From the Dallas Times Herald, January 2, 1985



Author:  Frank Burgos and Beverly Potter

When Garland historians recount 1984, the Dec. 13 tornado is sure to be at the top of their list.

But other, less dramatic events also will be remembered for their effect on the city, its government and its residents.

Over the last 12 months, the city got a new mayor and lost a city manager.  It was sued by members of its fire and police departments and by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A school nearly burned down, a major bond election was held, desegregation became an issue, and Garland obtained what no other city in Texas has – a municipal wave action pool.


At City Hall, the mantle of leadership was passed – several times.

Mayor Ruth Nicholson received only 30 percent of the vote in last spring’s municipal election and was forced into a runoff with Charles Matthews, the top vote getter.  Matthews emerged victorious and was sworn in last May.

The city bureaucracy also experienced a turnover in leadership.  In September, Fred Greene, city manager for more than five years, resigned without explanation.  The council named Assistant City Manager Dean Ransow as the acting top administrator and is still seeking a permanent replacement.

And after 20 years of service as city secretary, Aleta Watson announced her retirement last month.  She plans to leave City Hall Jan. 31.

The city’s building inspection division was tarnished in June when an inspector was fired after admitting he accepted bribes from a home construction company official.

Garland voters passed eight of 10 propositions in the largest bond election in the city’s history Oct. 13.  More than $88 million was raised for street and drainage improvements, public safety,  parks and recreation facilities, and other items.

Also in October, the City Council approved a utility rate increase for water, sewer and electric consumers.  But the council also cut taxes 0.7 percent for fiscal year 1984-85 after approving a $196 million budget in August.

Besides squabbles with the police department over promotions and the fire department over pay, city officials had legal problems on another front.

The EPA in February sued Garland officials for allegedly failing to meet deadlines to clean up Duck Creek and Rowlett Creek waste-water treatment plants.  Garland, in turn, sued the EPA for $25 million, claiming the agency was negligent in approving plans for Duck Creek and had no right to sue Garland over the missed deadlines.  Early in September, though, the council agreed to spend $11 million to modernize Duck Creek.

A water facility of a different kind opened in May.  That month, city officials cut the ribbon on the state’s only wave action pool owned and operated by a city.  The pool at Audubon Park had been the object of intense criticism from residents and city Council members.


The courts were kept busy this year with suits and counter suits between the city and its police and fire departments.

Late in 1983, Garland firefighters launched a campaign for higher pay, convincing a state district court to order a referendum on the issue.

Voters went to the polls Jan. 21 and narrowly approved the raise.  Meanwhile Greene reprimanded Fire Chief Bob Burkhart for dismissing a fire inspector who publicly opposed the pay increase.  The inspector was reinstated.

Also in 1984 the previously all-white and all-male fire department hired a woman and two blacks as a result of an affirmative action plan adopted by the city.  The three new firefighters started in early October.

Personnel controversies also boiled over in the police department.  Samuel Allen, a 10-year member, sued the city for a promotion from officer to personnel officer, a lieutenant’s position.  Allen won the promotion but was dismissed after allegedly interfering in an investigation.

City officials then hired Allen as a fire inspector.  But members of the Firefighters Association balked, charging in a suit that Allen was not qualified for the job.

The case has yet to be settled, but Allen is working as an inspector for the fire department.

The city was able to settle another police personnel dispute.  Former Assistant Police Chief Bob Wade received an undisclosed amount of money from the city to drop his suit challenging his 1982 suspension for supposedly leaking secret police documents to a citizens group.

Meanwhile, the city equipped its police cruisers with computers to cut down on a communications backlog and planned a reorganization of the department’s patrol and criminal investigation divisions that will begin this month.


The effect of last summer’s state education bill and school desegregation dominated local education in 1984.

Garland Supt. Eli Douglas emerged as a leader of a statewide group of school officials who vowed to change portions of the school law during the 1985 session of the Legislature.  Among other things, the group objected to what they called disruptive discipline procedures and lower class sizes.

Last spring, a federal judge, who 14 years ago approved the district’s desegregation plan, said the racial balance in Garland schools was “not what it ought to be” and predicted the plan would not withstand a court challenge.

As a result, the U.S. Justice Department challenged the plan and asked Garland for voluntary changes.  School officials reacted by extending the school day with special programs at four minority schools, hoping to attract more white students, and by planning to bus black students to white schools.  Black parents, however, rejected both ideas.  Freedom-of-Choice will continue for the new school year, school officials said.

In 1984, as in other years, the schools were plagued by vandals.  Perhaps the greatest damage occurred in February at Hillside Elementary School where a three-alarm fire set by an arsonist destroyed the library and several classrooms.  The school was restored in late October.  The arsonist was never found, police said.

In the classrooms, 1984 was the year of the computer.  Garland spent $6 million for computers in elementary and secondary schools.

City agencies weren’t the only source of news in 1984.

A meningitis scare arose when a 15-year-old boy died in February from the disease.  Hundreds of people received preventative treatments.

Former Garland Justice of the Peace Theran M. Ward was fined and placed on probation after he was convicted of driving while intoxicated in March.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opened a chapter in Garland in April.

Two Garland sisters were arrested and convicted for trying to hire a man to kill their husbands.  The women approached a man in a bar with the idea.  The man promptly notified police.

Rev. W.J. Davis was sued by members of his congregation to leave the church.  He and other congregation members started a new church in October.

A Garland woman was convicted in November for bilking nearly 700 people in a silver reclamation scheme.

And Christine Donelson, a 14-year-old baby sitter, saved the life of an 8-month-old boy with some quick life-saving techniques in November.