Behind closed doors

What the council says in secret.

On November 16, 1994, the Dallas city council convened behind closed doors, citing in its formal agenda two exceptions to the Texas Open Meetings Act--"discussion of Reunion Arena leases" and "attorney briefings"--as justification for doing so.

This 10-page transcript of its recorded discussion, obtained by the Observer from the city auditor's office, makes clear the council, in violation of the open meetings act, instead engaged in a wide-ranging discussion of the secret $50,000 arena study.

City Councilman Paul Fielding: When was that report commissioned? Who commissioned it and how was it paid for?

First Assistant City Manager Cliff Keheley: The report was never commissioned. It had its origin in April of this year--about the time that what we called the property group began its study. I convened a group of staff personnel including property management staff, public works staff, finance department staff, legal and so forth, and based on some of the preliminary information we were learning about, coming from the Crawford group, I asked this study group I had put together to look particularly at the existing Reunion Arena site and its close environment because I was not certain as to what sort of agenda the Crawford group had, as to whether they would try to direct a study into someone else's particular piece of property, and I knew that the city had made a significant investment in infrastructure, ramp improvements, parking improvement in the vicinity of Reunion Arena. I did not feel that investment should be discounted.

In addition, I wanted to make certain that we had a full staff understanding as to what the implications were for the arena to be constructed in the Reunion site and its impact upon the Convention Center expansion, the master plan for the Reunion Arena. I put that group together in late April. I'm sorry I don't remember the exact date. The group met three times. Once in April, twice in May. By the later meeting, it was May 16 or thereabouts, it was the middle part of May, it became obvious that the Crawford group was not going to make a specific site recommendation, so I told the group to disband and to do no more work on it.

I had no knowledge that the public works department had asked JPJ Architects, who are still under contract to the city on the Convention Center expansion, to prepare some data for the particulars, some drawings representing a particular set of locations on parking lot E, which is Site #1. They had asked them to do some analysis on that and later expanded that request to cover some other sites in the downtown area in close proximity to the Convention Center. They paid for that effort by JPJ Architects out of the existing contract for the Convention Center expansion, which also provided for some master plan work. They, public works staff, felt that this was an appropriate use of funds.

We did not have any knowledge that they were doing this and were paying for it on the invoices submitted monthly by JPJ Architects. The total amount was just over $48,000. They also had some cost estimating done by Austin Commercial (ACI), who was also under contract in the Convention Center expansion. The total cost of that is just under $1,500. The total cost expended was nearly $50,000. There was a draft report generated by JPJ to issue their finding on it.

We found out--I said "we"--the city manager's office found out about that report and the work that JPJ had done about two weeks ago, one or two weeks ago, thereabouts, when they went through the matters that had been released through the blanket open records request. That's the first knowledge we had that there had been a report drafted and I set about trying to determine how it had been paid for.

Fielding: Who in public works asked for this information to be done?
Keheley: As near as I can determine, the project architect who had worked on the Convention Center and who also was one of the two architects working on the study that I appointed.

Fielding: Is this a city employee?
Keheley: Yes, sir.
Fielding: Does he or she have a name?
Keheley: Yes, sir.
Fielding: Did I need to ask what it is? Or are you going to tell me?
Keheley: Yes, you do!
City Manager John Ware: Tell them!
Keheley: Louise Elam.

Fielding: John, I really have a problem with asking questions that a city employee spent $50,000 of taxpayers' money on something and Cliff needs to look at you to see if it's OK to tell me. I have a problem with that.

Ware: You want my response?
Fielding: Please do.
Ware: I share that, that's why I (unintelligible).

Fielding: I have a problem with him feeling that there is some secret that he can't share with the council. First of all, how did this happen that a city employee goes off and spends 50 grand on something, I guess, that we don't need, didn't need? And then keep it a secret from us?

Ware: Well, I have a problem with both of those too. First of all, from a financial integrity issue based on the fundamentals. Second of all, in terms of taking a look at our vulnerability as it relates to our employees and their being able to do it in the first place. And second of all, the big concern that I have is that if I hadn't gotten the open records request, we never would have known that.

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