Quarterback sneak

How Ron Kirk secretly pulled the strings in city's Big 12 deal

"I'm just not in an Observer mood right now," Kirk said, explaining why he wasn't willing to have a conversation about exactly how he helped get the Big 12 to come to Dallas.

But, Mr. Mayor, is it true--as the News reported--that you only learned about Ware's $1.25-million offer while you were in South Africa?

Pause. "I think so."
OK, then, exactly who was it who gave you this news over in South Africa?
"Well, if you recall, I'm still just kind of in my..." he said, searching for words. "I don't know. I've got nothing to talk to the Observer about right now."

Well, OK, but Steve Hatchell says you authorized the money.
"That ain't the case," he said. "I was involved with the courtship of the Big 12--I supported it. But the concern about the offer came while we were gone."

True--the concern about the offer came while Kirk was gone. But the decision to make the offer came before Kirk left--at least according to Rick Douglas, president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce. He's the one who asked City Hall for the money to begin with.

"I talked to John on Wednesday of that week--we left on Friday," says Douglas, who accompanied Kirk and a host of Dallas business leaders on the South Africa trip. "We had to get a written proposal completed. John said he'd give me a letter."

And Kirk--did Rick Douglas talk to Kirk?
"The guy I was talking to was John Ware," Douglas said carefully. "When we work a thing at the chamber that involves a commitment, I try to always talk to the administrative staff. John and I talked about it. I asked him for the commitment. I asked him for the letter, and I got it. Who he was talking to, I don't know."

Like Kirk, Douglas is not happy about this conversation and where it's leading. "But if you're trying to do a hatchet deal on this thing..." Douglas said. "This is a big deal for the community. We're now working on at least two different deals that are sports-related--well, three--that have come out of the networking we've gotten from this deal."

That's fine. That's terrific. In fact, let's ignore that big-time professional sports--never mind the college level--generated a mere 10th of one percent of all payroll dollars in Dallas County in 1991, the last year stats were available on this from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Never mind that. No, let's all agree that giving 20 employees $1.25 million in tax money--which, by the way, is enough to buy each Big 12 staffer a brand-new Jaguar, with money left to spare--is exactly what's needed to jump-start the economy in the entire Dallas region.

Fine. It still doesn't give the mayor and the city manager the right to make a major financial decision in a vacuum--not when we supposedly (according to that stupid thing called the city charter) have a council-manager form of government by which 15 elected officials decide how we're going to run the show.

Kirk, of course, is playing real dumb on this one. "Big 12 Commissioner Steve Hatchell said he had thought the city money was a sure thing, but councilmembers said they must approve the grant," the News wrote on February 7, when it finally reported that a bunch of public money had been offered without proper authorization. "No date has been set for the vote, but Mayor Ron Kirk said he was hopeful that the council would approve."

Hopeful? While Kirk was telling the poor, pothole-suffering populace that he was "hopeful" that the democratic process would deliver him a good outcome, he was telling Steve Hatchell that it was a done deal. No problem whatsoever.

"I think they know the city council is going to vote," Hatchell said of his bosses at the Big 12. "But I think the perspective is that of the 15 on the council, there are always dissenters who don't have the vision the mayor and Ware do, but there are enough votes there. That's the belief."

Because the mayor has told them so, Hatchell says.
Which is enough to make a good, idealistic public servant like Bob Stimson want to bend paper clips or something. Stimson's a mild-mannered accountant who rarely flashes anger. But on this deal, he's close.

"Whoa," Stimson told me last Thursday, when I called him to tell him of the mayor's involvement in the $1.25-million offer. "Kind of leaves me a little speechless. Whew. Well, I'm not going to say anything off the record--but, off the record, holy moly."

Stimson, more than anyone else on the council, has the right to be absolutely crazed about what Kirk did.

Each Monday since Kirk was elected mayor, Stimson, as chairman of the city's business and commerce committee, has attended a 4 p.m. meeting in the mayor's conference room to discuss strategy to lure businesses to Big D. Stimson; Kirk; Mike Marcotte, the director of the city's economic development department; and one or two representatives from the chamber of commerce attend the sessions.

"I've been talking about the Big 12 ever since I've been going to these meetings," Stimson says. "This was something the Greater Dallas Chamber had been taking a lead on, and for the most part, they did a super job.

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