Monday, October 03, 2005

Miers barred from a vote by the city council: Conflict of Interest

Housing suit plan backed
But Miers blasts proposed accord
David Jackson, Craig Flournoy Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News THE
Published: June 21, 1990

A majority of Dallas City Council members emerged from a closed-door meeting late Wednesday and said they were confident that a $118 million proposal finally will settle a landmark public housing desegregation lawsuit. Before discussing the proposal, the council decided to bar City Council member Harriet Miers from participating or from voting.

The decision followed a recent recommendation from City Attorney Analeslie Muncy, who said that Ms. Miers has a conflict of interest because she and her mother own several vacant lots in West Dallas that would benefit from the proposed settlement.

On Wednesday, Ms. Miers said she was "upset about the timing' of Ms. Muncy's recommendation, noting that she has been chairwoman of a council committee appointed to settle the lawsuit since December.

Ms. Miers also blasted the proposed settlement as a "blank check' that would leave city spending in the hands of a federal judge and unfriendly civil rights attorneys.

"If we enter into this agreement, we're turning over many basic city services to a federal court to supervise and to plaintiffs' attorneys who have made a career out of criticizing this city,' she said.

But other council members said Ms. Miers' interpretation of the proposed settlement was wrong.

"We wouldn't allow the judge control over our budget -- that's a deal-breaker,' Glenn Box said. "We wouldn't allow any open-ended costs -- that's a deal-breaker.'

In August, U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer ruled that the city helped build a racially segregated and unequal system of public housing in Dallas, obstructed a 1987 court-approved settlement and now must pay to create a desegregated system.

Judge Buchmeyer also added the city to the list of defendants in the case.

The case began in 1985 when seven poor black women sued the Dallas Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The suit said thousands of federally subsidized apartments here remained segregated by race and are unequal in condition because of discrimination by government officials.

Mr. Box said he was confident the council would vote next week to approve the revised version of the settlement given them orally on Wednesday. Echoing that optimism were Mayor Annette Strauss and council members Lori Palmer, Max Wells, Diane Ragsale and Al Lipscomb.

"It's promising,' said Ms. Ragsdale, deputy mayor pro tem and one of two African-Americans on the council. "I feel hopeful we can get this thing moving.'

Council member Charles Tandy said that although he plans to vote against the settlement, he believes one is close to resolution. "As far as I'm concerned, I'd like to see what the Supreme Court says about it,' he said.

Mr. Lipscomb, the other African-American, said that questions remain but that he was confident they could be answered by Mike McKool Jr., the private attorney representing the city.

"We gave Mr. McKool his marching orders to get with the plaintiffs,' he said.

Mr. McKool said that although the plaintiffs' attorneys have not agreed to "every last provision,' a settlement is near.

"We have general agreement among all the parties,' he said.

Mr. Wells, a banker, said he wanted more information about the plan's financing. But he, too, expressed optimism: "I think we can get there.'

Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment.

Yet Ms. Miers said her colleagues were making a crucial decision about the city's future without having a written copy of the details.

"How can they know what's in it if they don't have a document?' she said.

Other council members said Mr. McKool briefed them in detail using his copy of the proposed settlement. They said all council members will get their own copies Friday, for review before next Wednesday's vote.

Under the latest settlement offer, the city would spend about $118 million over the next eight years to upgrade conditions in and around Dallas' minority-occupied public housing projects and to increase the supply of housing for poor families, according to Mr. McKool and Mr. Charles Tandy.

The plan would establish a low-income housing fund totaling $22 million, according to Mr. McKool.

However, Mr. McKool said that the number of apartments that will be renovated or demolished and replaced at the mostly vacant and dilapidated West Dallas public housing project has "not been pinned down.'

Judge Buchmeyer has scheduled a hearing to begin Monday to assess damages if the city and the plaintiffs cannot agree on a settlement. But council members said they are confident the judge will delay that hearing a few more days to allow a vote two days later.

Illustration: PHOTO(S): 1. Harriet Miers; 2. Analeslie Muncy; 3. Glenn Box; 4. Diane Ragsdale

PHOTO LOCATION: 1. Miers, Harriet. 2. Muncy, Analeslie. 3. Box, Glenn. 4. Ragsdale, Diane.

Copyright 1992 The Dallas Morning News Company


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