By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Explosive" and "heartbreaking" are what former Dallas City Council member Jerry Bartos calls a secret meeting Fort Worth power brokers held several years ago to discuss strategies in combating Dallas on issues regarding the Wright Amendment.
The meeting's five-page transcript, a copy of which was obtained by the Dallas Observer, shows three Fort Worth former mayors, the head of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, plus several heads of large corporations and an American Airlines vice president discussing Fort Worth's potential legal exposure from the construction of Alliance Airport.
Alliance arguably is in violation of the 1968 bond agreement that Dallas and Fort Worth entered into in order to build D/FW Airport.
The transcript also indicates that Ray Hutchison, Dallas' bond counsel, advised Fort Worth on their position regarding Alliance Airport--a possible conflict of interest. In addition, the transcript shows that former Dallas Mayor Jack Evans was advising Fort Worth power brokers about potentially privileged Dallas information while the two cities were embroiled in a lawsuit.
The meeting took place in May 1992, shortly after Fort Worth filed a lawsuit against Dallas to prevent Dallas from holding hearings on repealing the Wright Amendment, which limits flights from Love Field to cities within Texas and its four adjoining states. The suit was similar to one Fort Worth filed against Dallas last month after Congress voted to exempt three additional states from the Wright Amendment and to allow unlimited long-distance flights to reconfigured jets with 56 or fewer seats ["The (W)right to fly," October 16].
Both suits claim that any changes to the Wright Amendment violate an agreement the two cities entered into in 1968 to issue bonds for building D/FW Airport. The 1968 bond covenant prevents certificated air service--both passenger and cargo--at Dallas and Fort Worth municipal airports and calls for both cities to do nothing that would impede the growth at D/FW.
But shortly after Fort Worth filed suit against Dallas in 1992, Fort Worth city fathers were highly nervous about Alliance Airport, located north of Fort Worth, which houses Federal Express' Southwest hub. They were worried that Dallas might sue Fort Worth, according to minutes of the May 11, 1992, meeting called by then-Fort Worth Mayor Kay Granger.
According to the minutes, Granger told the group that she had heard that Dallas was going to sue Fort Worth over Alliance. "Through meetings it has become obvious that Dallas sees they have an airport [Love Field] without development," Granger said. "We have development [at Alliance], they do not."
Former Fort Worth Mayor Bayard Friedman agreed, adding that Fort Worth has "taken a lot of risks through time in developing [Alliance]...I cannot conceive that Dallas would file a lawsuit over Alliance. That would be disastrous."
In fact, many Dallas City Council members wanted the city to countersue Fort Worth. Instead, then-Mayor Steve Bartlett retreated. Dallas passed a resolution reaffirming the city's support of the bond ordinance, and Fort Worth withdrew the suit.
"This transcript proves that Fort Worth was scared to death about their exposure on Alliance," says Bartos. "They knew they were in blatant violation of the bond ordinance and they didn't have a waiver from the D/FW board. And what does Mayor Bartlett do? [He] declares unconditional surrender.
"If Bartlett had stood up and put Alliance on the table and said, 'If you don't retreat, we're going to take you to court,' this whole issue would have gone away. We could have negotiated an agreement to let them have Alliance and let us get rid of the Wright Amendment."
Bartlett refused to discuss the issue with the Observer.
In the course of the meeting, Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly, who helped prepare the suit against Dallas, told the group that he had recently talked with Ray Hutchison, who drew up the original bond ordinance and serves as Dallas' bond counsel.
"Ray Hutchison says not to give up Alliance," Kelly said. "Leave that to the D/FW Airport Board." (The airport board has never voted on Alliance.)
Bartos believes that Hutchison's advising Fort Worth on Alliance is unethical. "He repeatedly told the City Council that he didn't counsel Fort Worth on the Wright Amendment," says Bartos. "I didn't believe he was telling the truth, and this bears it out. If my lawyer advised my adversary on strategy, that would be an ethical violation in my view."
Council member Al Lipscomb agrees. "Ray Hutchison has said on numerous occasions he never addressed Fort Worth or Dallas on Wright Amendment-related issues," Lipscomb recalls. "This is not a frivolous memo," he adds, referring to the meeting transcript. "This is bad."
Hutchison says he was involved in the resolution of the 1992 lawsuit and talked with Kelly in the course of resolving the dispute. As for giving Kelly strategic advice on Alliance, Hutchison says, "I have no idea what he is referring to."
Hutchison has also served as bond counsel to D/FW Airport since the late 1960s. In that capacity, he says, "I have had conversations with Fort Worth about the meaning of the bond covenants, but I have not advised them about strategy or anything."