The son almost rises

Ross Perot Jr. is pushing 40, and still trying to slip from his father's shadow. He's built Alliance Airport, bought the Mavericks, and is trying to ramrod a new arena. But he isn't a pit bull like his old man. That's where Frank Zaccanelli comes in.

But Perot Jr.'s plans for Circle T have met tremendous and highly sophisticated resistance from the townspeople, particularly Westlake Mayor Scott Bradley, a corporate lawyer and real estate investor himself.

Although it is a small town, Westlake is not home to your typical small-town Texas folk. With such well-known residents as former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Westlake is an enclave for 250 mostly wealthy residents who want an unmarred rural vista out their windows, but a short drive back into Dallas and Fort Worth. The town also is home to Solana, a huge, sleek office complex with such well-known corporate residents as IBM.

Mayor Bradley, Perot Jr.'s camp believes, is the sticking point in any efforts to further develop Westlake. "Scott communicates with the press a lot, and he is real litigious," says Patterson.

These days, Patterson contends that Bradley isn't even the town's legal mayor, having been kicked out by the board of aldermen. But Bradley's backers believe they have legally reelected him to office. The dispute, like almost everything else in the small town, is the subject of litigation. There are no fewer than 13 pending lawsuits in various courts statewide related to the Circle T fight.

A former partner at the big Dallas law firm of Jenkens & Gilchrist, Bradley admits he has become single-minded about Perot. "I'm stubborn as hell if I think I am right," he says. His ranch house--sitting on property abutting the Circle T--was built in the 1930s and designed by idiosyncratic but respected Dallas architect Charles Dilbeck. Bradley and his wife have painstakingly restored it inside and out. The Bradleys' dining room table, however, resembles the war room in a modern-day political campaign, covered with paperwork and newspaper clippings about the Circle T battle.

Last summer, Perot Jr. began inviting key Westlake residents to the Circle T ranch to see marketing presentations of his vision for the property. Perot Jr. needed local support, because his plans require zoning changes that will allow more retail space on the property.

In an echo of Alliance Airport, Perot Jr. was also hoping to fashion another "public-private" arrangement where taxpayers would pick up the tab for things like sewers and roads.

In addition to the usual--money and influence--Perot Jr. had another source of leverage in Westlake. When he bought the ranch from the Hunts, it was already home to three municipal utility districts.

MUDs, as they are known, are special taxing districts allowed under state law so citizens in rural areas can band together and issue bonds to pay for needed improvements. The residents inside a MUD are supposed to vote before any debt is taken on. But Circle T's MUDs are contained within Perot Jr.'s 2,500 acres. Bradley's camp believes that Perot Jr. can effectively dictate any public financing programs by the Circle T MUDs by leasing land to agreeable tenants.

In February, the two sides began negotiating over a tentative deal under which Perot Jr. would dissolve the MUDs if Westlake leaders would give in to certain zoning changes and tax arrangements.

The talks broke down in April, however, when Bradley leaked a proposed draft of the agreement to the press--or so the Perot camp says--and put a negative spin on it. Townspeople didn't like the smell of the deal. They showed up at a public hearing en masse--some 350 strong--to make it clear that public sentiment was against Perot Jr. Even former quarterback Bradshaw, who reportedly has gone fishing at Perot's ranch, spoke out against the proposed development.

On April 29, days before the next scheduled municipal election, the board of aldermen held a special meeting and threw Bradley out of office. The aldermen, who had been intensely courted by the Perot camp, then set about on May 2 dismantling the town. The board disannexed Circle T from Westlake, and seceded their own properties. Altogether, the aldermen favoring Perot Jr. wiped out 70 percent of the land that had been in Westlake, and 95 percent of the city's tax base.

Waiting to welcome Perot Jr. and Circle T with open arms was the city of Fort Worth, which already had graced Perot Jr. with $60 million for Alliance Airport. At a specially called Saturday meeting, the Fort Worth city council made the Circle T part of its "extraterritorial jurisdiction," basically claiming the land for possible future annexation and protecting it from would-be interlopers.

Perot Jr. may have bolstered his development scheme, but he unleashed a public relations nightmare. The specter of a rich developer literally destroying a town--and defying its voters--to build a shopping mall did not sit well. In the city elections one day after the annexation vote, the aldermen who had helped Perot Jr. were ousted. The newly elected aldermen reinstalled Bradley.

The Perot camp claims that election wasn't truly representative of the town's interest. Some 60 voters came from a neighborhood that has never been properly annexed into the town of Westlake, claim Patterson and a Perot lawyer who is suing over the voting irregularities. The case is still pending.

And where was Frank Zaccanelli--Perot Jr.'s right-hand henchman--during the Westlake flap? Zaccanelli did help negotiate the purchase of Circle T, and talks to Patterson regularly about the development plan. But he has not been anywhere near the public relations effort Perot Jr. has launched to salvage his reputation. Perot Jr. hired former Republican congressman Pete Geren to handle the publicity angle of Westlake.

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