Mayor Miller squares off against Councilwoman Hunt in debate; each accuse other of deception
If Mayor Laura Miller had any plans to quietly end her political career during the eight weeks left in her final term, she apparently abandoned them this week.
Miller went on the offensive to save the Trinity River Corridor Project from a proposed voter referendum petition spearheaded by Councilwoman Angela Hunt. The mayor and the Trinity Commons Foundation launched “Sink the Petition/Save the Trinity” on the first day of early voting to combat Hunt’s “Trinity Vote” campaign to force a revote on the project in November.
Hunt said she wants voters to reconsider the project because of the changes that have been made to it since voters approved it in a 1998 bond election. For the next two months, Hunt and the group she leads will be collecting voter signatures on the petition.
Miller and Hunt appeared on KRLD radio station on Monday, April 30, to debate the issue. During the exchange, Hunt repeatedly interrupted Miller as the mayor attempted to tout the project as an amenity that would enhance the city with a central river park near downtown Dallas. Hunt accused the mayor of misleading the city’s residents about the viability of the plan, which in addition to the park includes a controversial toll road.
“Mayor, you need to be straight with the people of Dallas,” said Hunt, who claimed Miller was advised privately by the designers of the overall plan that the proposed toll road would be an impractical element. The councilwoman said she learned about the concerns of transportation expert Bill Eager of Seattle and urban planner Alex Krieger of Boston, who developed the “Balanced Vision Plan” in 2003, by securing copies of the mayor’s e-mail correspondence through an open records request.
Miller denied the councilwoman’s allegation, saying the “experts love the road they designed.” She promised the completed project would be representative of the designers’ vision.
The mayor claimed that Hunt is misrepresenting the project to voters.
In an interview the day after the debate, Hunt insisted it would be impossible for the city to accomplish the project envisioned in the designers’ plan. Development of the plan cost $600,000, which was raised from private sources.
“I think there is a real lack of acknowledgment that things have transpired over the last nine years that make it impossible to implement that plan,” Hunt said. “I’m concerned we’re going to wind up with a toll road and a park that does not reach full potential and is not the beautiful recreation amenity that the residents approved in 1998.”
Hunt said a low-speed, meandering parkway allowing access to a river park was promised, but she claims the North Texas Tollway Authority will insist on building a straight, high-speed highway without exits that juts into the park if the project continues on its present course. The U.S. Corps of Engineers’ flood control regulations about where the road can be built further complicate the construction, she noted.
On the day after the debate, Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze posted a story on the newspaper’s blog claiming Hunt had proven “the mayor’s been lying about the Trinity River toll road.” He said the e-mails from Eager and Krieger that she posted on her Web site were a “smoking gun.”
In an e-mail she requested be posted on the Observer’s blog, Miller lashed out at Schutze, saying the intent of the e-mails from Eager and Krieger was misrepresented. The e-mails were intended as criticism of preliminary toll road plans and as advisory to demand changes, she said.
Krieger also sent an e-mail to the Observer, objecting to Schutze’s characterization of his e-mail correspondence to Miller.
“I was astounded at the misuse of my e-mail to Mayor Miller regarding the Trinity River Parkway,” Krieger wrote. “It seems to me an irresponsible twisting of a position on behalf of a cause I do not share, rather than a smoking gun.”
Those e-mails failed to convince Schutze of the mayor’s veracity, and he posted yet another story calling the mayor a “liar.” He labeled Krieger’s defense of the mayor “absurd.”
“Sorry, Krieger,” Schutze wrote. “The only irresponsible twisting going on here is whatever they did to your arm to make you write this malarky and whatever you had to do to your spine bending over backwards to deny the clear meaning of your own words.”
During the debate with Hunt, Miller noted that she had voted against the bond proposal in 1998 because she viewed it as a substandard as first presented.
“Before, it was just two giant toll roads,” Miller said. “You split the dirty river, and you put a bathtub in the middle of the dirty river channels and then you were supposed to somehow get across the dirty roads and the dirty river into the bathtub in the middle.”
The City Council has spent the past nine years revising the plan, Miller said. The American Institute of Architects recently gave it a national award because it is now “more about the river, lakes, wetlands and trails,” she said.
“We took the 30-acre lake, and it’s now 150 acres for two lakes much bigger lakes,” Miller said. “We added a peninsula and an island that goes between the two lakes so you can drive down and stop and get out to picnic with your family. We created a huge recreational facility where there was none before.”
The first plan called for toll roads to be built on both sides of the Trinity.
Now, the toll road will be confined to the downtown side, and the Oak Cliff side will be dedicated to constructing recreational facilities and access to the proposed park, according to the plan.
Miller insists that the toll road will be only four lanes wide and built in accordance with the “Balanced Vision Plan,” regardless of what other agencies intend to do. The land belongs to the city of Dallas, and it can be withheld unless the project meets city guidelines, she said.
“The Dallas City Council has to make sure the plan they adopted is the one that is implemented,” Miller said.
Hunt said she wants voters to reconsider the project because of all the changes the City Council has made to it. The toll road could be repositioned along Industrial Boulevard a proposition that would be much more expensive but perhaps worth it, she said.
If that option is chosen, the city would construct its own streets leading to the river park, Hunt said. She claims that if the proposed toll road is removed from the project the river park will be developed much more quickly.
“The fact is this toll road has held up the project,” Hunt said.
But Miller and every other former and current council member involved with it claim Hunt’s efforts may “dismantle” the project and warn the city may never get the plan going again if it is derailed now. All other options about the toll road have been researched and dismissed as unworkable, the mayor said.
Hunt’s highest-profile ally is mayoral candidate Sam Coats the lone candidate out of a field of 11 scrambling to succeed Miller who thinks it wouldn’t hurt to take a second look at the project.
In an effort to prevent such a scenario, Miller said she would continue campaigning against Hunt’s petition, which will require about 50,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The project is worth the fight, she said.
“I’m so proud of it,” Miller said during the debate. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of it. I just want the people who come to the polls and are asked to dismantle the project to think a little bit about the last five years and how much work went into it.”
For information visit www.trinityvote.com and www.savethetrinity.net.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2007