Monday, August 31, 2009

What we do with our time at Central Dallas CDC

Last week I took a short break from my refusal to manage and we all recorded how we spent our time during the week. So far I have only compiled the information for the 3.5 employees (including myself) that we have at Central Dallas CDC, not our various contract workers, but I’m already finding some interesting things.

First, Central Dallas CDC officially works on a 37.5 hour week, so if everybody worked the required hours and no more, that would be just over 130 hours total per week. The actual total last week was 175 hours—so we worked more than enough hours to justify another full time employee (no worries about overtime, we are all exempt employees). I believe in hard work, probably more strongly than you can imagine, but too many fifty hour weeks (for years on end now) can wear on people. That’s especially true because I think the actual hours worked were higher than those recorded. Just reading through the time sheets I noted that a number of tasks I know were done during the week were never recorded.

Here’s how we spent our time:
Here are my thoughts on how we spent our time:

CityWalk—Our largest project took the largest portion of our time. That’s both good and expected.

Administration—This time was mostly answering the telephone on matters not related to an ongoing project. I think I need to hire someone to answer the telephone. Right now the system is only that whoever picks up the telephone first deals with it. Both the amount of time and number of interruptions are a problem. Not hiring a receptionist is probably penny wise and pound foolish.

Marketing/Fundraising—This is usually a significant number in nonprofits, but for us it’s even larger because I attend so many meetings (and skip even more that I probably should attend). This is mostly the time of Lori Beth Lemmon-Harrison, Director of Fundraising and Marketing, and me. Next time I’ll separate these two areas. The functions are related, but not the same—especially since we take a broad view of marketing.

Operating Properties—This time is mostly from Judy Lawrence, our property manager and seems about on target for our current operations. Right now we run three small apartment complexes, but when CityWalk opens and we have five times the number of units that we do now, I’m sure this category will require more time.

Government Relations—Johnice Woods handles this area. It takes up way more time than I like, but I don’t think I can do anything about it. There are rules and regulations, you know!

Neighborhood Stabilization Program—A big new initiative that will unroll this fall. We’re going to try to rebuild an entire low income neighborhood. Somehow, someway, we’re going to have to spend more time on this.

Review of New Projects—This time is mostly mine. Every week I look at a bunch of new ideas. Some of them originate with me, but a lot of them are brought to me to look at, sometimes by people we barely know. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but sometimes you find one. All the projects we are doing started here.

The Cottages—This is another new project that I can’t even talk about yet. It’s going to need a lot more time over the next year.

Re:Vision Dallas—Yikes! Re:Vision Dallas will need bunches of more time as well.

Patriot Solar Power—Patriot Solar Power will get more time this week, and we have grant requests out to a number of organizations to fund this work.

People Against Drugs—A long story, but we’re temporarily caretakers for another nonprofit.

Cabana—A stalled project that won’t go forward until 2011 at best, but once in awhile we need to check back on it.

Central Dallas Ministries Resource Center—We’re helping CDM out a little by consulting on its efforts to build a new resource center.

Plaza—Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, once in a while something needs to be done to finish cleaning up this project, which failed last spring. Usually paying somebody’s bill.

Columbia—A pair of duplexes that we built and need to either sell or lease. I better make sure we spend a little more time making sure one of those things happens.

As you see, we’re working on a lot of projects, and a few are still missing here. Apparently we just didn’t get to them last week. Fortunately, there is always next week.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Narrow House

The house in this picture is reputably the narrowest house in New York:

The house is 9’6” wide and 42’ long. It’s in the news because it’s for sale again. In the past both the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and the anthropologist Margaret Mead have lived there.

I find it interesting because the dimensions of each of the floors are almost identical to our small units at CityWalk—9.5’ x 42’. The only difference is that the asking price for this house is $2.7 million or $900,000 for each space equal to the space we’re renting at CityWalk beginning at $348 per month.

Of course, we’re including furniture and utilities as well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sweating the Details

Right now all our work at CityWalk is in the details, and you need to know that we sweat every single one of them. I would like to write more about what’s going on as we push on to completion, but it isn’t easy to do. I don’t know how to make the minutiae of the construction process interesting. One day we go to look at the sample concrete finish in one of our apartments. The next day we examine the waterproofing around the edges of the roof. This stuff is all extremely important if want the building to be a quality place to live. But it would take a better writer than I to make it interesting.

The access panel to the outside air ducts in each apartment has been redesigned no less than six times. Each time a prototype is built and the architects, project managers and construction superintendents—and me--carefully examine it. The panel has to allow sufficient air through to the system; the panel has to allow convenient access for repairs; we don’t want tenants to be able to access it; and it has to look good. The issue is important.

But if I recorded the entire debate here, with pictures of each variation and descriptions of the interminable debate as to the defects and strengths of each particular panel, then the few readers that I have would run screaming from their computers.

Fortunately, or not, there is someone whose job it is to record each small piece of progress on the project. His name is Chris Rehkemper and his job is to inspect the building monthly so that he can assure the bank that all the work we say has been done has actually been done before the bank pays our construction draws. Here are some pictures from his report for the last month. They show the attention to detail that is necessary in a project like CityWalk:

Picture 1
The roof assembly under struction.

Picture 2
The construction fence around the east parking lot.

Picture 3
Drilling and placing of concrete piers at the new entrance.

Picture 4
Galvanized frames in place for the screens between the condo roof decks.

Picture 5
Fire Sprinkler lines in the ground floor retail space.

Picture 6
Electric meter boxes have been installed.

Picture 7
Lighting fixtures in the third floor tenant space.

This is only a sample of Mr. Rehkemper’s pictures from one month’s report and, of course, he can’t record everything.

Every detail needs to be sweated, and as we race on towards completion, we’re sweating harder than ever.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Would you choose Jack’s Life or Teddy’s?

Yesterday, the last of the three Kennedy brothers died. It seems to me generations since his brothers were assassinated. Everyone of my generation remembers the Kennedy’s as our royalty. Brilliant, handsome Jack, who was a war hero, our youngest President, and then cut down senselessly here in Dallas in his prime.

He was a movie star. He was unblemished, a child of the American generation when we had never lost a war and stood a colossus in the world—when we were young.

To an Athlete Dying Young by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel growsIt withers quicker than the rose. . . .

Ted Kennedy lived a very different life. He lived through the tragedy of the assassination of both his older brothers, inherited their mantle and then soiled it with the scandal of Chappaquiddick. He knew sadness and defeat and lived long after the glory of youth had past.

Living long—he served 42 years in the Senate—he outlived scandal and sorrow to become The Lion of the Senate, an unparalleled legislator responsible for much of the progressive legislation of the past forty years.

Ted Kennedy will never match the glorious memory of his older brother, but his real accomplishments may have been greater—Headstart, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Leave and 2500 other pieces of legislation bear his name.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears,
I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Even on his deathbed Ted Kennedy was thinking of the causes he had fought for his entire life. One of his last acts was to ask the Massachusetts legislature to change the law so that the governor could appoint a temporary replacement for him. He did not want his death to prevent the passage of healthcare reform.

Would you rather live Jack’s life or Teddy’s? Would you rather be a shooting star burned up by your own brilliance or a candle flickering on long into the night until exhausted, the light finally goes out?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Here’s what you might be able to get for $9,000, if you shop smart:

That’s not a very generous list—it’s easy to spend more than $3,000 on one chair and you can spend more than $300 eating out. There’s no automobile. I tried to work one in but by the time you pay for insurance, gas and worry about repairs I don’t think it’s practical.

I think you could live a decent life with only these worldly goods, and I know many people that would be happy just to have this much. Your choice of what to buy might be different than mine, but you should know that $9,000 is a significant number.

If all the wealth of the world were divided evenly between every man, woman and child, then we would all have exactly $9,000 in goods and money.

So, if like me, you have more, then you should realize that others have less.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thinking Like a Mayor

Perhaps I’ve learned to think like a mayor. This morning I opened up the Dallas Morning News and saw that Mayor Tom Leppert had announced a new proposal to improve the way Dallas handles requests for zoning changes—the issue at the heart of the problems I wrote about in my blog yesterday.

Leppert’s approach is substantially more sophisticated than what I suggested (maybe I’ve only learned to think like a small town mayor), and has three main provisions:
•Requiring paid lobbyists to register with the city.

•Prohibiting people with zoning cases before the city from giving campaign contributions to council members for 60 days before and 60 days after their case is considered.

•Requiring a zoning case to have the signatures of three council members before the full council can consider it.

See, the rest of article in The Dallas Morning News for August 25, 2009 here:

Apparently it’s not only the Mayor and I who have been thinking about this issue, because on Monday, August 24, 2009, Councilperson Angela Hunt sent a letter to the Tom Perkins, the City Attorney, that was also signed by Council members Jerry Allen, Pauline Medrano, Ann Margolin and Linda Koop, asking him to look into what the City of Dallas could do to improve the transparency of its system:

“Recent court cases have pointed out some flaws," she said Monday. "We want to reduce the appearance of any impropriety."
I am particularly pleased to see among this list not only Jerry Allen, my current council member, but Angela Hunt, who will represent me when I move downtown to CityWalk@Akard next year.

Any person interested in Dallas politics will tell you that it’s a rare occasion when the Mayor and Councilwoman Hunt agree on an issue—and when they do that you don’t want to be on the other side of that issue. If your representative hasn’t already gotten on board, then I hope you will urge them to do so. If they have, then I hope you will let them know that you appreciate their work.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is $50,000 the Price to Approve Affordable Housing?

According to a recent blog ( $55,000 is the price to get an affordable housing project approved in Dallas. Last weekend, I read an article in the Dallas Morning News that put the cost at $50,000. The numbers are close enough so that I’m just going to round them off at $50,000 for today and make my math easy.

Of course that number is based on illegal payments, the kind that has led to the federal trial that’s going on right now, including charges against the former Mayor Pro Tem, a former member of the planning commission, a very well-known developer of affordable housing (and his wife) and a whole host of other people. I have no idea whether the charges are true or not, but what I do know is if that if you could assure approval of your project legally for just $50,000, then every developer of affordable housing in the City of Dallas would gladly make that payment..

The real costs of putting together a tax credit project—and remember, all you get is a chance, the equivalent of a lottery ticket—is well in excess of $200,000. Your chance of getting an award of tax credits is about one in three. Let’s do the math:

Current system: $200,000 x 3 tries to get approved = $600,000
Approval for $50,000 $200,000 + $50,000 = $250,000

In short, paying $50,000 to get your project approved yields an average profit of at least $350,000 per project.

The profit disappears when you figure in federal jail time, but as the current trial testimony has shown, there are also more or less legal ways to make that payment. A developer can hire one of the insiders at City Hall to lobby for him or her. A developer can just make a sizeable campaign contribution to a city council member and probably get the same result. So long as you just make the contribution and don’t demand a direct quid pro quo, then it is legal (of course that requires trusting a politician, always a risky proposition). That’s just as true for the City of Dallas, where the money is small, as it is for the state and federal governments, where the money can get pretty impressive.

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing Senator Max Baucus, chair of the key Senate subcommittee for health care reform, gets enormous contributions from the insurance and medical industry just because they all plan on retiring and moving to Montana. Money always influences the system, and usually not for the good.

The trial of former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill is a bad deal for the city, whether or not he’s convicted. But I can’t help feeling that if Don Hill is guilty of a crime that it may only be because he wasn’t sophisticated enough to know how to be bribed “legally”.

Council members in Dallas have, by long-existing custom, the right to decide on their own whether affordable housing projects in their district go forward or not. Any system that includes both a decision made by only one fallible (as all we are) person and a large financial incentive for wrongdoing is eventually going to produce wrongdoing. Dallas needs a new system. To begin with, I would suggest that the whole City Council should actively participate in each decision to approve or disapprove a project, not just the member in whose district the project is located.

Let’s do the math on that idea:

Current system: $200,000 x 3 tries to get approved = $600,000
Approval for $50,000 per council member $200,000 + ($50,000 * 15) = $950,000

Now honesty actually makes economic sense. It’s $350,000 cheaper just to apply and take your chances rather than to try to pay off the entire City Council.

We can hope for honesty in our public servants, but we ought not put temptation in front of them. After all, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say “help me resist temptation” it says “lead me not into temptation”. In other words, trust everybody but always cut the cards.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Re:Vision Dallas—Special Recognition, Dallas Eye

In addition to the three winning designs (which a group of volunteers from The Real Estate Council is now busy reviewing for us) and the three runners up previously selected, the jury for Re:Vision Dallas has announced twelve designs that deserve special recognition. The categories include special recognition for social responsibility; being visionary; breadth of research; community methodology; connection between public and private real estate; and interesting technical innovation.

You can view all of the entries awarded special recognition here:, but there a few of my favorites that I want to talk a little about, and I’ll being doing that over the next week or two.

First, Dallas Eye, which was awarded special recognition as visionary, is an absolutely spectacular design, albeit almost unbuildable, in my opinion:

I’m afraid it’s a generation or two beyond what we can do now, but I would not be surprised if it represents the future of computer-controlled, flexible use buildings.

I’m not sure that it shows up in the one page board here, but in some of the other material that I’ve seen, it is clear that the “eyes” of the structure change their orientation according to the movement of the sun in order to generate the most electricity possible from the solar panels that cover the eyes.

In operation, I think it would probably look like the Dallas Winking Eye—even if the wink would be pretty slow. It’s imaginative, interesting and if the technology were just a little more advanced, then it might even work. You couldn’t ignore it.

Even in the jury room, you could see the powerful attraction this design generated. One by one, jurors would pick up this entry, look carefully at it, and then shake their head and put it back down. I think every one of them wished they could believe this design could be built, but knew it just wasn’t going to happen.

I can see the attraction as well, but to be truthful, I was relieved when the Dallas Eye was eliminated. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to build.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Flame Skimmer: Dragonfly Number 2

Today’s blog will be almost entirely pictures. The pictures are all of a Flame Skimmer (what a wonderful name!) that flew into my yard and conveniently perched on a twig on a Cedar Elm tree where my daughter and wife took these pictures for me—my photography skills are worse than primitive.

Here’s a brief description of the Flame Skimmer from Odonata Central (, probably the premier dragonfly site on the Internet:

This conspicuous dragonfly commands the notice of even the most casual observer. Males are found searching long stretches of streams for potential mates or they are seen perched on tall vegetation near the ponds and pools used by females for egg laying. Males will warn off intruders by flying towards and then along with them in an ascending flight with only one male returning to the perch. Females lay eggs in a similar manner to Neon Skimmer, by throwing water along with the eggs towards the shore. Males will guard females from a perch for only a short time after mating in flight. Males tend to occur at areas along streams where receptive females are likely to visit, both seasonally and during the course of the day. Both of these observations indicate male mate-searching patterns in this species are sexually s elected. The small disjunct population in Houston, Harris Co., Texas, represents the easternmost record for this species, likely accidentally introduced as larvae with aquatic plants (Honig pers. comm.).

If you keep your eyes open, you probably will see this beautiful dragonfly as well, if you live anywhere in the American Southwest.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why You Need Mass Transit!

Last night driving home, I came up behind an automobile driving at about fifteen miles per hour, with a disabled license plate and the blinker on signaling a left turn. As you might guess, after five or six blocks when I finally got tired of following the car and pulled over and passed on the right, I looked over and the driver was a little old man hunched over the steering wheel. He had to be over eighty if he was a day.

Now my Dad is eighty, and he still gets around pretty well, but he no longer drives in cities (he lives in a medium-size town). People function in different ways as they age, but I have to admit that I doubted that the man driving that car really should be still driving.

Then this morning on my way to work, I had to slow to avoid a mobility scooter in the right lane. It made me remember one day when I saw a whole convoy of those scooters, more than a dozen running down the highway over in far east Dallas. Later someone told me it was a group from a senior housing development on their way out to eat. Apparently it was a regular occurrence in that neighborhood.
Now, I know people need and want to get out. People need to buy groceries, go to the hair salon, get to the doctor and whatever other activities are important to them. But if you’re under forty-five, then you really need to think about whether you want all of the millions of us baby boomers clogging up the highways, driving our scooters or going for miles in the left lane with our blinkers on.

If I were a young person, I’d be thinking we better build a bunch of trains and streetcars everywhere, before things got so bad that I couldn’t even drive to work in the morning with dodging hoards of scooters—knowing baby boomers, we’d drive in all the lanes.

Mass transit takes a long time to build. If I were you, I’d start now, before all of us baby boomers turn eighty.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Five Percent Rule

If you are in the nonprofit world, then one of the rules that you are familiar with is the five percent rule governing foundations (not to be confused with the five second rule governing food dropped on the floor!). As a requirement for maintaining their tax exempt status, foundations are required to give away an amount equal to five percent of their assets every year. For example, if a foundation has assets worth $100 million, then the minimum amount of grants that it has to award is $5 million.

Collin County isn’t governed by this rule, after all it’s tax exempt because it’s part of the government of the State of Texas. One might hope that Collin County would set a good example anyway, but it doesn’t. Collin County has $15 million in assets in trust--$2 million more than it originally received when it sold the county’s public hospital back in 1983—to pay for health care for the indigent.

This year Collin County offered only $200,000 in grants to groups providing help care to the indigent—and some of those groups are giving the money back because the restrictions attached to the grants are so burdensome.

That amount is only 1.33% of the $15 million in trust—only one third of the amount a charitable foundation would be required to expend. Remember, we aren’t talking about tax money here. Collin County doesn’t spend any tax money on healthcare for the poor. We’re only talking about money Collin County holds in trust for that very purpose.

Maybe Collin County isn’t spending the money because there isn’t any need? After all, Collin County is the richest county in Texas and one of the richest counties in the United States with an average family income 70% higher than that of Dallas County.

Well, there is substantial need. Collin County has a poverty rate (2008 estimate) of 6.2% or, based on its population of 762,010 (2008 est.), more than 47,000 people, with a disproportionate number of them children (7.6% poverty rate).

When the poor and uninsured in Collin County get sick, they come to Dallas County and go to Parkland, our public hospital. During 2004 the last year for which I could find figures, the cost to Parkland—and that means to residents of Dallas County—to treat uninsured residents of Collin County was $2.7 million. Now I wouldn’t advocate turning those patients away, but I would like to see Collin County make at least some effort to lessen the load on us. After all, the citizens of Dallas County are about to spend over $1 billion to build a new Parkland Hospital.

At least Collin County should do the minimum the law would require a private foundation in the same position to do. That would increase funding for heath care for the poor to $750,000 per year—5% of $15 million—in Collin County. Maybe that would save Dallas County some of that money we’re currently spending on behalf of our rich neighbors.

It’s one thing to be prudent and to be a good steward of the public’s money.

Collin County is just cheap.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What’s the Most Patriotic Thing You Can Do?

According to Mark Cuban, It’s to get rich—and pay lots and lots of taxes. I think Cuban’s thoughts are worth reading. If I’m asked to speak to a group of students interested in going into nonprofit work, I always tell them that the best thing they could do to help the poor would be to found another Microsoft. If people have good jobs, then most of their problems are solved.

I wouldn’t have guessed that Mark Cuban and I agree about anything except the importance of the Mavs winning, but we do. Excuse the language, it’s Cuban’s not mine, but I think the article is important enough to be worth ignoring the language.

Aug 13th 2009 1:51PM

The Most Patriotic Thing You Can Do

Bust your ass and get rich.

Make a boatload of money. Pay your taxes. Lots of taxes. Hire people. Train people. Pay people. Spend money on rent, equipment, services. Pay more taxes.

When you make a shitload of money. Do something positive with it. If you are smart enough to make it, you will be smart enough to know where to put it to work.

I don’t care what anyone says. Being rich is a good thing. Not just in the obvious sense of benefiting you and your family, but in the broader sense. Profits are not a zero sum game. The more you make the more of a financial impact you can have.

I’m not against government involvement in times of need. I am for recognizing that big public companies will continue to cut jobs in an effort to prop up stock prices, which in turn stimulates the need for more government involvement. Every cut job by the big companies extracts a cost on the American people in one way or another.

Entrepreneurs are needed to create and grow companies to absorb those people in new jobs. If entrepreneurs dont create those jobs, the government ends up having to spend more money to help them one way or another.

So be Patriotic. Go out there and get rich. Get so obnoxiously rich that when that tax bill comes , your first thought will be to choke on how big a check you have to write. Your 2nd thought will be “what a great problem to have”, and your 3rd should be a recognition that in paying your taxes you are helping to support millions of Americans that are not as fortunate as you.

In these times of “The Great Recession” we shouldn’t be trying to shift the benefits of wealth behind some curtain. We should be celebrating and encouraging people to make as much money as they can. Profits equal tax money. While some people might find it distasteful to pay taxes. I don’t. I find it Patriotic.

I’m not saying that the government’s use of tax money is the most efficient use of our hard earned capital. It obviously is not. In a perfect world, there would be a better option. We don’t live in a perfect world. We don’t live in a perfect time. We live in a time where the government plays a big role in an effort to help lead us out this Great Recession. That’s reality.

So I will repeat my point. Get out there and make a boatload of money. Enjoy the shit out your money. Pay your taxes.

Its the most Patriotic thing you can do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Appropriate or Excessive Use of Nonviolent Force, Part II

An unfortunate trend in American politics has been that the rhetoric of our political discussions seems to grow more violent even as the issues we are fighting over become less significant. War and civil rights were big issues that effected people’s lives in dramatic ways. The current debate (at least to me) doesn’t seem to have the same significance, but clearly other people disagree. When one looks at the history of nonviolent resistance, as distinguished from either mere free speech or violent activities, I see two cases where it is justified.

First, when a group is disenfranchised in relation to the political system so that there is no real opportunity to effect change through political activities, then nonviolent resistance is almost the only choice short of violence. The two classic examples of this situation are the independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in India and the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States.

In both these situations, a people had been excluded from participation in the political sphere. India was a colony of England and its independence movement was more notable for lack of violence than for its presence—at least since the American Revolution the right of a people to resort to arms to throw off its colonizer has been implicitly recognized. The position of African Americans in the United States was more complex, but the similarities outweighed the differences.

Although ensured the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

African Americans had not been able to exercise that right, especially in the American South. The nonviolent movement led by Dr. King was crucial to making it possible to exercise the right of the franchise.

Those two cases are well-known and easily justified. The more complicated case is the one raised by Thoreau, whether nonviolent resistance (civil disobedience) is justified when the law does not correspond with one’s conscience:

“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

Civil Disobedience, (All quotations are from the same source).

It is true that Thoreau relies, to some extent, on his disenfranchisement to support his position:

“As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much time, and a man's life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to. I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything, it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business to be petitioning the Governor or the Legislature any more than it is theirs to petition me; and if they should not hear my petition, what should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way; its very Constitution is the evil.”

[Thoreau’s civil obedience is based on his opposition to slavery, which was of course given legal approval in the United States Constitution.]

I don’t find this part of his argument particularly convincing. The Constitution, after all, provides a method of amending itself. Nor do I believe that if slavery had not been enshrined in the Constitution that Thoreau’s position would have changed. Instead, I believe that Thoreau outlines a second exception to our obligation to obey the laws and work through the process, when a governmental action violates our conscience.

The problem with this justification is that it appears to cover almost any situation and justifies resistance to almost any law, with only the vagaries of our individual consciences as a check. It is relativism of the most expansive sort. It is chaos.

Our individual beliefs vary too greatly to serve as a guide for action if we are to maintain an ordered society. I do not think this statement is to strong. If you look at places in the world where individual actions are governed by conscience rather than law, then you can look to Israel/Palestine, to Afghanistan, to Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. In short, you look at places where civil society has failed.

To find a way to place some limit on this right to express your conscience is difficult, at least when approached on a theoretical basis. I do not know your conscience and you do not know mine. I think a better approach is to look at Thoreau’s actions; at the way in which he expressed his conscience: Thoreau went to jail.

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

The true test of whether nonviolent resistance is justifiable, then, is whether you are willing to go to jail for your conscience.

Of course, to go to jail means you have to violate a law. Other than some isolated examples, and the possibility of charges of Disorderly Conduct, I am not sure that the conservative protestors at the Town Hall meetings have violated any law.

In that case, their actions don’t reach the level of nonviolent force or civil disobedience. They are simply rude, a topic about which I will have more to say on another day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Income Distribution

The distribution of income in the United States has (as of 2007, the last year treated in this study) has reached an all time high for earners in the top .01%. According to the following graph, the top .01% now earns 6% of the total income:

Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2007 estimates); Emmanuel Saez, August 5, 2009.

There are a number of interesting facts about Professor Saez’s (University of California) study. First is the sheer size of the income earned by the top .01%. Total United States income in 2007 was $7,896,000,000,000—that’s $7.896 Trillion, if the zeros make you dizzy. The top .01% of earners got 6% of that amount, or $473.76 Billion. The top .01% works out to about 11,601 households. The average earnings of those households in 2007 was $40,837,859. That’s equal to the income of 813 average households ($50,233). Or, to think about it another way, the top 11,601 households have income equal to 9,431,250 average households.

The other interesting thing about the current distribution of wealth is its change from historical levels. For the fifty years from 1933 to 1983 the top .01% never had more than a cumulative 2.5% of the national income, and from 1943 to 1978—thirty-five years that many of us would consider the best years in the United States—the percentage hovered around 1% of total income for the top .01% of earners.

In other words, in some of our greatest years, the top earners made 100 times the average, while now that number is approaching 1,000 times. I can’t say I know what that portends for the future, but I have a feeling that it’s not a good trend for the middle class.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Appropriate or Excessive Use of Nonviolent Force, Part I

The recent conversation in the news about conservative protestors shouting down Democratic Senators and Congressmen trying to hold town hall discussions of health care reform, brings back memories, some ancient and some merely old.

First, I guess a brief description of the current controversy is necessary. Democrats trying to hold town hall meetings to discuss health care reform were shouted down by conservative protestors. You can see stories about what happened here (Politico):, or here (CBS):

You could just turn on your favorite cable news network for coverage—CNN for more or less neutral, Fox for the conservative view and MSNBC for the liberal position.

Much of the controversy grows out of the fact that these apparently grassroots protests were actually organized by an organization called FreedomWorks, which is led by Dick Armey, the former Republican Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives. Apparently, a volunteer with this lobbying organization work a widely distributed memo explaining how to disrupt the town hall meetings. You can read a copy of the memo, and FreedomWorks sort of denial of responsibility, here:

I don’t find the question of where the information on how to disrupt a town hall meeting came from very significant. In the age of the internet, it’s best to assume that every group is organized and in communication across the country. I’m more interested in the question of whether the actions are ethically proper—at least as far as I know all the actions of the conservative protestors have been legal [Apparently things have continued to worsen in the days since I wrote this, so this may or may not be the case any longer].

To my mind, this is an issue of whether the force used is appropriate or excessive. I start with the premise that almost all protest, even nonviolent protest, involves the use of force. Shouting someone down is force. A sit-in blocks people’s ingress and egress and that qualifies as force to me. I think all of these nonviolent tactics are justified in certain situations, but not in all situations. Let me start by defining two cases where I think nonviolent protest is justified, and then later we can talk about whether the health care debate fits into one of these categories.

Even before that, however, we need to distinguish between efforts to make your position known by exercising First Amendment rights and acts that escalate to the use of “nonviolent force”—an oxymoron if there ever was one.

If someone starts to speak, and the crowd boos, then I think that’s only speech, protected by the First Amendment. If the boos continue so long and so hard that you make it impossible for that person to be heard, then that’s nonviolent force. The same logic applies, for example, to a picket line. If you make it uncomfortable for someone to cross a picket line, then that’s free speech. If you make it impossible, that’s nonviolent force.

To look at a real case, let’s take the infamous Brooks Brothers Riot of 2000 (so named because of the preferred wear of the recipients).
In Dade County Florida, the canvassing board was in the process of a recount in the Bush-Gore Presidential election, when a large group of angry protestors appeared and intimidated the election board into abandoning the recount.

For the purposes of our discussion here, it doesn’t matter either that the protestors were an organized group of Republican operatives, mostly from out of state or that the Election Board of Dade County must be the most easily intimidated group of people in the world. The protest served the purpose of ending the recount, and therefore it was nonviolent force, not mere free speech.

In Part II, I’ll talk about when I think nonviolent force is justified.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Primer on Health Care Reform

My favorite blogger, Nate Silver, has issued a bit of a primer on health care reform. Sure, the tone is a little snarky, but this is the clearest explanation that I’ve seen of the difference between socialized medicine like England and the Veterans Administration, and a single-payer system like Canada and Medicare. If you’re not familiar with these differences, then you owe to yourself to look at his summary. It’s an easy way to get the basic knowledge you need to understand health reform:

Of course, I’m sure most of the readers of this blog already know all this—and have probably read the 1,000 page bill itself.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Here in Arms Release Show

Saturday night, at City Tavern, 1402 Main Street in Downtown Dallas, the band Here in Arms will be having a special show to celebrate the release of its second album, and first with the full band, Outlaws.

The bass player for the band (on the far left in the picture) is my son, Jacob Greenan—so I hope you’ll come out to hear the band.

I’ll give you a couple of hints on preparing for the show. First, if you’re over forty, I’d recommend a nap Saturday afternoon. Two other bands are playing so it’s likely Here in Arms won’t start playing until well after the time I’m usually long asleep.

Second, if you like the show, think about coming back on Friday, September 4, when my son will be back at City Tavern with his new band, The Archetypes, for which he plays piano and writes the music.

Finally, if you have a chance, check out this week’s edition of Quick. On page 18 there’s a story about Here in Arms, including an interview with the band’s lead singer and songwriter, Brent Engel.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Could you measure up?

Here at Central Dallas CDC we’re looking to hire a Community Outreach Representative for CityWalk@Akard. The position is a combination of Caseworker, Concierge, Community Liaison and Cruise Director—and of course we can’t afford to pay very much for someone with the talents to fulfill all of these roles. I’m reminded of Mrs. Paroo’s statement in The Musicman about her daughter Marian’s standards for men:

“I know all about your standards and if you don't mind my sayin' so there's not a man alive who could hope to measure up to that blend of Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat, and Noah Webster you've concocted for yourself out of your Irish imagination, your Iowa stubbornness, and your li'berry full of books!”

Marian never did find her perfect man, so she had to settle for an itinerant bandleader and salesman, but I hope we will do better!

The job of the Community Outreach Representative isn’t quite as bad as combining all the qualities of Paul Bunyan, St. Pat and Noah Webster, but it’s close.

The Community Outreach Representative will function in part as a caseworker. We don’t mean that in any clinical sense, but the person will need to be our eyes and ears in the community at CityWalk, keeping track of people and letting us know if someone seems to be having problems so we can check up on them and try to get them help if they need it. The goal will be to get somebody help before any problems get too bad.

In addition, the position will require some of the skills of a concierge. In part that means knowing people and knowing where to find things. If a resident needs medicine, then the Community Outreach Representative needs to know where to send them—and the same applies if a resident needs opera tickets. The Community Outreach Representative will need to know how to get reservations at Stephen Pyle’s Restaurant, and where to go to apply for unemployment benefits, or at least where to find out all this information. He or she will need to know where the churches are downtown, where the restaurants are and where you can find a tailor--everything, in short, that you might need to know for urban living.

He or she will also have to act as a community liaison. That will mean knowing how things work internally: how to ask to change to a different apartment; what to do if you’re going to be late on the rent; how to reserve a meeting room; or complain about a noisy neighbor. The community liaison will also be the person who lends a friendly ear, hears complaints and relays them to the management in an unthreatening manner. If we’re doing something wrong, then we need to know so we can do better. The Community Outreach Representative should be approachable.

Finally, the Community Outreach Liaison will act as a cruise director. We want our residents to enjoy living at CityWalk, and part of that means organizing events—fun things to do. There might be movie nights, Cowboys watching parties, knitting circles, community supported agriculture or other things that I can’t imagine, because I’m not that much fun. He or she may help plan birthday parties or communal meals. I’ve never been on a cruise, so I really don’t know, but you probably get the idea.

At least in our mind, all these different positions work together. We need someone who loves people and wants to spend his or her time helping them live better. It’s a lot for one person, so we hope to bring in at least some part time help, but we need someone to step in and define the positions—to show us how it’s done.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life is Dangerous, But We’re Not Responsible

As a lawyer, I appreciate a well written disclaimer--one that covers any possible liability. The Nelson Rocks Preserve may have reached perfection:


Nature is unpredictable and unsafe. Mountains are dangerous. Many books have been written about these dangers, and there's no way we can list them all here. Read the books.

Nelson Rocks Preserve is covered in steep terrain with loose, slippery and unstable footing. The weather can make matters worse. Sheer drops are everywhere. You may fall, be injured or die. There are hidden holes. You could break your leg. There are wild animals, which may be vicious, poisonous or carriers of dread diseases. These include poisonous snakes and insects. Plants can be poisonous as well. We don't do anything to protect you from any of this. We do not inspect, supervise or maintain the grounds, rocks, cliffs or other features, natural or otherwise.

Real dangers are present even on trails. Trails are not sidewalks. They can be, and are, steep, slippery and dangerous. Trail features made or enhanced by humans, such as steps, walls and railings (if any) can break, collapse, or otherwise fail catastrophically at any time. We don't promise to inspect, supervise or maintain them in any way. They may be negligently constructed or repaired. They are unsafe, period. Live with it or stay away.

Stay on the trails whenever possible. The terrain, in addition to being dangerous, is surprisingly complex. You may get lost. Carry food, water and first aid supplies at all times.

Rocks and other objects can fall from the cliffs. They can tumble down slopes. This can happen naturally, or be caused by people above you, such as climbers. Rocks of all sizes, including huge boulders, can shift, move or fall with no warning. Use of helmets (available at entrance station) is advised for anyone approaching the rock formations. They won't save you if you get hit by something big or on another part of your body. A whole rock formation might collapse on you and squash you like a bug. Don't think it can't happen.

Weather can be dangerous, regardless of the forecast. Be prepared with extra clothing, including rain gear. Hypothermia, heat stroke, lightning, ice and snow, etc. can kill you. Rain can turn easy terrain into a deathtrap.

If you scramble in high places (scrambling is moving over terrain steep enough to use your hands) without proper experience, training and equipment, or allow children to do so, you are making a terrible mistake. Even if you know what you're doing, lots of things can go wrong and you may be injured or die. It happens all the time.

The Preserve does not provide rangers or security personnel. The other people in the preserve, including other visitors, our employees, agents, and guests, and anyone else who might sneak in, may be stupid, reckless, or otherwise dangerous. They may be mentally ill, criminally insane, drunk, using illegal drugs and/or armed with deadly weapons and ready to use them. We aren't necessarily going to do anything about it. We refuse to take responsibility.

If you climb, you may die or be seriously injured. This is true whether you are experienced or not, trained or not, equipped or not, though training and equipment may help. It's a fact, climbing is extremely dangerous. If you don't like it, stay at home. You really shouldn't be doing it anyway. We do not provide supervision or instruction. We are not responsible for, and do not inspect or maintain, climbing anchors (including bolts, pitons, slings, trees, etc.) As far as we know, any of them can and will fail and send you plunging to your death. There are countless tons of loose rock ready to be dislodged and fall on you or someone else. There are any number of extremely and unusually dangerous conditions existing on and around the rocks, and elsewhere on the property. We may or may not know about any specific hazard, but even if we do, don't expect us to try to warn you. You're on your own.

Rescue services are not provided by the Preserve, and may not be available quickly or at all. Local rescue squads may not be equipped for or trained in mountain rescue. If you are lucky enough to have somebody try to rescue you or treat your injuries, they may be incompetent or worse. This includes doctors and hospitals. We assume no responsibility. Also, if you decide to participate in a rescue of some other unfortunate, that's your choice. Don't do it unless you are willing to assume all risks.

By entering the Preserve, you are agreeing that we owe you no duty of care or any other duty. We promise you nothing. We do not and will not even try to keep the premises safe for any purpose. The premises are not safe for any purpose. This is no joke. We won't even try to warn you about any dangerous or hazardous condition, whether we know about it or not. If we do decide to warn you about something, that doesn't mean we will try to warn you about anything else. If we do make an effort to fix an unsafe condition, we may not try to correct any others, and we may make matters worse! We and our employees or agents may do things that are unwise and dangerous. Sorry, we're not responsible. We may give you bad advice. Don't listen to us. In short, ENTER AND USE THE PRESERVE AT YOUR OWN RISK. And have fun!

NRP Management

It sure is pretty, though.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Topping Out Party

The Topping Out Party thrown by construction manager Key Construction at CityWalk@Akard took place Thursday, August 6th, and somehow between talking to as many of the people there as possible, I managed to take a few pictures.

Unfortunately the party was even more symbolic than I had hoped, because the fire marshal wouldn’t allow tours—wouldn’t even allow anybody inside the building who wasn’t working there. It’s a fact most people outside the construction industry don’t understand, but when it comes to construction projects, the fire marshal is close to a god. He or she decides when it is safe to issue the Certificate of Occupancy, which is the document that allows you to rent apartments and begin to use the building. The fire marshal says when you are done. An unhappy fire marshal can easily cost you a couple of months in time, so the construction company, the architect, the owner and the developer all very much want to keep the fire marshal happy.

So the fire marshal said no tours and there were no tours.

We still had a good time. The only speaker was Randy Allen, one of Key’s superintendents on the job. Randy did a great job, thanked everybody, and it was fitting that he was the speaker, because the Topping Out Party is a celebration for working people, not for the suits.

You can probably see the wide variety of people from the pictures. We had everybody there from purchasers of the condos to members of my Board of Directors to other downtown developers to architects. There were men and women, young and old, white, Hispanic and African American, but mostly there were working people.

Key Construction served up barbecue and the way everybody dug in almost made me wish I worked a little harder (or at least was a little younger) so I could afford to eat like that every day!

There were probably one hundred fifty people at the event, and even then it was well less than half the people who have helped make CityWalk possible. When we work together, we can make great things happen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Talking to Small Groups, Part II

[I try to write something for CityWalkTalk every day, but my goal of a perfect month where I blog every single day is still escaping me. In June and July I only missed one day each. This month I was determined not to miss a single day, so Thursday evening I stayed late before leaving on a three-day weekend to complete the three blogs that have or will appear on Monday through Wednesday this week--but were supposed to have appeared on Saturday through Sunday. I stayed until I finished the blogs, but I was so tired I forgot to send them to Judy Lawrence who actually publishes the blogs for me. So it's another month gone without reaching my goal. Maybe I'll meet my goal in September.]

When explaining how we got into housing for those now homeless, I usually explain our original reluctance to work in this area. Now, almost a decade later, it is hard to remember, but when we first started Central Dallas CDC, we had limited experience with homeless clients. Most of the work of Central Dallas Ministries has been with the working poor. We never saw ourselves as a “homeless agency”; our view of ourselves was as one more neighbor trying to help each other. Many of the earliest employees of Central Dallas Ministries moved into the neighborhoods where CDM worked. It isn’t that hard to identify with lower income people who are working. It is much harder to identify with someone who is on the streets.

Finally, we decided that the need was so great and desperate that we had a moral duty to try to make a difference. At about this same time (in 2002 and 2003) a major change took place in helping those who are now homeless, the emergence of the “Housing First” model (I wrote blogs about it on February 6 through 8, if it’s not familiar to you). Housing First is the simplest of ideas in one respect—what homeless people need is homes, but it reversed completely the conventional wisdom. The government and charities had been spending money on feeding and drug treatment and counseling and employment services, and ignoring the fact that almost nobody gets better while still living on the street.

Housing First’s earliest proponent was the National Alliance to End Homeless, but to its everlasting credit, the administration of President George W. Bush picked the idea up and ran with it. I always try to mention the fact the Housing First is an initiative of the Bush Administration and has been continued by the Obama Administration. There is nothing partisan about Housing First. It’s just a smart idea.

When I talk about our approach to Housing First, I try to take the time to describe the research we did, visiting New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Philadelphia, Houston and Austin and talking a bit about the programs there. I usually also talk about our decision to put our headquarters in the same building so that we could ensure the property was properly run. Sometimes, but not always, I mention the fact that I will also be living at CityWalk.

The point of this part of the discussion is to show that we are serious minded about this endeavor. We don’t underestimate its difficulty, but neither are we intimidated by it.

The final part of my discussion goes into the details at CityWalk. How we are selecting residents. How rent will be paid. I talk about the rules and services for the residents.

Most important are stories. I’m very much an abstract thinker, but over my time at the Central Dallas family I have come to better understand the importance of concrete examples. I can’t yet talk about our residents, since we won’t open until October, but I can talk about the people we’ve met that are on the waiting list for CityWalk.

I can talk about people who’ve been waiting for over a year for a place to live like a victim of domestic violence who is living in a shelter, a man who’s been living in his truck for the past year, a young man looking for his first own place while still living with his mother, a women looking for a safe place for her and her disabled daughter and a women in recovery from substance abuse who now has a good job but broke her last lease and can’t find a place to rent.

As we meet more of our prospective and soon actual residents I will have more stories to tell.

If you know of a group willing to listen, I’d be happy to meet with them. I believe once some reasonable number of the people here in Dallas understands the problem of homelessness that Dallas will find a solution to the problem — which isn’t much more complicated than more homes.

The right number of people might be 100,000, which is about 10% of our population. If that is so, then it’s going to take me another 10,000 meetings, ten people at a time, to make the case. Fortunately I’m not alone in this effort, but it’s still going to take a lot of time meeting and talking with people, so it’s time to get started.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Talking to Small Groups, Part I

I had the opportunity today to talk to a small group, about ten, businessmen and one businesswoman about the work of Central Dallas CDC over lunch. The club has been meeting once each month for several years and tries to bring in a guest to talk about a new issue each time. If it is affiliated with a larger organization (Rotary, Lions, etc.) no one mentioned it. I was connected to the group through a mutual friend.

I don’t know the politics of the group, but judging from the conversation before I started to talk, I would guess the majority of the people were conservative to moderate Republicans with a few moderate Democrats—pretty typical for Dallas. In short, though, not the sort of bleeding heart liberals that you would expect to be sympathetic to homeless people.

People act differently when you meet them as individuals rather then in large groups. I’ve found in general that if I explain what we are doing, why we are doing it and how it will work that people will give you a fair hearing.

I’ve never felt very excited about making speeches. For me, the personal connection is lost when I stand before a sea of faces with a microphone and make a speech. I’m perfectly comfortable, on the other hand, speaking to any group small enough (say not more than thirty or forty people) for me to talk with unamplified, take questions and engage in a conversation.

I have a pretty standard format for those talks. It begins with a little biography, who I am and how I got to where I am. I used to skip this part of the talk. It seemed too self-important for a boy raised on Midwestern modesty, but I no longer skip my biography. People want to know something about you and where you came from. Then they have a basis to begin thinking about your mission.

Then I try to include some stories from the time I worked at Central Dallas Ministries’ Legal Action Works, both tragic and comic. The stories I tell vary depending on what comes to mind. Today I talked about a woman I represented who was stabbed twelve times by her husband while the divorce was pending. In order to win her case, I had to put her daughter, twelve at the time it happened, on the stand to describe the stabbing. The stabbing took place in front of the daughter.

It’s also important to include heartwarming or even comic stories as well. The work we do, and the lives of the people we work with, are full of warmth and joy. I don’t think it’s healthy to present only the most desperate stories. Today I told the story of a man whose divorce I handled after he was separated from his wife for thirty-seven years. Judges usually are pretty bored during uncontested divorces, but this time the Judge looked up and asked my client, “Are you sure you’ve had enough time to think about getting divorced.” The courtroom broke out in laughter—not mean laughter but generous laughter at the absurdity of life.

The story usually gets a laugh for me as well.

After that I talk about one of the homeless clients I had as a lawyer and why it’s so difficult to help someone who’s homeless. That’s my opportunity to segue into talking about how I got into housing, especially for the homeless, and the topic of tomorrow’s blog.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting to Work Today

I almost didn’t make it to work today. As I tried to back my truck out of the driveway, this vicious four-pound beast blocked my way:

It was Ima, the arthritic Chihuahua from next door. She had found a place in the sun to lay down—in the middle of the entrance to my driveway—and she wasn’t going to move, probably because it’s so much effort for her to stand up these days.

I backed my pickup almost to her and she still didn’t move. I honked the horn. If she could even hear the horn, then Ima ignored the horn.

For a moment I thought about the day our neighbor told my daughter not to feel bad if my daughter backed over Ima. Ima was already the world’s oldest Chihuahua and our neighbor was going to let her out to enjoy sitting in the sun (even in our driveway) for the time she had remaining.

Finally I got out of my truck and walked over to Ima to tell her to go home. Ima looked at me like I was a very foolish young man. I lifted her to her feet, and after a scornful look over her shoulder, Ima limped away.

I got back in my truck and went to work.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Ever Happened to the Plaza?

Some of you may remember the saga of the Plaza Hotel from last winter and spring. Central Dallas CDC planned to turn the building into Permanent Supportive Housing and, after many vicissitudes, our plan was finally defeated by neighborhood opposition. I blogged about the story on February 17, 18, 26, and 28, March 29, and April 8, 2009, for any of you that can’t bear not to complete your homework.

The Plaza is back in the news today, here’s the text version of Channel 11’s report on the current state of the building:

“Aug 4, 2009 9:58 pm US/Central
Owners Of Dallas High-Rise Offering Free Rent
DALLAS (CBS 11 / TXA 21) ―

Imagine living in an expensive rental property, in a high-rise building, with a priceless view of downtown Dallas, for free. It sounds too good to be true but it's a reality for a handful of families who are taking advantage of a remarkable opportunity during hard economic times.

It's been Tom Coughlin's home for just over two months and the 10th floor, two-room, suite came with furniture and a skyline view. "I would have paid for this place as much as I've paid for any place I've lived in the last 10 years," he said.

The amount the 61-year-old real estate broker pays is – nothing! He got the deal after answering a craigslist ad posted by the owners of the former Ramada Inn Plaza Hotel, who plan to renovate the property late next year.

"We decided, that for security reasons, it would be a good idea to have some people living in it so it wouldn't be a vacant building," explained property owner Larry Hamilton. "So, we kind of made this unusual offer on craigslist that we would provide free rent.

"That's right – the rent is free, for up to a year, and comes with very few conditions. Residents are only asked to report problems and keep the gate locked on the fence around the hotel, which was built more than 30 years ago


Hamilton says prospective tenants must pass background check and offer reasons for wanting to live there, but can move into any room they want and take anything out of a room if they need it. The rooms have all the furnishing of a hotel.

Sure, there's no staff working inside the building, no air conditioning in the hallways and some might find living in an old, almost empty, hotel a little creepy; but those who responded to the ad were all struggling financially and consider the agreement as a lucky break.

Anyone wanting to sign up on a waiting list for a chance to live free in the building can contact the Hamilton Properties Corporation by email.”

Before everyone gets too excited and you all call Larry Hamilton for a free place to live, I need to tell you my take on what’s going on. As usual, Larry Hamilton is thinking two or three steps ahead of the rest of us. A vacant building is subject to a lot of vandalism and goes down hill fast. One way to avoid that is to hire a security firm—probably what most of us would have done. It works, but it’s expensive.

But Larry is always thinking and he realized he had 252 hotel rooms that weren’t generating any income for him, so he could just trade a few of those rooms for people that would serve as unofficial night watchmen. I really doubt he wants to fill the entire hotel with people that aren’t paying anything. That’s a pretty dubious long-term business plan, and Larry is a very smart operator.

On the other hand, you never know, I could be entirely wrong about what Larry has in mind. I did say that he’s usually a couple of steps ahead of the rest of us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Visit from Bill White, Mayor of Houston

Last Friday Mayor Bill White of Houston stopped by to visit CityWalk. He spent about two hours with us, touring the building and then sitting down for a conversation about affordable housing and homelessness. Mayor White was most gracious.

[Picture to your right: Gerald Britt, CDM, Mayor White, Larry James, CDM, John Greenan and Johnice Woods, CDCDC]

I think it’s a not very well kept secret that Mayor White is considering running for the United States Senate if Senator Hutchinson, as expected, resigns to challenge Governor Perry in the Republican Primary. I assume that his visit was part of an effort to get out to other parts of the state to see what’s going on and what’s on people’s minds (I am sure that Mayor White wasn’t visiting with us to try to raise campaign donations!).

Having a chance to talk to Mayor White made an interesting contrast to the conversations that I’ve had with our own Mayor Leppert. Both men are intelligent and well-informed, but there are some obvious differences in their personalities. Mayor White seems very much a take charge sort of person—the kind of person that likes to get at it and get it done. Mayor Leppert seems more a consensus builder that prefers to listen to all sides and then try to reach a decision that everybody can support.

I have to wonder if that isn’t in part a reflection of the systems of government that they each work in. Houston has a strong mayor system where once Mayor White decides what he wants to do, then he can usually make it happen. For example, in the affordable housing area Mayor White meets once per month with city staff and once per month with a group of affordable housing developers and under his leadership the City of Houston has made a lot of progress in building affordable housing.

On the other hand, Mayor Leppert works in a council-manager form of government here in Dallas where, in essence, the mayor is only one of fifteen council people. The power the mayor has depends on his ability to persuade. The office has very few inherent powers.

It’s an interesting question to ponder. Were Mayor White and Mayor Leppert drawn to seek an office that fits their personality, or are their mannerisms shaped by the needs of the office? If Mayor White had to work under Dallas’s system of governance, then perhaps he would rely on consensus building, while if Mayor Leppert was working in a strong mayor system, making he would simply take charge and make things happen.

I don’t know the answer, but both men are extremely competent and the cities of Dallas and Houston are lucky to have such high quality executives at their helm.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Watermelon Rind Pickles

My wife likes watermelon and recently bought a melon, carefully cutting out the red inside so she could keep it in a container in the refrigerator. That left the rind to be thrown away—or made into watermelon rind pickles.

Given my aversion to throwing anything edible or that can be made edible away, I decided to make watermelon rind pickles out of some of the rind (not all of it yet, there is a lot of rind on a watermelon!).

The process takes four days. Day one, you need to carefully trim away both the pink inside of the watermelon and the hard green rind on the outside, leaving you with the light green, almost translucent inner rind. Cut the inner rind into one inch pieces, then mixed them with a large handful of salt. Cover and let rest overnight.

On the second day, rinse the salt from the rind, then simmer it in water to cover for an hour. Drain and then pour two cups white vinegar and one cup of water over the watermelon (use more in the same proportion if necessary). Once again, cover and let rest over night.

On the third day, make a syrup with two cups vinegar, one cup water and two cups sugar (add another cup of sugar if you like your watermelon pickles sweet). Flavor the syrup with some combination of 4 to 6 allspice berries, 10 to 12 whole cloves, a cinnamon stick or two and 10 to 12 whole red or white peppercorns. Do not use ground spices as they will make the syrup cloudy and unappetizing. Pour the syrup over the watermelon rind and refrigerate for the flavors to be absorbed by the rind.

Finally, on the fourth day after you’ve started, the watermelon rind pickles will be ready to eat. The rind itself has very little taste—just a pleasant crunch if you’ve done everything right—so most of the taste comes from the spices you’ve used. That means each batch can be different, if you prefer.

I though mine were pretty good. Good enough to make again. But if my wife eats too many watermelons this summer, I’m either going to have to give up on converting the rinds to pickles or give everyone I know a jar of watermelon rind pickles for Christmas.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Next Year, Let’s Have a Good Old Time Independence Day in Dallas, Part II

I think Dallas needs to start its own Independence Day celebration. Why can’t we have a pancake breakfast and patriotic music downtown next July 4? With almost 6,000 people living downtown that’s almost enough to match Santa Fe’s numbers even if nobody outside of downtown attended, and that doesn’t seem likely.

Dallas has a choice of locations downtown that would be great for an event like this. My personal favorite, as of now, would be the new Main Street Gardens.

It isn’t finished yet, but should be in plenty of time for Independence Day next year.

Since I’m the optimistic (or maybe wildly unrealistic sort), I can even imagine the Independence Day Celebration outgrowing Main Street Gardens and moving over to the Woodall Rogers Deck Park in a few years:

There would be lots of room to expand there, and it’s hard for me to imagine outgrowing a five acre site.

I know. It’s hot in Dallas in July. That’s why I think a breakfast event is just the ticket. Everyone can go home and sleep off the pancakes during the heat of the day, then wake up in time to go out for the fireworks.

Where will we have the fireworks? Why, in the Trinity River Park!