Clueless

For city Councilman Al Lipscomb, taking handouts from power brokers has become a way of life. Is there a problem?

The second, eventually fatal flaw involved Lipscomb's initial inability to provide customers. He was out of public life, away from the city council horseshoe that gave him his power. With his political clout now largely gone--no council vote, no big club--Lipscomb was finding that his longtime benefactors were not nearly as excited about his cleaning-supply business as they had promised they would be when he was shopping the idea around during his waning days on the council.

No doubt some of those benefactors were also less than thrilled when, the week he left City Hall, Lipscomb gave a series of meandering, memory-lane interviews that divulged--in a quaint-footnote-to-Dallas-history way--how generous his high-roller friends around town had been in handing him cash over the years. He specifically gave kudos to Schepps Dairy CEO Pete Schenkel, former Mayor Annette Strauss, and former City Manager Richard Knight.

Lipscomb's pathetic endeavor to make himself rich was mostly ludicrous--up until a year ago when he was re-elected to his old seat. Now, Big Daddy's back at City Hall, combining business and politics with a vengeance.

Documents obtained since bankruptcy proceedings began against Lipscomb Industries two months ago--documents that include federal, state, and county court records; North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency records; city council voting records; and the internal files of Lipscomb Industries, made available by Lipscomb--show that Lipscomb is still clueless about the appropriate way to conduct himself as a public official.

Over the past 12 months, Lipscomb Industries has received tens of thousands of dollars from some of the biggest businesses in Dallas, six in particular: Minyard, Texas Utilities, Lone Star Gas, DART, Dallas County, and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

And while Lipscomb's left hand was accepting the checks, his right hand was pushing the green voting button on the council horseshoe. Lipscomb has voted in favor of his customers' zoning requests, right-of-way acquisitions, and license renewals. He has awarded lucrative contracts to Dallas County; voted to give DART $147,472 in city bond money to shore up its rail projects; and voted to grant Lone Star Gas a rate hike.

Voting records show he has not once abstained from voting on an issue involving one of his customers, as required by the city's code of conduct. Never once, in those 33 votes for which he had a conflict of interest, did Lipscomb vote against one of them--although twice he was absent for a vote.

To the contrary, Lipscomb was one of only two council members last September who voted against hiring a consultant to determine if Lone Star Gas' rate hike was warranted. (When the gas-rate vote finally occurred on January 10, 1996, Councilman Craig McDaniel declared himself ineligible to vote because of a conflict of interest and left the room. Lipscomb stayed and voted.)

This extraordinary pattern might well have continued unnoticed had Lipscomb and his partner not been so greedy and so sloppy. While checks were coming in from these customers, the two men were fleecing the company, running its checking account into the red on a regular basis--writing most of the company's checks to themselves, their family members, and Hoffman's athletic club, landscaper, and barber--and ignoring the company's considerable financial obligations.

The two were also managing to attract headlines--a pattern that had begun in the fall of 1993 when they tried to have their minority-owned competitor run out of business for being only one-sixteenth Choctaw Indian. It happened again in March 1994 when Lipscomb used some embarrassing, bully-boy tactics to try and snatch a city chlorine contract away from a deserving low bidder.

Six months later, the city council voted to prohibit former council members from bidding on city contracts for 12 months after they leave office.

Lipscomb Industries is no more. In reality it stopped operating months before its creditors dragged it into bankruptcy court. Amazingly, though, the business community's charity work for Lipscomb continues unabated. Last month, while Bob Lane, the CEO of NationsBank of Texas, quietly agreed to write off half the $65,000 Lipscomb owes the bank after having defaulted on the notes that originally financed Lipscomb Industries, Schepps Dairy CEO Pete Schenkel was helping Lipscomb start a new chemical business--an arrangement that would provide Lipscomb with an income while enabling him to walk away from the debt he incurred mismanaging his last endeavor.

The new company, RLD Manufacturing, is being run by Lipscomb's daughter Lavette and her husband Rod Dudley, a 44-year-old ex-convict with no chemical-business experience who recently filed for bankruptcy and is being sued by three former business partners for allegedly plundering a business he was running on their behalf. The Dudleys are currently mixing industrial chemicals for Lipscomb Industries' clients using huge milk storage tanks donated by Pete Schenkel.

It's amazing that very little of this farce--Al Lipscomb undergoing the curious, patently ridiculous transition from grass-roots politician to chemical king--has been reported.

And some parts of it would seem nearly impossible to ignore. For instance, no one in the media ever reported that during the year before Lipscomb was sworn in as a council member in June 1995, he was constantly being chased around by city employees--including City Attorney Sam Lindsay--who could not make him pay his rent and utilities for the office space his company was leasing in a city-owned building. Because the city charter bars anyone owing the city money from serving on the council, Lipscomb Industries finally paid its overdue bills three days before Lipscomb was sworn in as a council member. On the same day, Lindsay informed Lipscomb that he would have to be out of the building in 30 days to avoid a conflict of interest.

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