The scapegoat

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

But Elam was questioning whether it was appropriate to even study the site. "Is it even a consideration to look at Lot 'E' for the arena, considering this is the future location for the DCC expansion?" wrote Elam in an April 26 memo. As project manager for the convention center expansion, she knew as much as anybody about the future needs of the center.

On April 29, Frank Poe and Louise Elam met with JPJ Architects, according to city documents, about doing some major work for the ASAP study. During the meeting, Poe and Elam laid out the group's goals, as Keheley had specifically described them three days earlier.

"We understand that for matters such as market analysis and finance, our role will be one of support only and that our primary charge is to study the feasibility of Lot 'E' and alternative sites in the Convention Center-Reunion Arena vicinity," JPJ architect William Workman wrote in a letter dated May 11. "We propose to provide the services for the 30-day study based on time with a maximum of $65,000. We estimate that reimbursable costs will be under $10,000."

Keheley said last week that at an ASAP meeting he attended in May, staff proposed hiring JPJ at a cost of $65,000. Keheley said he recalls balking at the figure.

"A decision was made to involve outside consultants, and someone refreshed my memory not too long ago that a proposal to use consultants was brought to one of the meetings I attended for use of consultants, and I think the amount of money involved was about $65,000," he said. "And I said 'that is too much money--no, I don't want to do that.'"

ASAP members say they do not remember any such directive from Keheley--and that they don't recall him attending any meetings of the group after April 26.

The ASAP group held its first formal working meeting on May 3. Minutes of that meeting--which were widely distributed--are extensive. Sixteen people attended the meeting, including Frank Poe; Wayne Placide from First Southwest; First Assistant City Attorney Bierfeld; Wil Caudell; three people from budget, including Eric Kaalund, and three people from public works, including Elam.

Also in attendance at the meeting were two representatives from Austin Commercial, Inc. and three from JPJ Architects. During that meeting, every aspect of the work that needed to be done was assigned a responsible party--and ACI and JPJ were knee-deep involved in almost every task.

"Visits will be planned of the following facilities: Portland, Phoenix, Fayetteville," the minutes read. "Visits will include a representative from the following groups: JPJ (1-2 representatives), ACI, PW [public works] and RA [Reunion Arena]. "Wil Caudell will contact the respective facilities to arrange for the visits. JPJ will make travel arrangements for the group."

Further down the page, the minutes read: "Briefing to City Manager's Office is due May 25, 1994. Frank Poe to confirm and see if extension is possible."

In the end, the travel never took place. Neither did the big briefing, although a 24-page briefing packet, dated May 31, which had been prepared for the meeting and which gave a general overview of the study's results, was, in fact, sent to Ted Benavides, according to a distribution list that was tacked onto the document in the files at public works.

Neither took place because, Keheley says, he realized in the middle of May that Crawford's private group had no plans to recommend a specific site--instead it would merely suggest a downtown site and leave it up to the next, paid rash of consultants to pick the best one. With that, Keheley knew that he had time to develop a case for a Reunion site.

"The likelihood the city would become involved in the site selection really, in essence, disbanded the work of the group," Keheley told me.

So Keheley called off the ASAP study. JPJ Architects, which had done more than $48,000 worth of work at that point, dutifully billed the city for its work. It also went ahead and produced a thick draft of its work, dated June 2, for what it was worth to the city.

Elam put the report in her files, where it remained undisturbed--until the Observer found it.

Then a panicky city manager's office--desperate to cover its tracks--distributed the previously secret report to the city council, and offered The Dallas Morning News and the council the story about renegade bureaucrat Louise Elam.

When Elam got the bills from JPJ and ACI last June and July, her records show, she paid them.

But far from acting on her own, she did so only after higher-ranking city officials specifically authorized a peculiar method of payment that circumvented council approval. Elam's files contain faxes dated May 9 to Frank Poe and Charles Bierfeld in which Elam forwarded both men copies of an excerpt from JPJ's five-year-old, $6.7 million contract to design the convention center expansion.

The idea, which Bierfeld acknowledges was openly discussed within the ASAP group, was to pay for the arena study by using funds authorized for use on the convention center. JPJ would get its money from surplus funds in its contract to design the convention center expansion; ACI would be paid through leftover money from its $69-million contract as construction manager for the expansion.

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