Poor Relations

Guess what happened when Cleo Sims and her felonious offspring took over a Dallas anti-poverty agency

"These are serious allegations, no doubt. We are trying to resolve them," says Brian Montgomery, spokesman for the Texas housing department. "That is why we've come to the point where we're at today."

He declined to discuss specific allegations until the agency has had an opportunity to respond in writing. The responses arrived Monday, but Montgomery said they would be reviewed and analyzed before being released.

Despite the state's languor, auditors are finally beginning to home in on some major issues of spending and management.

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One is a project called the Point Apartments, 10 units at 1803 E. Grand Ave. that DCCAC renovated in 1994 to shelter the homeless--at first men, now women. A state auditor found the complex to be only 60 percent occupied and physically deteriorating only three years after the state provided $443,377 for renovations--an astounding $44,337 per one-bedroom unit. That's enough to buy at least 10 three-bedroom homes in South Dallas.

"Because of the severity of the condition of the property in relation to the short amount of time which has elapsed since rehabilitation and the amount of investment per unit, the Department questions the entire amount of the award," the state review says.

An inspection of the two-story white, red-trimmed apartment house "raises questions as to the type, the extent, and the quality of rehabilitation completed as well as the costs associated with the work," the state report concludes.

A railing made of cedar fencing had fallen off, the upstairs floors appeared to lack support, and the balcony was found to be deteriorating, the auditor writes. The plumbing was leaking, and the water heaters were installed in clothes closets, creating a fire hazard.

More troubling yet, the state couldn't locate "evidence of procurement"--how the contractor was picked--in DCCAC files. State procedures require "full and open competition," according to the housing department.

The contractor DCCAC hired was Charles Roberson Construction Co.
Roberson has never registered in Dallas County's "doing business as" files, as the law requires, nor has he ever incorporated and filed papers with the Texas secretary of state, records show.

Nevertheless, he landed the Point project, where tax records reviewed by state inspectors show he was paid $247,430. Says Sims, "He's done a good job."

Sims and other employees of the agency say Roberson also was hired by DCCAC to do a $100,000 renovation of DCCAC's Ewing Place Apartments and the renovation of its strip shopping center in the 3100 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard--all of the agency's biggest jobs over the past five years.

Thomas Higier, a lawyer and former member of DCCAC's board of directors, says he knew Roberson to be a friend of Cleo Sims. During the time the work was going on, it was "common knowledge" around the DCCAC downtown office that Sims and Roberson were very close, say three employees who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. One recalls Roberson sending Sims "expensive candy and flowers" for Valentine's Day in 1994. Another says Roberson had "the run of the office."

Sims did not respond to telephone messages requesting comment on Roberson. Hunter says Roberson got the work because "he was willing to do it for less. He was willing to bid lower than most."

For a period in 1994, Roberson used one of the storefronts in DCCAC's shopping plaza on Martin Luther King Boulevard for his office, Dallas property records show. The county appraisal district still sends bills to that address for a $30,000 piece of property Roberson bought in Fair Park that same year.

Several people at Skyline Printers, the current tenant, say bills and creditors in search of Roberson keep coming, but they have no idea where he is.

These days, Roberson is a difficult man to find. A year ago he was doing business under the name C&R Construction Co.--again unregistered in county files--but the telephone number on a C&R bid sheet from last November no longer works, and Roberson is not at the listed address.

Sims says a state inspector visited the Point project when it was being built and "thought they were doing great." Dallas code inspectors also checked the construction "at every phase," she says. "We've pulled out all the invoices, and we were within a few thousand dollars of the contractor's costs."

Although Sims has an opportunity to provide further documents, the state found that information supporting $127,567 worth of work was "unavailable" for the auditor's review. The state is now asking for some very specific information about Roberson's work: "write-ups and cost estimates associated with actual work completed...invoices from the general contractor detailing the scope of work performed, a breakdown of labor and materials."

If, in the end of its monitoring, the state concludes DCCAC has not properly spent its money, it can ask the agency to pay the money back. These sums, board members say, would plunge DCCAC hopelessly into the red.

One of DCCAC's latest construction projects, at the Meadows Apartments, has earned a nickname among the tenants there.

They call it "that jive fence."
The partly completed ornamental iron security fence is not one of those items currently under review by state auditors, because the apartment is not directly funded by the state. The fence's history, though, gives a glimpse into how bids are awarded and how work gets done at DCCAC.

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