The scapegoat

A mid-level staffer bears the brunt of a sleazy City Hall coverup

The reason: if politics, publicity, or public input were allowed to stall the project--even for a few weeks--there would be no way to meet the self-imposed targeted completion date of fall 1997.

It is because of this schedule that the ASAP study group was formed--and that outside consultants were hired without council approval.

And it is with the explicit approval of the city manager's office--not at Louise Elam's whim--that it was done.

"It made me ill reading those stories," says one senior city official who is intimately involved in the sports arena project and historically tight-lipped about any goings-on at City Hall. "The city manager's office is not telling the truth.

Cliff Keheley was sitting in his spacious office on the fourth floor of City Hall last Thursday evening, squirming noticeably.

Keheley is a City Hall veteran of 19 years. Until he started spinning wild tales last week, he had been widely respected for being straightforward, avoiding bureaucratic games, and generally being a decent human being. Keheley is a quiet, unassuming, nuts-and-bolts guy who has spent the majority of his city years--take note here--in the public works department. He ran the public works department from 1981 to 1989, when he became an assistant city manager. Last year, when Ware was promoted, Keheley won the job of first assistant. In the number-two spot, he became the person most responsible for keeping day-to-day city operations running smoothly.

Keheley knows exactly what it takes for a plodding, cash-strapped bureaucracy that can't even afford to fill potholes to complete--by October 1997--a $200 million sports arena that only materialized as an idea in early 1994.

It takes cutting corners--which is exactly what Keheley, his boss, and Benavides have been doing.

In February, a group of downtown businessmen--headed by real estate agent John Crawford, former chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce--began promoting the idea of a new downtown arena. Called the Dallas Sports and Entertainment Assessment Group, Crawford's bunch tapped the free counsel of city staff, a private architectural firm, a mortgage company, and a management consultant to begin assembling what it would take to convince the Dallas City Council that a new arena was a terrific idea.

On June 15, John Ware briefed the council on the results of the Crawford group's work and urged the council to approve $550,000 to continue the study and pursuit of a new arena by hiring a group of outside firms; when the group was selected, it would include a Dallas construction company called Austin Commercial, Inc. This was the first time, Ware told the council members, that they would be paying for any outside consultants on the arena project.

In truth, the city was already using Austin Commercial to study the arena. The day before the council briefing, the company had billed the city for $1,418.74 for 28 hours of work towards its part of the "unauthorized" ASAP study.

Five days after the council briefing, a second bill--this one for $46,891.43--arrived from JPJ Architects in Dallas. JPJ was also assisting the ASAP study. JPJ would submit a final bill for $1,440.35 in July, bringing the total amount paid to outside consultants for "unauthorized" arena work to $49,750.

It was, to be sure, unauthorized by the Dallas City Council--whose approval is required for all expenditures of more than $10,000.

But it clearly was authorized by the city manager's office.
Last week, Keheley explained to me how he put the ASAP study group together last April. He said he was concerned that Crawford's committee might recommend the wrong downtown site for the arena project--someplace other than the Reunion area, jointly developed by the city and billionaire Ray Hunt.

"I was concerned about the huge investment the city has made in Reunion--parking, freeway ramps, thoroughfares, traffic, circulation--and I was concerned that might not be taken into account in site recommendations coming out of the group," explained Keheley, who was in charge of construction on the original Reunion project. "Secondly, I was concerned that if a site recommendation was made in the vicinity of Reunion that we needed to be fully aware of any impacts that would have on the convention center master plan."

So Keheley put a lot of high-ranking people who were familiar with the Reunion area on his secret arena project: Charles Bierfeld, an assistant city attorney since 1970 and the inhouse legal expert on the many legal agreements with Ray Hunt regarding Reunion; Frank Poe, director of convention and event services, which oversees Reunion Arena and Union Station; Wil Caudell, the manager of Reunion Arena; John Crawford, an employee of the economic development department; Pat Parrish, the new director of budget and research; and her assistant, Eric Kaalund.

The Public Works department would have five people on the project--the director, an assistant director, a division manager, a project manager, anda traffic expert. Keheley also enlisted the help of Wayne Placide, a director of First Southwest Co., the city's outside financial advisors.

Although Keheley says he personally attended two of the group's meetings, he made assistant city manager Ted Benavides his point man for the arena team. "I asked them to specifically give me and/or Ted periodic status reports on progress," Keheley told me.

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