The scapegoat

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

Bierfeld says he advised Elam that the approach was perfectly legal, since the arena study focused partly on determining the impact a new arena would have on the convention center. "I know I specifically talked to Louise on available sources of funding--and possibly quite a few other people," Bierfeld says. "The laundry list of available alternatives for authorizing work was well-known. The whole thing was authorized."

But Keheley and Ware--unlike Bierfeld--aren't about to own up to any of it.
Asked about the legitimacy of using convention center construction money--bond money approved by voters for a specific purpose--to secretly fund an arena study, Keheley seems to recoil. "The contracts were to design and build the convention center expansion, not to do an arena study," Keheley says. "Even if there were money left in those contracts...the money goes back into the fund that it was initially authorized."

It should have--but it didn't.
Just as the council should have been informed about the study and asked to authorize it--but wasn't.

And that's why Dallas city government's most powerful men--Ware, Keheley, and Benavides--have publicly maligned Louise Elam.

They did something they shouldn't have done, and became desperate to cover it up. The arena project manager just happened to be in the way.

Last Friday, clearly spinning from what is happening to her previously happy life, her career, and her reputation, Louise Elam took the day off.

It is 11 a.m. on Monday, November 21, and assistant city manager Ted Benavides--who has not returned almost a dozen phone calls that I have left for him throughout City Hall since 8 a.m.--is walking down the carpeted hallway, toward a fourth-floor meeting with staff.

I ask to speak with him, and a few minutes later, we are sitting in a small conference room. Benavides closes the door.

"Did you write a memo to Ramon Miguez suggesting that consultants be used for the ASAP study?" I ask him.

"Did his office write back to you, confirming that a construction manager and an outside consultant would be hired to perform work on the study?"

"Did you attend an April 19th meeting where it was decided that Austin Commercial should be hired to do some of this work?"

Benavides is soft-spoken, congenial, and happy to talk--a far cry from his usual smug, condescending manner with reporters.

But on this day, Benavides is clearly worried. Unlike last week, when the spin control on the "unauthorized" study and the egregious public works employee was working nicely, it's not working now.

Because there are documents. And because an angry city staff is talking.
Just that morning, councilman Bob Stimson had met with Benavides, as he does each Monday morning. Stimson told Benavides that he was hearing from the city attorney's office that documents exist which clearly link Benavides and Keheley to the "unauthorized" study.

Now, talking to someone who actually had those documents, Benavides must have realized the game was up. The sham was over.

Yes, the assistant city manager told me, he knew that ACI and JPJ were both working for the study group and were both being paid.

And yes, he wasn't the only one that knew it. Cliff Keheley and John Ware had both been fully briefed on the use of paid consultants while the ASAP study was going on. "I tried to keep him informed with what we were doing," Benavides says of Ware, who bears ultimate responsibility for this entire vicious mess. "He was appreciative that we were trying to get enough data to analyze what [Crawford's] sports group was going to present."

Yes, Benavides told me, he and Keheley had discussed using the convention center expansion contract to pay for the JPJ work--since it had exceeded $10,000 and would otherwise require seeking council approval.

And, yes, he and Keheley had asked Bierfeld to determine whether that was legal. "I talked to him [Keheley] about how we were researching the issue of whether we could use the expansion contract," Benavides told me. "He just asked us to go ahead and do the research on it."

Benavides said he also discussed using the convention center contract to pay for the JPJ work with city manager Ware. And what did Ware say about doing that?

"He didn't say yes, and he didn't say no," Benavides shrugged.
Benavides, however, is unwilling to take all the blame for this fiasco. He insists that even though everybody--from Ware right down the line--was aware of what corners were being cut in the interest of expediency, he wasn't the one who eventually pulled the trigger.

Who actually hired JPJ?
"I authorized $10,000 or less," he says, with just a hint of a smile. "And we seem to have spent more than that. And if that's a miscommunication between me and the staff, then that's unfortunate, and I take the responsibility for any miscommunication."

So who is ultimately at fault? I asked Benavides. Louise Elam?
"I think Louise Elam is a wonderful employee," Benavides said. He then added that she was still being "investigated."

"It would be improper for me to comment on what occurred," Benavides said.
By this time, it wasn't necessary. It had become all too clear.

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