Give her what she wants

Olympics committee finds Dallas boosters' attitudes toward our city council a little scary

After a long weekend in Phoenix with officials of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Dallas boosters came home this week facing what may be the toughest challenge some of them have seen in their entire business and civic careers: If they're serious about bringing the Olympics here in 2012, it looks as if they're going to have to be nice to Dallas City Councilwoman Laura Miller.

Maybe they'll just give up.
Miller has been demanding that a private Olympics booster group show the council all of the significant paperwork it has been trading back and forth with the USOC in recent months, especially the all-important "bid agreement" that spells out what size tab taxpayers may get stuck with in the end.

At first the booster group refused to show the council anything. When Miller threatened legal action under the Texas Open Records Act, Dallas lawyer Tom Luce, head of the booster group, shipped over a bundle of peripheral stuff including some of the council's own briefing materials. But he still failed to pony up the core documents.

In Phoenix, where all of the American candidate cities gathered to hear the USOC tell them the rules, the message to the Dallas group was loud and clear: You march right home and give that nice lady what she asked for!

Maybe they're Yankees.
The USOC announced during the gathering in Phoenix last weekend that it would extend the deadline for cities to submit bids, specifically so that all of the cities could guarantee that their city councils had reviewed the bid agreements. That's the same piece of paper the Dallas group has been withholding.

Betsy Saye, manager of games administration for the USOC, told the Dallas Observer the USOC emphatically wants all city council members in the candidate cities to see the bid agreement, in part so they can't claim later they didn't know what they were getting into.

"The bid agreement spells out exactly how the process is going to operate," Saye says. She adds that the USOC wants a confirmation from cities that their councils "had reviewed all of the requirements."

It makes sense.
"We don't want to get into a situation where the city says, 'Sorry, we're not going to do that,'" Saye says. "The bid committee will have to work with the city on the requirements. We want to know that they've worked together."

It's that democracy thing they talk about.
The irony here at home is that some of our city council members are so well trained in the Dallas Way, they don't even want to see the stuff Miller has been asking for.

Council member Alan Walne is concerned that there might be too much of it for council members to read. "By all means, if it's something that pertains to the public interest, then the public should know about it," he says. "But I can imagine that all of this process of letters and memos and so on back and forth could produce quite a mountain of material."

Councilwoman Mary Poss said last week she planned to vote against Miller's demand for documents from the committee when it finally gets to a vote next month, because demanding that kind of information just isn't the way the Dallas City Council operates.

"We do not require any other organizations that we work with to provide us with copies of everything they do," Poss says. "I think the Olympics committee has been very open."

The council member who has the most intriguing view of the issue may be Larry Duncan. He takes issue first with Miller's core concern, arguing that Miller should have known that the talk about "no taxpayer dollars" for the Olympics was all public-relations spin in the first place.

Miller joined the rest of the council in a unanimous vote in support of the Olympics bid last month, after she and council member Donna Blumer had succeeded in tacking on amendments specifically forbidding the bid committee from promising any tax dollars to anybody. At that time, Mayor Ron Kirk led the choir singing praises to the Dallas Citizens Council, a private business group, who Kirk said would pay for everything.

But soon after the council's unanimous vote, Miller learned the International Olympic Committee was asking for potentially huge government or taxpayer guarantees of the Olympics budget by candidate cities.

With the budget for the 2012 Olympics projected in the $2 billion to $3 billion range, and in a city that is $3.2 billion in arrears on basic street and sewer maintenance, Miller and Blumer wanted to know exactly what kind of obligation the Olympics boosters might be getting taxpayers into.

Blumer says, "I can't imagine why anyone would not want to know that, unless they had something to hide."

But Duncan argues with considerable feeling that Miller was naive in the first place to believe all the verbiage about "no taxpayer dollars," even though that's exactly what the mayor and the boosters were saying when the council was asked to vote in support of the effort.

Duncan says the taxpayers will definitely have to pay for a chunk of the Olympics, no matter what. "I contemplate that as a given. That was there from Day One."

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