavides said. "The focus needed to be on the department.

"The fact remains that we're the No. 1 crime city with over 1 million people. I thought that making a change would allow us to shift the focus and move in a new direction."

Twice, Wednesday's council meeting was suspended when the clamor became so great that it threatened to spin out of control. During the intervals, black council members quietly urged the most vehement protesters to sit down rather than risk eviction from the chamber.

Several speakers focused their outrage on Mayor Laura Miller, accusing her of making a secret pledge during her re-election campaign to force out Mr. Bolton. They threatened political repercussions.

"Madam mayor, we're going to recall you," Joyce Foreman said. After she spoke, many in the capacity crowd stood up, clapped and cheered. A petition to recall Ms. Miller was circulated at the meeting.

Ms. Miller – a longtime critic of the chief's management style – reiterated that she did not take part in the decision to fire Mr. Bolton, had no warning that it would happen Tuesday and didn't know why Mr. Benavides reached the decision when he did.

"There's only one person that can answer those things, and I can't make him talk," the mayor said.
Several in the crowd started yelling when Ms. Miller said the community needs to be unified.

"You're the divider," yelled former council member Sandra Crenshaw. "You're trying to play us against the Hispanics, and we want some answers."

The city charter gives the city manager sole authority to hire and fire department heads, including the police chief. However, it says a fired department head must be given a written explanation and a hearing before the City Council if he demands them in writing.

Bob Hinton, Mr. Bolton's attorney, said he was hoping to get an explanation from Mr. Benavides at Thursday morning's meeting. He said he would wait until then before deciding whether he would demand a written explanation or a public hearing.

"We're waiting to see tomorrow what Benavides says," Mr. Hinton said. "He's going to explain why he was fired."

But Mr. Hinton added he doubts that there was a good reason.

"He doesn't have a why, because the why is, 'I was told to do so by Laura Miller,' " he said.

Mr. Hinton said he did not have confidence that the city would honor the charter even if he asked for a public hearing.

"I don't think it's appropriate, quite frankly, right now to ask for a public hearing or to have an explanation because they just simply haven't followed the city charter in any of this."

Speaking at the council meeting, the Rev. Stephen Nash vowed to press for the reinstatement of Mr. Bolton. He also planned to lead a boycott of several businesses, including The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV (Channel 8), which he accused of biased coverage.

Mr. Nash, who said he spoke on behalf of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Dallas and the African-American Pastors Alliance Coalition of Dallas, left the meeting disappointed.

"I think that the very intent of letting us come down to vent is an insult," Mr. Nash said. "What we needed were some answers."

County Commissioner John Wiley Price called Mr. Bolton a sacrificial lamb, saying, "It's a sad message that's being sent.

"This is a wake-up lesson in political maneuvering for the black community," he said, adding that Mr. Bolton had been micromanaged, undermined and sabotaged.

Former council candidate Roy Williams accused Mr. Benavides of sacrificing Mr. Bolton "to save your own hide."

Lee Alcorn, former head of the NAACP's Dallas chapter, asked why Mr. Benavides did not give Mr. Bolton the chance to resign.

"Firing Bolton will not save your job – you're going to be next," Mr. Alcorn told Mr. Benavides.

In response to reporters' questions, Mr. Benavides repeated what he had said Tuesday: that he considered the decision for weeks and that it was not prompted by any one incident.

"I try not to make quick decisions," he said. "I try to contemplate, talk to other folks and make an evaluation before taking action."

Donna Halstead, a former council member who is now president of the Dallas Citizens Council, said that description matches her 14-year experience with Mr. Benavides.

"He kind of holds things close to his vest and doesn't act precipitously," she said.

On the other hand, she said, Mr. Benavides does not hesitate to let those he works with know whether he thinks they are not performing well.

"He's very forthcoming if he has criticism," she said.

Mr. Benavides also dismissed suggestions that problems in the chief's personal life affected his decision.

"Absolutely not," he said.

Mr. Benavides denied that he was prompted to act by a request from the district attorney's office for the names of police officers who have criminal convictions in their background. He said that he did not receive a copy of the letter until Wednesday and that he had not read it.

Council member Elba Garcia said she intends to ask interim Chief Randy Hampton to comply with that request. The letter also asked for names of any officers who omitted pertinent information from their applications.

Chief Hampton said he would work to comply with the request for information about officers' backgrounds, which have come under scrutiny since Mr. Bolton fired Derrick Evans.

"We'll see what we can do to accommodate that request," he said. "I want to be clear about what they want."

The district attorney's letter came after revelations that the Police Department hired recruit Evans despite knowing that he failed a lie-detector test in an unsolved homicide and falsified his employment application.

The district attorney's office said it has a legal duty to review the criminal backgrounds of officers to determine whether there is information that prosecutors must disclose to defense attorneys if the officer is testifying during a trial.

Dr. Garcia said Wednesday that concerns prosecutors outlined in the letter were still valid, even though Mr. Bolton has been fired.

"I'm going to write a letter [requesting that] ... we notify [the district attorney's] office about whether we have any other potential problem officers with backgrounds like ex-Officer Derrick Evans'," Dr. Garcia said.

Council member Veletta Forsythe Lill said that even though Mr. Benavides did not consult with council members immediately before the firing, he was certainly attuned to members' opinions on the subject.

"I'm certain that he had visited with a large majority of the council," she said. "Ultimately, it was Ted's decision, but he had to know that he had backing."

But black council members said they were blindsided – and angered – by Mr. Benavides' action.

"The city manager has the authority to hire and fire the police chief," council member Leo Chaney said. "But we the council have the authority to hire and fire the city manager."

The city manager is hired by a majority vote of the City Council but can be fired only by a two-thirds vote, or 10 members.

Mr. Chaney said he was led to believe that the chief's weekly meetings with the mayor had been productive and that Mr. Bolton was on the right path.

Mr. Chaney said this was not a racial matter but an issue of respect.

Council member Don Hill said he was not satisfied with Mr. Benavides' stated reasons for terminating Mr. Bolton.

"I don't have an answer. I can't tell you what was the reason or the cause for what happened," he said. "So far, I have not gotten any sufficient answers."

Mr. Benavides said he would gladly comply with Mr. Hill's request for an open discussion about the decision to terminate the chief.

"I'd be glad to talk to council members individually or in a group," he said.

He said he did not consult with council members about his decision because personnel issues are his responsibility.

"The council hires me. I hire ... [Mr. Bolton]. This is still a personnel matter. I made the choice to hire Terrell, and I thought it was appropriate that I make the decision to terminate him."

Mr. Benavides said he was not surprised by the angry response from some on the council and in the community.

"I fully anticipated this," he said.

It's nice to be back in Austin...

Posted by Byron LaMasters at September 2, 2003 02:19 PM | TrackBack


I've now lived in the Dallas area for 10 years, and this has to be one of the most divided, mismanaged cities. Perhaps the most depressing are the DISD meetings, which have been not only confrontational, rude, and hateful but even physical and intimidating.

I don't know the details of the history of race in this city, but they seem to have it in for one another. Sadly, some elements of the minorities in Dallas have cried race once too often. It seems to be nothing more than a knee-jerk response. To hear someone say that an explanation is needed, I don't think anything more is needed than the crime rates. Frankly, since I've been here, the Dallas police has had a great share of problems.

I believe that Laura Miller wants to get rid of the city manager system. She has complained of it too often to believe otherwise.

But I sure am glad that they spent money to build the American Airlines Center instead of improving pay and staffing for the police and fire departments.

Thank goodness Dallas is penned in by the surburbs and can't really expand. Maybe they ought to let Addison run Dallas for a while.

Posted by: Tx Bubba at September 2, 2003 03:35 PM

Tx Bubba: I was born in Royce City, raised in Dallas and Irving and worked for the Dallas Morning News before joining the Navy in 1952. I cannot tell you how glad I was to get the bloody heck out of Dallas altho Dallas was less problematic race wise at that time but I could easily see the writing on the wall. The race sore thumb was mostly between the blacks and white's at that time...the Mexican's came in much later. My parents owned a small home in the SE section of Dallas and before they died in 1961, the whole bloody area was being invaded by blacks and by the time I gave the property to Dallas, the druggies had moved in and then the Mexicans and the blacks began their own neighborhood wars. I gave the property to the city in 1975 just because of the race invasion and problems associated with both races and their drug invasions as well and I figured that if the city could not clean up the area (yes, Dallas police and council were dum-dums even in those days)then they could handle the property after I had the bloody house torn down to keep the drug idiots out. For thirty years, those nim-rods have sent me tax bills even after I quit-claimed the bloody lot to the mentally challenged tax people. I retired from the Navy and never went back to Dallas or it's suburbs.....just because the blacks, the mexicans and the whites simply are not bright enough to learn how to settle disputes with dignity, respect and intelligence. I would suggest to every citizen who cares to save that city....fire the whole bloody bunch and put them all (council, police department and any citizen of any color who causes dissention...) in uniform in one military unit and send them to Iraq or Afghanistan. If they can't get along on the council or police department or even on the streets of Dallas....let them try to hate each other when they have to depend on each other under enemy fire!!! Tallyho everyone.

Posted by: breck at February 3, 2004 06:52 AM
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