'It's all a matter of power.'

When Sandy Kress was school board president, he and Dan Peavy held private discussions on how to limit the influence of black school board members. Their conversations were captured on the Peavy Tapes, which Kress has fought hard to keep secret. Now, U.S.

Peavy's neighbor pleaded guilty to making the tapes illegally--by using a scanner to pick up Peavy's cordless telephone conversations--and paid a $5,000 fine.

Both Peavy and his wife have sued the neighbor over the illegal taping. Peavy is also suing the Observer for publishing a verbatim version of the tape transcript which was read at a September 28, 1995, school board meeting.

The Observer has not heard the tapes or had access to any other transcripts of the recordings.

But four individuals familiar with the contents of the tape recordings have told the Observer that, among other things, the tapes captured Kress and Peavy speaking at length about ways to limit the influence of black board members, specifically by controlling the committees Hollis Brashear and other black members so badly wanted.

One of the conversations between Kress and Peavy, according to the individuals(who did not want to be named), specifically involved hatching a plan to allow creation of the committees, but scheduling them to meet simultaneously. According to the same sources, Kress made comments on the tapes indicating that he wanted to prevent more than one black board member from being present at any committee meeting.

Paul Coggins, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, says he will ask a federal judge to allow copies of the tapes to be forwarded to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice for review.

"An allegation was made that the tapes evidenced an exclusion of certain people in the decision-making process [at DISD]," Coggins told the Observer. Those assertions, as well as his discussion with FBI agents who have reviewed the tapes, Coggins says, triggered his recent decision to forward the tapes to Washington.

Coggins declined to discuss what specific remarks on the tapes prompted his decision to refer the matter to the Civil Rights Division, which has the discretion of opening a formal investigation if it believes the tapes justify one.

Kress also declined to discuss the contents of the tapes.
But according to the accounts of the four individuals who spoke with the Observer, the tapes support a fear minority leaders have long held--that white school officials like Kress and Peavy held secret discussions on ways to limit minority influence, even as they publicly professed support for greater minority participation.

"It's unbelievable that stuff goes on in the 1990s," said one of the individuals with knowledge about the tapes, who asked to remain anonymous because of the questions surrounding use of the tapes.

"It's clear what they wanted to do," says another source familiar with the tapes.

The plans Kress and Peavy discussed during the tape-recorded conversations dovetail remarkably with records and minutes of school board meetings and discussions at the time.

A court document filed last week adds further support to the characterization of the tapes provided by the Observer's sources.

In the court filing, Richard Finlan, a local attorney and long-time litigant against DISD board members, characterized comments that Finlan says Peavy made to him about what is on the tapes.

Finlan claims Peavy told him this past December that the tapes "would show that Sandy Kress, in fact, was 'far worse' than Peavy 'had ever been' with regard to discrimination against African-Americans." In his filing, Finlan wrote: "In fact, Peavy shared many of Kress' comments and alleged that Kress had demanded that, regarding DISD committee appointments, he 'not see more than one black face' in any single committee meeting. Kress' goal, according to Peavy, was to purposely dilute the ability of African-American board members to influence DISD committees and isolate them politically." (The emphasis is included in Finlan's court brief.)

If four individuals had not corroborated them for the Observer, Finlan's publicly filed assertions against Kress might foster skepticism. Finlan and his alleged source, Peavy, certainly carry plenty of baggage.

Dan Peavy, a former opera singer whose tall frame supports his tremendous girth, has already suffered his own setbacks because of the tapes made by his neighbor.

In November, Peavy was acquitted of bribery charges by a jury in a Dallas federal court. WFAA-Channel 8 reporter Robert Riggs, who had obtained copies of the tapes from the neighbor, conducted an investigation and broadcast a series of stories in the summer of 1995 alleging that Peavy used his position on the school board to line his own pockets while negotiating insurance contracts for the district.

Prodded by the television news story, U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins' office launched an investigation which ultimately led to Peavy's indictment. During that investigation, the FBI obtained copies of the tape recordings.

But when Peavy's trial came about, prosecutors never played the tapes. Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Umphres says the government feared that playing illegally intercepted recordings could give an appeals court cause to reverse a guilty verdict.

It is not immediately apparent, therefore, why Peavy would share the contents of the tapes with Richard Finlan, who has a relentless passion for suing school board members.

Finlan asserts in court filings that Peavy discussed the contents of the tapes with him. The filings are part of a federal lawsuit Finlan filed last year seeking financial damages from DISD board members and their lawyers, alleging that they violated the civil rights of Finlan and his co-plaintiff, Don Venable.

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