By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Steve Hatchell answered the telephone in his hotel room last Thursday evening full of good cheer.
And, hey, why not?
The 49-year-old commissioner of the new Big 12 athletic conference was in New York City for an extended weekend. He was staying at the Marriott Marquis, a big, glitzy hotel located in the heart of the Broadway theatre district. He was up from Dallas for the NCAA Final Four basketball championship, one of the biggest events in college sports.
Hatchell had been to the event many times before, but this year's appearance was especially sweet.
Because this year he is a big deal--the newly appointed commissioner of the new powerhouse conference, made up of the Big Eight and the four best athletic schools from the soon-to-be-defunct Southwest Conference. He is making $200,000 a year--a figure destined to quickly escalate when the Big 12 becomes operational in July. He owns a $600,000 home in University Park, where he had moved three years ago to take a job as commissioner of the Southwest Conference. And, best of all, his new bosses in the Big 12 had just picked Dallas as the headquarters of the Big 12, bypassing Kansas City, where the Big Eight had been based for 89 years.
It had been a heck of a battle between the two cities--vying to land an operation that would boast a mere 20 employees--but Dallas had emerged the victor.
For one simple reason. At the 11th hour--two months after the two cities' bids had been submitted and four days before the decision was scheduled to be announced--Dallas City Manager John Ware had pulled the city's wallet out of his hat and offered a stunning $1.25 million in taxpayer money as a no-strings-attached-spend-it-as-you-will-Missouri-you'll-never-top-this gift.
It was an astonishing move that The Dallas Morning News tried its darnedest not to cover. Its initial report on the decision ran in the sports section and never bothered to mention the public's cash, instead explaining what happened this way: "Dallas officials suggested the vote went in their favor because of the superior airline connections out of D/FW International Airport and Love Field, and Dallas' image as 'the cultural and economic center of the region.'"
In the News' hands, the story--and the money--was destined to become teeny-tiny sports trivia. But on the day of the Big 12 announcement, Councilwoman Donna Blumer got a phone call tipping her off to Ware's offer, with which she immediately confronted Ware. Blumer's tipster also called the news department at Channel 5, which immediately ran a story, forcing the News to pursue the story--five days later.
Incredibly, only Bob Stimson, Donna Blumer, and Paul Fielding--the three most alert, most fiscally responsible members of the council--cried foul. What these councilmembers wanted to know, of course, was how Ware could be so brazen--or so stupid--as to haul off and do something of this magnitude without getting the OK from the council, which, of course, has to approve such an expenditure. "He did it not only without council authorization, but without council knowledge," Councilwoman Donna Blumer was quoted saying in the paper.
To which Ware humbly replied, referring to his bosses: "What I probably should have done was to at least call them up, and advise them of what was going down."
The story, though, never took on any steam--in part because Mayor Ron Kirk was quick to strongly defend Ware. Kirk had first heard about Ware's offer the week before, while on his much-publicized trade junket to South Africa, he told the News. But he applauded the manager's move. "I think this is much ado about nothing," Kirk said upon his return. "Dallas ought to be thrilled that we're bringing the Big 12 to Dallas. There is no question that John Ware has acted properly...I back him 100 percent."
Much more than we knew.
Because it seems there was more than one person with his finger on the trigger, offering $1.25 million of the public's cash to snag a tiny number of employees.
Just ask Steve Hatchell. He knows where his money came from.
"It came from the city manager, with the mayor's backing," he told me matter-of-factly, during a pleasant, open conversation we had while he was in New York. "You know, it's a rarity when you can really get someone to not only get interested, but to really understand the big picture. Ron's incredibly well-liked and well-respected, so when he wants to get something to work, he can get the ingredients put together. We didn't have to wind him up at all."
How interesting. And how positively revealing.
And people thought Bartlett was bad.
True, Steve Bartlett would look you in the eye and promise you the moon, then run for cover--like a cat caught with a bird in its mouth--the minute opposition mounted. True, Bartlett would get all mayoral and magnanimous and offer Norm Green a sports arena and Ray Hunt a racetrack. (Lucky for the taxpayers, it would all blow up in his face when Bartlett's buds woke up and saw their emperor standing there, earnest but naked, clutching only one vote, incapable of capturing the rest.)
True, Bartlett lied.
But even Bartlett wasn't this shameless.
Last Sunday at 9:15 p.m., Kirk returned this reporter's call from the Mayoral Car on his way home from a Mayoral Function. His disdain for the subject matter at hand--and the unboosterish way this newspaper wanted to pursue it (unlike the Dallas daily)--was all too obvious.