Clueless

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

Lipscomb says he didn't know much about Hoffman when he met him back in the early 1990s after an introduction from fellow councilman Paul Fielding.

Hoffman had engaged Fielding's factoring firm, Mason Rich, in 1990 to bail out his floundering chemical company, Merit Labs. That is, he sold his receivables to Mason Rich--meaning that Mason Rich controlled Merit's books, collecting the money from sales and then paying Hoffman after Mason Rich deducted a fee for its trouble.

Fielding introduced his client to Lipscomb because Hoffman was not having any success getting a chemical contract with the city of Dallas and thought Lipscomb could help.

"Paul brought him to me," Lipscomb recalls, "and I remember being very impressed with him. He seemed to be such an honest person. He had such an easy smile. I just latched onto him."

Hoffman got a piece of a city contract, then latched right back. When Lipscomb eventually announced plans to leave public office, Hoffman proposed a partnership: Hoffman's business expertise and Lipscomb's connections.

"Look at this," Hoffman told me giddily on September 20, 1993, as we sat together in his office at Lipscomb Industries. He held a red notebook aloft for me to see. "This is Al's red book. It's the book he had when he was on the council with all the phone numbers of every big shot in town. And it's funny--we called [Bill] Solomon today, and with the numbers in this book, he answered the phone. Look at this," he added, flipping through the 20-page book. "Don Carter. Lucy Billingsley. Methodist. Parkland. Liz Minyard. Strauss. Schenkel--very supportive of Al. Kelleher. Ross Perot--Al talks to him; Al does talk to him. Roger Staubach."

Hoffman stressed to me that day that he and Lipscomb had no interest in pursuing government contracts. "We're not going after City Hall, county commissioners, DART," he told me. In truth, they went after all of that business.

Ten days before, Hoffman told me that, in fact, he and Lipscomb were shamelessly hustling city Park and Recreation Department Director Paul Dyer to buy rat poison from them for Fair Park.

Although Lipscomb Industries had already been told by park department employees that the city already had an extermination contract through August 1995, Hoffman and Lipscomb pressed Dyer anyway--and, in their typically pushy style, sent copies of the letter to City Manager Jan Hart, City Attorney Sam Lindsay, and three State Fair of Texas board members, including Lipscomb's buddy Pete Schenkel and Fox & Jacobs founder Dave Fox.

It was an assault that was going on all over City Hall. "They were contacting everyone at the city, not just us," says Dyer. "They came over here once; then another day we went over there to their office. They showed us their product list. I just wanted to make sure we had letters to document everything that was said."

Meanwhile, Lipscomb and Hoffman were also discussing the rats with the president of the State Fair, Errol McKoy, whom Lipscomb knew well from the annual Al Lipscomb State Fair Classic football game.

In the end, Hoffman hired an exterminator to install more than 100 permanent, 17-by-13-inch concrete bait stations around the city-owned park. Although he claimed at the time to have both the city's and the state fair's consent to pour 1,000 pounds of cement, it turned out he had no written contract to do the work. State Fair vice president Nancy Wiley says fair officials believed the work was being done as a joint city-fair project. But letters obtained by the city show that the city had made it clear it wasn't going to hire Lipscomb Industries.

On September 21, Hoffman sent the city an $11,174.94 bill for its nine-month share of the work--which Dyer refused to pay. When Lipscomb Industries insisted that the city owed the money, city officials responded with an enormous meeting at City Hall on November 5. In attendance were Hoffman, Lipscomb, Dyer, three State Fair officials, two Fair Park employees, an assistant city manager, and an assistant city attorney.

During the meeting, when Hoffman again insisted that the city owed the money, "Levi Davis explained that any payment by the city of Dallas would constitute violation of a number of state and city purchasing laws and ordinances," wrote Fair Park executive general manager Eddie Hueston in a November 8 memo to Dyer, which was distributed to more than 17 other people. "At this point, Errol McKoy said that the State Fair of Texas would pay for the remaining nine (9) months of service. This offer was accepted by all parties."

Lipscomb's push to get City Hall employees to order his chemicals knew no bounds--which, of course, is why the city council finally had to legislate such embarrassing behavior right out of existence.

At 8:35 on a weekday morning in September 1993, NationsBank's Jim Chambers stood inside a shabby office building in downtown Dallas, sipping from a cup of coffee and patiently waiting on Al Lipscomb, who had not yet arrived at his office.

It's not every day that a two-bit partnership like Lipscomb Industries gets a personal service call from its banker--never mind from an executive vice president.

But then, Al Lipscomb had made it clear, when he called Chambers to complain about the disrespectful way the bank was treating him, that this was not just any partnership.

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