Rules are for suckers

When it came time to hire an architect at city Hall, bureaucrats Robert Troy and Jan Adams made one unforgivable mistake. They were honest.

Adams was especially concerned because all of the presentations and all of the interviews she was sitting through on the selection committee had persuaded her that the best firm for the job was the Dallas company of Magill Architects Inc. According to their voting records, everyone else on the five-member committee except Reese felt the same way.

Adams believed she had to vote her conscience no matter what. "I am not a sleaze," she says. "I can't be that way."

When she grew worried and began trying to cover herself by asking for signed directives, Adams says, she discovered that Reese recoiled from paper the way some people fear snakes.

According to Troy's account, public works director David Dybala found a nifty way to tip the scales in Johnson McKibben's favor -- he eliminated the vote of one committee member altogether, then gave himself a vote for the first time and used it to break the tie he'd created.
Mark Graham
According to Troy's account, public works director David Dybala found a nifty way to tip the scales in Johnson McKibben's favor -- he eliminated the vote of one committee member altogether, then gave himself a vote for the first time and used it to break the tie he'd created.

Over an untouched plate of food at an East Dallas restaurant, a still very distraught Adams recalls: "Margie would throw these little hot-tempered tantrums and scream at me, 'You just call them up and tell them I am not going over there to meet with them one more time unless everybody over there agrees to change their vote and do what I want.'

"So I would type it up. I would tell her, 'I have to put these things in writing, because I feel very uncomfortable being put in the middle between two department directors.' But anytime I put anything in writing, she would read it and just turn into a space cadet. 'Oh, no! That's not what I said!'

"She didn't want anything in writing. No paper trail!"

Over the course of two weeks, the Dallas Observer called Reese's office half a dozen times. She did not return phone messages, even though people answering the phone at her agency said she was in the office. Neither did she respond to a faxed letter requesting comment.

On September 16, the Observer hoped to catch her at her own board meeting, but she changed the location of the meeting at the last minute and then, after the Observer discovered the new location, declined to attend.

The Observer did speak with former employees and contractors who have had experience dealing with Reese, some of whom would not speak for the record.

Some arts administrators who have dealt with Reese from a distance, such as Curtis King, director of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, have favorable things to say about her role in bringing diversity and a sense of mission to the realm of city-funded arts programs. "She has given some sense of direction to the artistic community that was very, very lacking before," King says.

But others who have worked at close quarters with her paint a portrait that resembles what Jan Adams and Robert Troy have to say, especially about her disregard for policies and procedures.

A former employee says, "She would storm in the office and scream, 'I don't appreciate having subordinates tell me I can't do what I want.'"

Reese has been director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs since 1995, overseeing a $9.5 million budget. Perhaps the most flamboyant tale people tell when they talk about her tenure is the saga of a little agency called Art-Serv. Set up to help small arts outfits sell tickets and advertise events, Art-Serv went belly-up last year, leaving behind major debt, much of it to the struggling arts organizations it was supposed to help.

The National Endowment for the Arts had given the Office of Cultural Affairs a $375,000 grant for the program. Art-Serv, an independent nonprofit agency, was set up to run the program as a subcontractor. Donna Moniot, a former director of Art-Serv, says the agency was originally thrown into financial disarray because Margie Reese cut off large portions of Art-Serv's budget without warning, moving hunks of the grant money into her own agency's budget to administer herself, rather than through a subcontractor. After Moniot left, Art-Serv fell into even worse straits and eventually went bankrupt.

Dozens of small arts organizations were stiffed for money Art-Serv owed them, some for considerable sums. Her voice sharp with anguish more than a year later, Moniot says, "The whole purpose of the NEA grant was to assist small and emerging arts organizations, and not only were they not helped, but some of them were owed thousands of dollars."

Art-Serv operated out of offices provided by Reese at the Majestic. At one point after Moniot had left, her successor called the cops because the agency's checkbooks were missing. The checkbooks were found later in Reese's office, according to a story in The Dallas Morning News.

Jan Adams says she saw Dallas City Auditor Robert Melton and some of his staff at the Majestic soon after the missing-checkbooks story was published in January 1998. But at that point the story dropped -- never to be mentioned again -- from the Morning News, and no public announcement was made of an audit.

Melton confirms he took some of his investigators over to Reese's office last year after the checkbook caper to look into things at the Office of Cultural Affairs. He backed off, he says, when Reese and then-City Manager John Ware assured him they would bring in their own outside auditor to check things out.

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