By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In a few days or weeks, a very hot potato will land with a thunk on the desk of the Dallas city manager, and everyone in the city's architectural community will be watching carefully to see what he does with it.
The city auditor, who works directly for the city council -- not for the city manager -- is finishing up an investigation into charges of contract rigging in the departments of public works and cultural affairs. In late July, a city architect presented City Manager Ted Benavides with carefully documented evidence to support the charges, and Benavides asked the auditor to investigate.
That may not be easy to do: It's a big potato. Senior city officials are accused of nonchalantly corrupting city rules and laws in order to steer tax money toward a favored contractor.
It could all be a lie. The city employees bringing the charges could be making it up.
But people in the architectural profession, the part of the business community closest to this saga, are saying it doesn't sound like a lie to them. In fact, they're saying this story explains a lot -- none of it good.
THE QUIET MAN
Robert Troy is a white-haired man in his early 60s who went to work for the city last January as a senior architect after a long career in private practice and teaching at the college and university level. He is courtly, soft-spoken, careful to stop and listen when others speak. Because of his age and manner, he might strike someone as a man who would hold on to a good job at the end of his career and roll quietly toward retirement.
But barely two months into his new job, Troy says, he found himself hip-deep in the dirtiest deal he'd ever been asked to take part in. It was especially galling, he says, because it involved cheating and deceiving his fellow architects, people who were out there pitching for contracts just as he had done most of his life.
Rather than looking the other way and rolling on down the road as he thinks he was expected to do, Robert Troy got mad.
"I got madder 'n hell," he says, seated behind his gray desk in a gray cubicle in the basement of Dallas City Hall. "I'm not used to having stuff like that take place."
Troy had been hired to serve as project manager for two of the city's most important capital projects, one to plan the future development and management of all of the city's libraries, and the other to do the same for all of the city's cultural facilities.
The library project is moving along smoothly. But Troy says the cultural facilities project didn't smell right from the start.
His job was to head up a carefully drawn committee process to select one architectural and consulting team for a half-million-dollar contract with the city. The contract is for the cultural affairs "masterplan" -- basically a blueprint for what the city should do with its many city-owned museums, theaters, and other cultural facilities. The masterplan would advise the city on which ones to keep, which ones to close, which ones to build, and how to run and use them all effectively.
Every step of the selection process, including the questions to be asked candidate teams, had been worked out in advance according to the contracting and equal opportunity ordinances and laws of the city, state, and nation.
The architects who applied for the masterplan contract say they took the process seriously, some of them investing months of time and thousands of dollars just to apply. But with each day that passed, Troy began to suspect he was the only one on the city's side of the table who thought the process was real.
Meanwhile, halfway across downtown in the city's Office of Cultural Affairs in the Majestic Theatre, another city employee was beginning to pick up the same odor. Jan Adams, like Troy, comes from outside the career culture of City Hall. In middle age she had gone back to SMU to finish a degree in psychology. After a few years in the corporate world, Adams came to Dallas City Hall, where she started as a temp and quickly worked her way up the ladder.
Until a few weeks ago, Adams was administrative assistant to Margie Johnson Reese, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. Reese had appointed herself and Adams to sit on the selection committee that would decide to whom the city should award the half-million-dollar masterplan contract.
THE PERILS OF PAPER
Adams says that early in the selection process, Reese began telling her to do things that didn't seem right -- all of which seemed to be aimed at cutting off the selection process and steering the contract to Johnson McKibben, a local architectural firm that has served as the minority-owned partner on several major projects, including the new downtown sports arena.