Suhm to city: All is well (and by the way, we’ll have to cut the libraries and do layoffs)

I’ve been Suhm-ed.

That’s the phenomenon, described elsewhere, in which city manager Mary Suhm Power Points an audience into submission, dazzling them with colored charts, lots of statistics, authoritative sources, what she calls “inside information,” and a minimum of facts. All the while, Suhm does it with an urgency in her voice that hints at the disasters that will befall the city if we stray from her Power Point and a killer personality that makes even cynical ex-newspapermen wonder how anyone could doubt her.

Usually, she does it to the city council, which is how we end up with highways on unsafe levees and a budget that that is as fiscally responsible as a Klown Kollege. Yesterday, she did it to the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce. She spoke for 45 minutes, told the audience everything was under control save for one or two minor issues, didn’t take any questions, and got a standing ovation. It was as impressive a performance as I’ve ever seen.

Of course, those minor issues include layoffs at City Hall and a cut in city services, which no one seemed to notice. After the jump, what Suhm said and what it means for the neighborhoods:

The mantra of Suhm’s presentation, which she repeated in various forms, was that ”If we stop all the progress we’ve made because of the recession, when the economy picks up again, it will just be that much more difficult to accomplish our goals.”

She spent a good part of her talk covering Mayor Park Cities’ back, and not just about the convention center hotel (“If we want convention business, we have to have a hotel”) and the Trinity toll road. There was an odd, almost bizarre, defense of Leppert and council members who visit foreign countries on the city’s dime. These aren’t travel junkets, Suhm said, but vitally important trips that are a key to Dallas becoming a global business city.

Expect to see Suhm and the mayor continue to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for over-reacting about levee safety, and she actually said she was “disturbed by the methodology” the Corps used to reach its conclusions. The other villain in the Trinity saga? Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper, believe it or not. Suhm didn’t mention The Morning News by name; rather, she talked about “stories in the paper” and how we shouldn’t over-react to its scare tactics.

But when I looked at my notes and actually sorted through what Suhm said, I got a much different impression of what may well be an impending crisis facing the city:

• There will be layoffs at city hall, though she waited until the last five minutes of her talk to slip this in. For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that employees downtown expect “waves of layoffs.”

• Programs will be cut, and she specifically mentioned closing the libraries on Sunday. Not to worry, though, because we’ll still have great libraries. This was an especially impressive piece of bureaucratic legerdemain, since Suhm had just finished discussing how important the library system was to the city’s well being.

• Other cuts? They’ll come from the extra services that we’ve enjoyed over the past four or five years. This was news to me, since I wasn’t aware we had had any extras. Suhm, of course, did not mention what those extras were.

• The budget’s sales tax forecast has been cut by four percent a month and the city expects a recession-induced drop in property tax collections because of late payments, slow payments and non-payments. (And this doesn’t take into account what will happen if property values actually go down next year.) This, as far as I know, is the first official acknowledgement that last fall’s budget is now useless.

• There were several references to a “bond program.” Since Suhm didn’t take any questions, I don’t know if she was talking about money already allocated under previous bond issues, or if she wants to go to the voters next year to ask for more money for new projects. And I can’t shake the feeling that a new bond package will include money to fix what ails the Trinity program.


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