By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Indeed, those three commission members--Mitchell Rasansky, Betty Wadkins, and Carol Scott, appointees of Donna Blumer, Larry Duncan, and Paul Fielding, respectively--say they were all told as much by Clark. "Ben had been telling me for two months that his coming back as chairman depended on his being able to work some things out with the mayor," says Scott. "Ben said the mayor told him he had appointed all his enemies' appointees as chairs of the committees. But Ben said he told Kirk he'd been very successful in running the commission, and he wanted us in those positions."
It is no secret to those who spend their days at City Hall that things are operating differently under Ron Kirk. Suddenly, the mayor of Dallas isn't just a figurehead. Unlike Bartlett, Kirk has a voter mandate, a city manager who's a personal friend, a city council that's generally on his team, and a law firm willing to pay him well just to go off and play mayor. On top of all of that, the man gets almost as much press coverage as Princess Di.
All of that can make you feel pretty omnipotent, and make you act like you own the joint, which can irritate the hell out of people who have been operating on autopilot for four years.
Like Ben Clark.
Last week, I sat down with Clark in the doctor's lounge at the Dallas Family Hospital in Oak Cliff. Clark is not a talker. He's a very private person who, by all accounts, is hard to get to know. He's not interested in participating in a story on why he left City Hall. On the other hand, he's not adverse to putting some rumors to rest.
His sudden departure was the culmination of several things, he told me. Sure, the heart attack was sobering and forced him to slow down. And, yes, the loss of income to Clark--who previously practiced medicine four days a week--was noticeable. "One day a week is 25 percent of my income," says Clark. "And when you start to have little hassles, it's just not worth it."
And there have been hassles lately, Clark says--including his committee appointments. "In a roundabout way, it was suggested to me that when there are three people on the council who are always against the mayor, you don't need to be doing things to embarrass him--it's an insult to him. Ron didn't say that, but someone close to him called to say that. And I knew where it was coming from." Clark wouldn't name the caller.
Kirk says he didn't even know the names of the commission members in question, and, as far as he knows, no one has called Clark on his behalf.
But Clark says he saw the writing on the wall. "I felt the change was there. Ron likes to be on top of everything. He likes things cleared through him, and I'm not ever going to do that. If I'm in charge of something, I'm in charge. You don't have to agree with my decision, but you have to respect that."
It would be a great end to this story--the political appointee stands his ground to be his own man, away from the slimebucket of politics. That, though, is not the whole picture.
Unfortunately, Clark owed a lot of money to the city in unpaid taxes--which Clark didn't tell me about until I asked.
The truth is that Kirk had been riding Clark for several months to pay the 1994 property taxes on his home, office, rental properties, and cars--all of which were delinquent as of February 1, 1995. Not only did Kirk think it poor form to appoint a person with unpaid tax bills as chairman of a powerful committee, it was a direct violation of Sec.8-1.4 of the Dallas City Code, which clearly states that board and commission members can't serve if they are in arrears on city taxes.
And Clark's unpaid taxes were huge by mere mortals' standards. City records show that, for 1994, Clark owed $29,750.59 in city and DISD taxes on his North Dallas home. That's a lot of money. But then Clark, a successful doctor with other investments, has one heck of a home--a new, 9,773-square-foot, 10-bathroom, three-fireplace, massive, brick thing valued at $1,169,740 on the tax rolls. He built it in 1992 on a 1.5-acre piece of land, worth an additional $472,560, near Northwest Highway and the tollway.
As of last month, when he resigned, Clark owed an additional $12,331.61 in penalties, interest, and collection fees.
But that's not all.
He also owed 1994 taxes on a few other things, including the Oak Cliff building where his doctor's office is located; the contents of that office and a second office; a rental home in Oak Cliff; and three cars--a Lexus, a Jeep Cherokee, and a Mitsubishi.
It seems that Clark, for reasons unknown, has a severe aversion to taxes. He pays them, but he usually pays them quite late, which means he incurs enormous penalties, which is a very expensive way to live. Under normal circumstances, that would be his own problem.
But for the chairman of a city commission that holds other taxpayers to task on many other issues, it's a very public problem.