By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If Brenda Reyes doesn't get elected to the Dallas City Council in May, perhaps it will be the electoral equivalent of three strikes and you're out.
Formal filing for the spring council elections hadn't even opened by the end of last week, and the 36-year-old businesswoman already found her campaign beset by triple tempests.
First, Reyes has yet to explain whether she moved into council District 2 in time to meet legal residency requirements for the election. As the Dallas Observer reported last week, the apartment Reyes now claims as her home address was still under construction when the November 3 deadline passed. City election officials have given Reyes 30 days to clarify questions about where she lived on that all-important date, and to show that she can legally run for the seat being vacated by outgoing councilman Chris Luna.
Second, council members learned last week that Reyes' computer company was poised to receive a $1.2 million contract from the city, raising questions about whether a potential councilmember should pursue a taxpayer-funded contract. The council decided to postpone a vote on the contract.
Finally, the Observer has learned, Reyes' campaign treasurer has been forced to give up her seat on a city board after it was pointed out to her that she was violating city ethics codes. Carmen Garcia is not allowed to serve as a campaign treasurer while sitting on the Reinvestment Zone 4 Board, city officials say.
All in all, it is not an auspicious start for a budding political career.
Potentially most damaging is the question of whether Reyes' company should receive a city contract.
Charles Paige is decidedly against the idea, although not entirely for reasons of political purity.
At 8:50 a.m. last Wednesday, Paige was scrambling to meet the 9 a.m. deadline to register as a speaker for the city council's regular weekly meeting.
At the time, Paige was extremely worried. Just a day earlier, he had learned that the council was going to decide whether to give Reyes and her company--Innovative Computer Group, Inc.--a five-year contract to overhaul the way the city manages its building inspection and construction records.
Paige is the president of CompuSite, Inc. Like Reyes, he has spent 11 months trying to convince city officials that his company should get the contract. On the eve of last week's council meeting, Paige was stunned to learn that the contract had mysteriously landed on the council's agenda--as addendum item number 7.
Paige was also surprised to learn that Reyes is planning to run for city council in the May 3 election. Because city council members cannot obtain city contracts, Paige wanted to make sure the news of Reyes' candidacy didn't surprise anyone on the council.
If Reyes gets the contract and then gets elected to the council, Paige asked the council, who is going to complete the five-year contract?
As it turned out, Paige wasn't the only one who was surprised that Reyes was bidding for a city contract and running for the city council.
When addendum item number 7 came up for discussion shortly before noon, Paige asked the council to delay its vote on the contract for two weeks--a move that would give council members time to compare the Reyes proposal with his. He also pointed out that the project had significant implications, given Reyes' political aspirations.
The prospect that a council candidate might be awarded a contract startled some council members more than others.
Councilman Al Lipscomb, no stranger to the ethical problems created when elected officials cast about for private business deals, wondered if Paige's information was correct. Mayor Ron Kirk, taking time out from his Kindness Week activities, felt the need to respond.
"Mr. Lipscomb, I have no idea whatsoever, and I don't know if that's grounds to approve or not approve this contract," said Kirk, who sounded agitated by the query.
Lipscomb persisted. "Who is this person?" he asked, referring to Reyes.
The question caused Kirk to sputter and, apparently, embrace the philosophy that ignorance really is bliss.
"I don't want to put us in the position of knowing," Kirk said hastily. "We don't know."
Kirk didn't clarify who the "we" is that he referred to, but one person surely knew who Brenda Reyes is--incumbent councilman Chris Luna, who has boasted that he "groomed" Reyes to succeed him on the council. Luna appointed Reyes to the Cultural Affairs Commission, and several of Luna's closest allies are shifting their support to Reyes' campaign.
What is important, Luna told his colleagues at the council meeting, was not who Brenda Reyes is, but who the staff thinks should get the contract.
City Economic Development Director Mike Marcotte assured the council that Reyes was the staff's choice. Although Paige had filed an official protest against the staff's December recommendation to award the contract to Reyes, Marcotte assured the clueless council that Paige's protest was deemed to be "without merit."
"Based upon that, Mayor, I move approval," Luna piped in, calling for a vote that would have cut off further discussion of Reyes, her company, and her candidacy.
But council member Max Wells wanted to know more. Although he usually has little sympathy for business owners who complain about losing city contracts, Wells told the council he was feeling uncomfortable.