Texas Help Us!

By Johnnie Belle Reagan

I keep going back to when Dallas City Council Sandy Grayson had a fit because Monty Bennett had enough money to defend and keep them from taking his land for a water pipeline (City of Dallas vs. Lazy W Ranch).  How dare him stand up for his property rights when the average Citizen would just have to concede.  They wouldn’t have the means to fight.  Monty was the CEO of Ashford Trust.  In 2017 the City of Dallas had to settle with Bennett after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. 

Also, not a big win for the City of Dallas was the Stewart case.  The City of Dallas vs. Stewart set the standards for all nuisance abatement.    You would think that would stop them.  Unfortunately, it just gave them the incentive to back up and find a new way to go after what they want.  Dallas is going through a renovation.  Areas of Dallas that were once thought of as slums and areas to find shady dealing and derelicts are now sought-after chic locations to live and work.

I can remember when Deep Ellum was “go at your own risk” but, now it is a hipster spot with cool lofts, eateries and pubs.  While we can’t same the same for the area around Fair Park, it is in the makings.  I can imagine the delight some property owners in the area are starting to feel.  If you can hold out long enough you are sitting on a goldmine.  In Dallas the improvements are moving South.

Dallas has had a history of corruption when it comes to property development.  Recently former City Council Member, Carolyn Davis, was charged with taking bribes for favorable votes.  Not that long-ago Don Hill and his wife Shirley were convicted and the case on John Wiley Price is still open. 

It isn’t a far stretch to equate the current assault on businessman Dale Davenport and his carwash near Fair Park as just another chapter in a “land grab”.   On March 20th 2019, the Dallas Board of Adjustments voted to find the carwash as a non-conforming business in efforts to shut it down.  The reason the City uses is the carwash attracts crime that is undesirable for the neighborhood.  The honest truth is that the neighborhood just so happens to hangout at the carwash and do crime.  This particular business owner is being punished because the Dallas Police Department can’t do its job. 

Dale Davenport has fought the City of Dallas for years and I would imagine at great expense.  Much in the same way that Jerry Laza (Lawnmower Man) has battled with the City of Palestine.  One of the only things that Dallas has on their side is at least they are following some semblance of a procedure where Palestine just flushed law and procedure.  None the less, both Men have been braved enough to stand for what is right.  With little help for anyone other than the Attorney’s they have hired.  A little over a month ago the City of Dallas announced their new campaign against another South Dallas carwash owned by Jerry Sliwa, a 77-year-old retiree that invested in the property as a retirement.  Unlike the mentality behind Palestine accusation that Lawnmowers cause rats, Dallas believes carwashes cause crime.

Do you know what happens to property that gets tied up in lawsuits?  The land is devalued.  While it would seem like the decent thing to is offer these property owners a fair market value for the property, why do that when you can either force them into selling or into bankruptcy and pick it up at the auction “fire sale”?  And just like Dallas City Council Member Sandy Grayson voiced “ordinary people” who “cannot afford to fight the city of Dallas” end up losing their property, which makes it easier for the city. Hmmm…

I hope right now you are thinking like I did; Surely there is someone that you can turn to for help.  Some oversight committee or agency at the State or National level.  Well, No.  The structure of Municipal Government is set-up to only answer to the voters.  The City Council is the voice of the people and I am finding the Municipal Government have begun to run like well-oiled “legal” organized crime.  All you have to do to benefit from these development deals is get one level removed.  Maybe you don’t take money or bribes directly from the Developer because those instances get caught i.e.:  Hill and Davis.  You just get once removed and maybe a subcontractor of the contractor?   Maybe your “friends or family” own the raw material company that supplies the Contractor or a consulting company that advises the Contractor?  Hmmm…

What does the common resident do when they feel like the City is unjust beside prepare to spend thousand of dollars on Attorneys?  You file a complaint with your local law enforcement (who is paid by tax funds).  If wrong doing is found the agency passes the complaint on to the County District Attorney.  The District Attorney can then at his/her discretion ask the Texas Rangers to investigate.  The Texas Rangers would then take a finding to the State Attorney General.

My research shows that the common person gets very little attention when it comes to investigations.  And if your District Attorney is embedded in the City Politics and just isn’t interested in taking it any farther, the buck and complaint stop there.  That leaves your Municipal Attorney free to file a civil lawsuit without authorization, like in the Laza case.

Then we have the Texas Municipal League.  They train and instruct Municipalities how to conduct business such as enforcing ordinances.  Nuisance abate is a hot topic, and what Dallas is using on Davenport and Sliwa, Palestine on Laza. TML is described as a non-profit governmental sector lobbyist group.  They have five full-time Attorneys on staff available to advise Texas Municipalities.  Municipalities use our tax funds to support membership in the TML. Most recently the TML came under fire for lobbying against a bill in Austin that would allow residents to have more say in property tax increases and annexation.   So, the bottom line is that our Municipal Government uses our tax dollars to fight and pass legislation against our best interest. 

Davenport, Laza and Sliwa have a good chance at going broke fighting against what clearly seems unfair treatment.  Navigating the Justice system isn’t much better.  Few Judges are familiar with Municipal Law.  The Court system seems to be riddled with the same number of barriers.  Winning a case very possibly will boil down to the kind of deal made at the local tavern.  I recently had an Attorney reveal to me that is just the way things are done, but you will never prove it. The odds seem stacked against these men.

I hope that someday this changes. I would like to see a special branch of the Texas Attorney General’s office that oversees Municipalities and how they manage their City Charters.  While this probably isn’t even a thought, it needs to be.  The Municipality sure doesn’t have a problem using the Charter to enforce compliance on residents. Until then unfortunately there is no relief coming from the State of Texas.