Whine capital of Texas

A rigged wine contest peels away Grapevine's grandiose label as the Napa Valley of Texas, revealing instead another cheap import

What the board members were trying to say was that they were uncomfortable with the way McCallum was using the foundation's resources on projects they didn't know about. This is a problem that Emrich says he had been trying to solve for a year.

"I didn't have knowledge of when checks were being generated, signed, and going out. That made me feel uncomfortable," Emrich says. "Money was spent that I didn't know about."

Emrich, who had moved to Chicago in 1995 to take a job as the director of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, had returned to his old job as executive director of the Grapevine foundation in late 1996. Emrich says that when he came back, life on the board was vastly different because McCallum was making decisions on his own and telling the board later.

Emrich says that on numerous occasions he asked McCallum if he could examine various contracts and project proposals, but was denied access to the material. Although some board members are now asking that the foundation undergo a full, independent audit, Emrich says his concerns weren't so much that the money was being spent unethically or illegally. He simply wanted to know how it was spent.

"When the board said we don't have adequate control measures over the money that is coming to us, through us, and out the other end, the response was pretty much, 'We'll take care of it,'" Emrich says. "Little by little, it became clear that the board was not fully aware of what the entity it was responsible for was ever doing."

Brekken, who is still quick to praise McCallum for his accomplishments, says the increasing tension between McCallum and Emrich was plain to see.

"When [Emrich] came back, eventually it got to the point where they weren't meeting and speaking. P.W. didn't tell Ron anything, and Ron was pretty stiff-necked, too, so he wouldn't go begging for information," Brekken says. "It was a very uncomfortable situation."

Those tensions peaked during the May 12 meeting when Maness, who had come to the table with his resignation letter in hand, asked McCallum directly if he had fixed the People's Choice.

After McCallum admitted he had changed the vote, Maness submitted his resignation. A short while later, board member Marian Carpentier, a certified public accountant by training, said she was uncomfortable with the foundation's accounting practices and informed the board that she would not seek reappointment in May.

By the time the public learned that McCallum had rigged the People's Choice wine-tasting contest, Mayor Tate and Roger Nelson had already begun to circle the wagons around McCallum and draw targets around the members of the Heritage Foundation board and its executive director, Ron Emrich.

On May 20, a week after the foundation board's meeting, the Grapevine City Council voted to remove McCallum as the foundation's CEO, make him a voting member of the board, and make Nelson CEO. Tate and Nelson told reporters that the decision was a "structural" change in the foundation's operations that was designed to give the council a "more direct line of supervision" over Emrich.

Neither Tate nor Nelson said Emrich had done anything wrong, but their comments left the impression that there was some problem with Emrich's management style and the way in which the foundation was conducting its business. In fact, both men stressed that McCallum had done nothing wrong, even though they were aware that he had rigged the contest.

Instead of disciplining McCallum, Tate chose to alter the balance of power on the foundation board in an obvious effort to silence McCallum's critics. As part of the move, Tate also replaced councilwoman Sharon Tate as the liaison to the foundation with Clydene Johnson, a local real estate agent.

"A great deal of what was done was to undermine Ron and make him look bad. I voted with my resignation," Maness says. "Nothing was wrong with our board for six years. When we began to ask questions, all of a sudden we had to be restructured. What changed? All that changed was, we asked questions."

Much to the disappointment of his friends, Maness later left the Dirty Dozen and asked the board to return the $4,000 contribution he made to help restore the crumbling Palace Theater, which is home to the Grapevine Opry.

"We were very valuable for six or eight years. Now we got the mall. Now we got the train. I kind of feel like the wife that helped her husband go through medical school," Maness says. "Now that he's got his M.D., it's time to shuck the old wife and get a new one."

When it became clear that Tate, through Nelson, would control the foundation and manage it as though it were a city department, Emrich resigned.

Weeks later, when the city council considered the usually routine reappointment of the foundation board members, Johnson, the new council liaison, did not recommend People's Choice whistle-blower Bryan Klein for reappointment, and the city council followed her suggestion.

"I feel like I was the messenger that got shot, and that's not a good feeling," Klein later said during a public hearing. "I don't think that I did anything wrong."

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