If you have a little time on your hands and want to crack a smile no matter what your political persuasion, check out the dueling Dallas Morning News vs. Angela Hunt commentaries that have popped up in the past couple of days.

The DMN took a knowing jab at Hunt in its "Texans to Watch in 2009" editorial, suggesting that if she wants to move to what the paper’s editorial board called a more "prized" seat at city hall, she should learn to play better with others. (I’m assuming they’re talking about being mayor, although the way the city charter is structured, the council members and mayor are pretty-much equals in terms of votes, though if you’re mayor, the DMN will cover you with what seems to be disproportionate vigor.)

So Hunt fired back with a response ("I’ll stick with the peanut gallery, thank you"), along with a statement of what’s she’s "for" (the DMN suggested she made her name by being "against" everything going on at city hall).
As a primer for the battles ahead this year at city hall, it’s worth reading both sides of this debate. And for entertainment purposes, read the Dallas Observer’s notes on the scuffle, along with that publications’ reader comments.

It’s no secret to apparently anyone but Mayor Tom Leppert that the city’s economy is in in the tank. Back Talk’s Jeff Siegel has been saying the city’s sales tax revenues are primed to take a huge tumble, and he even prepared a chart he’ll be updating monthly proving his point. It doesn’t take a big mental leap to understand that less sales tax revenues means less city funds for infrastructure and employees, setting up what later this year is likely to be a legitimate debate over whether we can even afford to own and operate a convention center hotel vs. maintaining our streets, reinforcing our police ranks, beginning a huge layoff of city employees, and/or maintaining enough code-enforcement people to keep the inner-city neighborhoods we’ve built up in the city during the past 10-15 years from falling directly into the toilet.

If we can’t do everything Leppert would like to do, what should be our priorities? And wouldn’t the best way to determine these priorities be to discuss them? Openly? And with our political leaders? Knowing that each citizens’ opinion is worth listening to? (Of course, Leppert is the same guy who unilaterally turned off the microphone at the end of the council meeting, prevent various citizens — some a little more wound-up than others — from getting their say on WRR’s broadcast of the council meeting.)

The challenge facing Dallas citizens these days is the "if you’re not for us, you’re against us" mentality that seems to permeate city hall.  That attitude starts with Leppert, who has been talking up his "vision" of Dallas from the standpoint that if you don’t agree with him on the Trinity River tollroad or the taxpayer-owned convention center hotel or whatever else strikes his fancy at the time, you’re not only wrong, you don’t believe in Dallas and your not being a supportive citizen. I can handle the argument about being wrong, because it’s probably even-money which side of many city issues ultimately will be proven correct. But I can’t handle the argument that by voicing an opinion, even an opinion contrary to Leppert’s, I’m somehow not being a supportive, "visionary" Dallas citizen.

In fact, that kind of talk is reminiscent of the McCarthyism red-baiting days of the late 1940s, when merely raising a question about Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s methods could easily lead to being accused of being a Communist; as a result, people were afraid to speak up and share their opinion on what turned out to be a wrong-headed, illegitimate effort to punish people who had done nothing wrong. Had more people spoken up about the folly of McCarthy’s activities earlier, a lot of innocent people would have been spared.

When Hunt took on virtually every Dallas political and civic leader on the Trinity referendum, she pretty-much gave up her chance to be a media darling and shiny-faced future Citizen’s Council endorsee in exchange for assuming the post of political pariah. I assume she knew that going in, as well as her blackballing by the landed aristrocracy of Dallas; if she didn’t, I imagine it became clear to her pretty quickly.

Agree with her or not, though, the role that she and a very few others are playing is an important one that needs to be voiced at city hall. Because if there’s no voice of opposition to anything downtown, just imagine how quickly the "vision" some have for the city could turn into a bloated nightmare built on phantom tax revenues the rest of us won’t be able to run fast enough to generate.

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