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Southern Dallas Leadership: Who Will Fill the Void?

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By Michael Hubbard

Over the last few years the city of Dallas has witnessed African-American politicians succumb to corruption at an alarming rate. The current FBI investigation of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is the latest in a long list of Federal probes directed at local officials. It’s been suggested that the government unfairly targets African-American elected officials, but perusal of the FBI website quickly dispels that myth. Here are just a few of the cases made by the FBI in June alone:

  • Robert Cordaro and Anthony Munchak, White County Commissioners in Philadelphia, were found guilty of conspiracy, bribery, extortion, money laundering, racketeering and income tax evasion.
  • Jovana Samaniego Deas, a Hispanic special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was charged with illegally accessing, stealing and transferring sensitive U.S. government documents to family members and associates who have ties to drug trafficking organizations.
  • Ronald Clifton, a white former mayor and councilman in South Daytona, Florida, was charged with bribery and making false statements.

There are currently more than 2000 FBI corruption investigations in process involving public officials around the country. I feel confident in saying not all of those investigations involve African-Americans, so let’s put the selective prosecution argument to rest.

The real issue is much greater than the guilt or innocence of any individual.  The true challenge to leadership in Southern Dallas are the “gatekeepers” who seem more concerned with personal gain than the economic well being of the community they have been charged with representing.

These “gatekeepers” exist in both the public and private sectors.  They tout themselves as “community leaders” who have to sign off on anything or anyone that is to prosper south of downtown. Their leadership often comes with a price tag and at the expense of progress.

Southern Dallas leadership, or the lack thereof, is a constant topic of discussion at the barbershop, around the dinner table and on Facebook. I could argue that leadership in Southern Dallas is not real but imagined. The lack of economic development in Southern Dallas and the current state of DISD would serve as proof of that claim.

Of course leadership for Southern Dallas isn’t relegated to the political arena but can also be found in the pulpit. Some of the most dynamic and charismatic ministers in the nation are right here in Dallas. The question is can any one of them provide the collective vision, direction and ethics that Southern Dallas leadership seems to lack? That remains to be seen. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Who in Southern Dallas can model that kind of leadership?

I believe there needs to be a cultivation of young, visionary leaders who don’t aspire to be gatekeepers but instead seek to be bridge builders to economic development. Young leadership that understands being a public servant really does mean serving the public. Leadership that has genuine passion for the well-being of their constituency.

What we’ve had historically is a lot of rhetoric that has produced an excess of low-income housing, a couple of fast food restaurants and a slew of FBI investigations. That is not the formula for revitalizing a community.

Dallas’ city council salaries are also a hindrance to leadership, as well as an embarrassment.  The $37,500 paid to council members doesn’t help when trying to convince our most gifted to pick up the mantle of public service.

A study issued in February of 2011 by the Philadelphia Research Initiative examined the salaries of city council members in 15 major U.S.cities. Los Angeles ranks No. 1 with an average annual city council salary of $178,789.00. Houston pays their councilmembers $55,700 per year, and though not on this list, each member of the Austin City Council receives $57,736.

Dallas ranked next to last on the list, ahead of only San Antonio who pays their councilmembers $1,400 per year (that’s not a typo).  As recently as 2001 Dallas City Council representatives were taking home a whopping $50.00 per meeting! Serving on the city council is a full time job and in order to attract the next wave of leadership the salaries must be competitive. African-American leaders generally enter office with less wealth than their Anglo counterparts.  That fact doesn’t excuse ethical lapses, but does make them more susceptible to the advances of shady dealings.

Another barrier to developing quality leadership in Southern Dallas is the exodus of the African-American middle class from Dallas to the suburbs. It’s happening at such an alarming rate that it will eventually have an adverse effect on the number of African-American city council seats. Dallas has to find a way to attract this group back to the city. Accomplishing this changes the political landscape in Dallas, and boosts the educational and economic climates as well.

Has leading Southern Dallas become so unappealing and unrewarding that our brightest young minds don’t even consider that path? On the surface that appears to be the case. One thing is for certain, we are at a crossroads and a rudderless ship is doomed to drift aimlessly.

Michael Hubbard is a freelance writer and blogger.  A native of Dallas, TX, he is a proud graduate of James Madison High School.  Michael brings a unique, hometown perspective to his political and social commentary.  You can follow his opinions at blog.mikeondallas.com, and Mike can be reached at Mhubbard23@aol.com.

  • http://phelps.donotremove.net Phelps

    The leadership is there. The question is what South Dallas is being led to. Hindsight has shown that all the leaders are looking for (JWP, Lipscomb, Hill, EBJ) are a way to fill their own pockets and the pockets of those close to them, and they don’t give a damn about South Dallas.

    The only way to change this is to throw out the old guard that thinks this way, and anyone they are bringing up to follow them, because their protegees are certainly being taught that “this is the way it is.” It may be an uncomfortable truth, but this predatory group has a name — the south Dallas Democratic Party. Until the people of south Dallas stop voting party line, then all those votes will be taken for granted, the machine will do what it wants (and it wants to steal money) and there will be no accountability to the people.

  • Jet

    I TOTALLY agree with Phelps. It is an uncomfortable truth, but the truth nonetheless. I would not paint the whole south Dallas Democratic Party with an uncaring, unethical brush..but I certainly agree JWP has lost sight of why he became a politician and chose the path of so many: selfish greed. The people of south Dallas should not continue to be the “mechanical” voters they have always been, because JWP is no longer the best politician for south Dallas or Dallas County.

  • http://testosteronetalk.blogspot.com Troy King

    Politics or Politicians will never bring about real change of our community…Only when the dissatisfaction rate of the community is high enough will there be real change.The sad part is that individuals with sincere harts and economic resources have left the Southern Sector(or leave at the end of the business day), to go and raise their family’s and do business in the suburbs, while the community is left to be raped by those self serving individuals in power …….Only when we demand the best for our family’s and move back to our community with our money and talents will there be real change.

  • http://www.northdallasgazette.com Ruth Ferguson

    I agreed with your premise until I read that now the FBI has spent a few hours in the Dallas D.A.’s office on Wednesday and nobody is discussing what that was all about. If it is related to JWP, OK but if it is something else than yes we do have to start asking some serious questions about why the FBI manages to only find interest in what the South Dallas leadership is doing. Wrong is wrong but you can’t tell me the hands of leaders on the north side are clean.

  • Dewberry

    To me it is the same old argument “if we had better or different elected leadership, Southern Dallas would prosper”. It is acceptable to criticize elected officials as to why it is not a Neiman Marcus on the corner of MLK and Malcolm X. I do not believe there is one elected official can stand in the way of a businessman to make a dollar when given a great potential for return. An excellent example is the payday and title loans businesses. Every election there are promises made to upgrade the southern sector of Dallas and nothing ever materializes.
    If anyone out there has any concrete ideas on how to vitalize the Southern Sector please pass them on to the now elected officials. Please don’t keep them private until you are elected.

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