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Making Dallas Even Better

What Happened to Citizen Oversight of the Trinity River Project?

After reading late last week about Mayor Rawlings’ plan to make more plans for the city’s largest park (without the involvement of the Parks Department or the citizens of Dallas), I thought it was time to check in on the status of the Trinity Citizens’ Oversight Committee. As you may recall, the Trinity Dream Team’s leader, Larry Beasly, stated their proposal needed “public input and confirmation,” and that the design process “needs a conscience that is ‘of the people.'”

Their “suggestion (was) a carefully arranged monitoring of implementation, (then) and on an ongoing basis into the distant future, but an oversight panel of independent professional and citizen monitors who can make sure the concept does not get distorted through the detailed design process.” Peter Simek reported Beasly as stating that the multi-disciplinary team of experts should actually report to the citizens group. In that same piece, Council Member Lee Kleinman was quoted as stating his desire for more public input. The Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects also publicly endorsed such an approach, stating they “strongly advocat(e) for an oversight body comprised of Dream Team members, local design organizations (including AIA Dallas) and private citizens to ensure that the vision of the Dream Team is faithfully reflected in the design and execution of a Great Trinity Park Parkway.”

So where do we stand on the formation of such an independent oversight body?

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In Search of Dallas’ Missing Alcohol Sales Tax Revenue

It’s been fun listening to the budget debates over the last couple of weeks: Mayor Rawlings, Lee Kleinman, Jennifer Staubach Gates, Scott Griggs, Rickey D. Callahan, and Philip Kingston politely asking for some minor (less than 1%) tweaks to the budget — and City Manager A.C. Gonzalez responding by threatening to burn the place to the ground.

One thing that never came up, however, was the city’s new mixed beverage sales tax. What’s that? You haven’t heard of it? Well, you’re not alone. I can find no mention of it in either the city’s 2014 audited financial statements or 2016 budget. I also can’t find any record of the City Council ever having been briefed on the matter, notwithstanding the fact the State of Texas is telling us they’ve sent us $8,410,145.63 as our cut, just in the first year-and-a-half. Going back through the financials, I did find something with a similar description, an “alcohol beverage tax.” And wow, look at that: up 52% since 2012!

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The Convention Center That Ate Dallas

A couple of weeks ago, after reading that the taxpayer-funded Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau apparently wanted to lend us the letter “D” from their “DALLAS” logo to replace the City of Dallas’ existing letter “D” logo, I got to thinking once again about the outsized influence the DCVB wields over municipal affairs.

Late last year, after Philip Jones, the DCVB’s president, tossed out a plan to have taxpayers pay for a $300 million addition to the convention center, I took a look into the finances and found that it lost $37 million per year before debt service and $54 million after interest expense — amounts that were virtually identical to its losses prior to the opening of the half-billion-dollar city-owned Omni Convention Center Hotel in 2010 (one of the primary justifications for building the hotel was that it would drive more business to the convention center and stop its losses). Some of the most interesting observations, however, came from reader comments to my post. Former city council member and the executive director of the Dallas Arts District, Veletta Lill, made the following observations:

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Why’s Dallas City Hall Sneaking Through a $450 Million Blank Check For TXU?

Wednesday, June 17, (the date of the next City Council meeting) is a special day. Why? Because it is the last meeting of the current council, and six of the 14 members are lame ducks, term-limited out. The Regular Agenda for the June 17 meeting, posted on June 5, was 1,071 pages long, and contained 101 items. But, as discussed previously, it is really the Addendum to the Agenda which contains most of the “fun” stuff.

Friday night I checked the Dallas City Hall website at 5:44 p.m., searching in vain for the Addendum (5 p.m. is the deadline for posting it). Oh, well, I had things to do and gave up. Finally, on Saturday afternoon (how many City Hall reporters work Saturdays?), I went searching again, and the 629-page document had finally posted, revealing 41 additional items. According to the time stamp, it had been received by the City Secretary at 4:26 p.m. Friday (June 12).

So,I started my treasure hunt. Most of the stuff was pretty typical, (e.g. $305,000 for veterinary services for police & fire dogs and horses), but then, WHOA… what the heck is this?

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Emails Shed Light on Inner Workings of Trinity River Project Funding Schemes

Brandon Formby reports on the latest bit of information to leak out of the trove of Trinity Toll Road-related emails that was released by the City of Dallas after council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston pushed to have access to communications between city staff and former City Manager Mary Suhm as well as Mayor Mike Rawlings’ so-called design Dream Team.

The nugget of the article suggests that a design firm — led by “Dream Team” member Ignacio Bunster-Ossa — was the beneficiary of a private grant of $105,000 that was donated to the city of Dallas by the Trinity Trust under the condition that said design company receive the contract for the work from the city.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Strange Case for the Trinity Toll Road

Back in December, Mayor Rawlings met with the Dallas Morning News editorial board to make his case for the Trinity toll road. At the time, the story was reported by the DMN, with subsequent editorializing on FrontBurner by Jason Heid and Wick Allison. I was also tempted to write something about it at the time, but dropped the idea after the pieces by Jason and Wick appeared. Since then, however, I find myself going to back to re-listen to the audio recording over and over. It’s not that politicians don’t say crazy things at times. We all know they do. It’s the idea that someone, somewhere, thought the DMN editorial board would find this pitch persuasive.

What I’ve attempted to do below is step through the mayor’s case point by point.

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Question for the Group: What Should We Call Our Podcast?

Looks like Zac and I will attempt a podcast. Without getting too heavy into the details, it’ll be kinda like FrontBurner (actual Dallas-related content mixed with time-wasting foolishness). About six years ago, a fellow named Adam McGill and I attempted something like this. We called it FrontBurner For Your Ears. A woman named Charity Beaver was once a guest. But I digress. We did the thing without buying any equipment, using instead a free service called Blog Talk Radio, which relies on telephones to record sound. The audio quality was not top notch (to say nothing of the content). This time we’ve invested some money. We’ve got microphones. And even a microphone stand.

So I throw it to you, dear content consumer. What should we call this thing? Keep the name FrontBurner For Your Ears? Something snappier? Anything in particular you’re interested in hearing?

How Government Subsidies Are Hiding the Omni Convention Center Hotel’s Losses

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the financials of the Dallas Convention Center, prompted by Philip Jones’ announcement that he planned to borrow a quarter billion dollars in public money to expand the facility. To summarize, I discovered:

  • The city of Dallas is currently subsidizing the facility to the tune of roughly $53 million per annum; and
  • Three years and $500 million later, the construction of the adjacent convention center hotel hasn’t had any discernable impact on the convention center’s bottom line.

Today, I’m taking a look at the financial performance of the convention center hotel itself.

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Secret Deal to Dump Delta Signals More Crony Capitalism at Love Field

Just over five months ago, Dallas residents and the City Council were surprised to learn that the city of Dallas had secretly commissioned a study that supported city staff’s determination that the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division had erred when it determined that Virgin America, rather than Southwest Airlines, should receive the two American Airlines gates that American had determined it no longer needed.

Cheered on by the city of Fort Worth, here and here, Dallas city staff proceeded to throw all sorts of roadblocks up against what should have been a straightforward lease approval. The process quickly devolved into a national farce, possibly because the idea that allowing one airline to control 90 percent of the gates at an airport would serve competitive interests is ridiculous on its face. Council Member Vonciel Jones Hill featured prominently, arguing that the city (she?) was in a better position than both the contracting parties (American Airlines and Virgin America) and the Department of Justice to determine what was best for the citizenry. Finally, after weeks of opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations at City Hall (during which time Virgin was compelled to launch a high-cost public relations campaign, and Sir Richard Branson was compelled to interrupt his vacation for a trip to Dallas to beg for the gates as part of an effort that directed critical international spotlight to what appeared to be crony capitalism at work), Virgin was finally given the green light by city staff to actually take possession of the gates that appeared to have been rightfully its own from the outset.

Fast forward to this past week: once again, residents and elected officials found themselves surprised to learn that city staff had taken action to thwart an airline’s ability to operate at Love Field.

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Former Dallas City Councilman Dave Neumann Did Not Get a Parking Ticket Today, and Likely Never Will

In May 2011, Scott Griggs unseated Dave Neumann for the District 3 slot on the Dallas City Council. Today, Dave Neumann left a downtown event, hopped into a car on Lamar Street, pulled a quick U-turn, and headed off.

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Leading Off (2/18/13)

Is the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System Overinvested in Real Estate? There are so many questions raised by this lengthy report on how the pension fund that owns Museum Tower ended up managing the luxury proprieties it propped-up with large cash infusions after the real estate bubble burst. For example: What are the properties really […]

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