Friday, October 25, 2013

Bye bye A.C.

Interim City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (left) and Mayor Mike Rawlings

I was talking to a high ranking Dallas city official (who will remain nameless for obvious reasons) during a particular budget townhall meeting a couple of months ago and I asked this person (not even going to reveal my source’s gender) how things were going in the managerial offices at Dallas City Hall. "Not well,’ this person said rather frankly. "You could cut the tension with a knife."

When this person told me that I knew some of what was going on in the City Manager’s department. Mary Suhm had resigned as city manager and her first assistant, A.C. Gonzalez, had assumed the position as the interim city manager, a position he will hold until the City Council names Suhm’s replacement. The tension, I believed, revolved around the fact that Suhm was still occupying the office set aside for the city manager while Gonzalez had to remain in the office designated for the first assistant city manager. I could understand why Gonzalez might be put out by this, but I thought it was petty. As for Suhm she had her own history to serve as precedent. When her predecessor, Teodoro Benavides, resigned as city manager and Suhm, his first assistant, was named interim city manager, she remained in her own office until the City Council officially confirmed her to replace Benavides.

But reading the article in the Dallas Morning News today about the Uber transportation debacle, there might have been more to it than just a spite over office space. Although Suhm was as anxious as Gonzalez to get an ordinance passed that would put Uber out of business, it now appears, according to an investigation into the whole process initiated by Mayor Mike Rawlings, that the two differed significantly on how to get it passed. Gonzalez wanted to push it though with as little discussion and notice as possible. Therefore he had it placed on the very next available consent agenda to be considered by the City Council. Items on the consent agenda are passed en masse without discussion (unless some watchdog council person notifies the city secretary early enough to get the item pulled from the consent agenda to be considered individually, but that practice sort of went out of fashion when Mitchell Rasansky left the council a half dozen years or so ago). Suhm, on the other hand, vehemently disagreed with this process, according to the mayor’s report released yesterday. She favored the more traditional process — taking the proposed ordinance to an appropriate council committee for discussion and debate prior to placing it on the full council’s agenda.

That kind of strong disagreement between the two most powerful individuals on the city’s staff could definitely cause tension that could be cut with a knife.

As anyone following this story knows by now, the mayor and a majority of the city council agreed with Suhm and disagreed with Gonzalez. It wasn’t the proposed ordinance that came under review by the report, but the process by which Gonzalez took it to council. The mayor’s report was a devastating blow to the interim city manager who has made no secret of the fact that he wants the word "interim" removed from his title.

It ain’t gonna happen.

One thing is clear from all this — A.C. Gonzalez has absolutely no chance of being named by this council as the next city manager. He has tried to fall on his sword with an apology that seemed too well crafted to be genuine (i.e., it came across as something written for him and not sentiments from his heart). But this particular paragraph from the Morning News’s story is devastating for Gonzalez’s future:

Sam Merten, the mayor’s spokesman, said no disciplinary action will be taken against Gonzalez. "But this incident will be evaluated as part of his overall job performance when he’s considered for the full-time job," Merten said.

You don’t have to read that closely between the lines of that paragraph to realize Gonzalez could save himself a lot of embarrassment by withdrawing his name from consideration right now. Especially when he has to deal with city council demagogues like Philip Kingston, who, according to the News’s story, said this entire affair "did confirm my assumption that the Uber debacle was not the result of discrete instances of poor judgment. It resulted from a culture in the manager’s office of removing policymaking authority from the council."

Kingston, of course, is wrong. As the mayor’s report shows, the entire mess was the result of a discrete instance of poor judgment — a judgment that most within the city manager’s department disagreed with. But Kingston is emerging as another one of those council members, like Scott Griggs and the aforementioned Rasansky, who is never going to let the truth stop him from what he wants to complain about, especially when it comes to the city personnel.

But what he is putting on the table is that no one currently employed by the City of Dallas has a chance of becoming the next city manager. In fact, Gonzalez probably did the council a favor by effectively removing himself from consideration. The council believes one way to show it is racially unbiased is by picking persons for positions based on race. For example, if voters elect a mayor who is white, the mayor pro temp must be either black or Hispanic. And if a black is chosen, than a Hispanic is named deputy mayor pro temp.

So here’s going to be the council’s thinking process on this. The last city manager was a white female. Her predecessor was a Hispanic male. So the next city manager needs to be African-American and other than Police Chief David Brown there is not a single African American on the city’s staff qualified to be city manager. (Sorry, Forest Turner, but that’s the truth.)

Which makes me think: Where’s Charles Daniels when we need him?

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