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."

Duncan says harping on it is just a way for Miller and Blumer to "generate publicity and controversy, unless somebody wants to intervene in the negotiations, which there seems to be a pattern of."

That pattern of city council members wanting to "intervene in the negotiations," of course, is what some people call governance.

The initial issue that spurred Miller's interest in the bid process--the IOC's demand for a government guarantee of the entire 2012 budget--may well get resolved. Mayor Kirk has argued from the beginning that the bid committee and the city would negotiate their way out of it.

Dallas lawyer Tom Luce, who heads the bid committee, predicted this week in Phoenix that the issue of a guarantee will go away long before 2012 arrives.

"It's a totally false issue," Luce says. "This is a 12-year process, and I feel sure at the end of the process when we submit a bid that this problem will be worked out to the satisfaction of everyone."

Luce suggested there may be other ways to guarantee the budget--"a third party in the private sector or event insurance, for example"--that will meet the IOC's needs without tying up tax dollars. He said he thinks no American city will agree to the guarantee the IOC seems to be asking for now--an assessment supported by a number of seasoned Olympics watchers in recent weeks.

"I am not going to ask the city of Dallas to enter into an open-ended guarantee, period," Luce says.

The "third party" idea seemed to be something USOC manager Saye might already have heard about before the gathering in Phoenix last weekend.

"We want someone guaranteeing deficits in case the money isn't there when needed and the bill collectors come calling," Saye said. "The city of Dallas may say, 'We have this third party over here to guarantee the deficit.' Maybe it's some rich oilman, or whatever. And that's probably fine."

The irony is that the Dallas bid committee could succeed in putting the issue of a financial guarantee to bed but put Dallas out of the bidding by looking too much like a cabal. It's that old problem the city has always had when it tries to take its lock-step act on the road: The marching makes people nervous.

Sissies.
Whatever else comes out of it, Miller succeeded last week in achieving a significant but typically under-reported triumph: In an extremely rare show of backbone, four other council members joined Miller and Blumer in overriding the mayor's flat refusal to let the council vote on any of this.

Miller and Blumer had asked that the issue of getting information from the bid committee be put on the agenda last week, so that the council could at least discuss and debate the issue. Kirk used his official mayoral power to refuse to allow the proposal to come up for a vote.

The charter provides that five members of the council can override the mayor's veto and get the item back on the agenda, after a delay of six weeks. Miller and Blumer persuaded John Loza, Charlotte Mayes, Don Hicks, and Barbara Mallory-Caraway to join them in a resolution calling for a vote next month on Miller's demand for information.

All of that will be beside the point by then, of course, because the U.S. Olympic Committee has made it plain: They want Luce's group to show Miller and the rest of the council everything they want to see, and the USOC wants a resolution from the council confirming that they have seen it and know what the deal is.

Of course, that leaves the question of what the USOC can do if the Dallas City Council decides it still doesn't want to see the documents because it still doesn't want to know what the deal is (the "we're not worthy" school of governance). But probably what they do in a case like that is just send the games to Los Angeles anyway.

Great murals out there.

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