Deadbird

How vicious racial politics, mismanagement, and dirty dealing turned Dallas' Redbird Airport into a Third-World airfield

Most of the public documents involving the Days and Redbird are signed by Shirley Day. But according to Sucsy's motion to revoke Day's probation, her name often appeared on documents involving her husband's business, matters Sucsy says she knew little about.

Day had good reason to keep his business affairs out of his name. He owed nearly $23,000 in criminal restitution, having paid only $2,000 in four years. He reported more than $6.7 million in outstanding civil court judgments against him on his court-supervised financial disclosure forms. The IRS had hit him with $399,000 in tax liens.

In corporate records filed in Austin and Dallas, the Days claimed various executive posts in Redbird and the second company, titles such as chairman, director, and president. On at least two other occasions, Atkins filed the papers through an attorney of his own. He also identified himself as company president.

Mark Graham
Redbird Airport's city-run tower, runways, and navigational aids weren't the problem. It was the facilities around them, managed by Redbird Development Corp., that caused pilots to flee.
Mark Graham
Redbird Airport's city-run tower, runways, and navigational aids weren't the problem. It was the facilities around them, managed by Redbird Development Corp., that caused pilots to flee.

"We never could figure it out," recalls Bruce Leadbetter, a successful businessman who helped start Legend Airlines at Love Field. Beginning in early 1998, Leadbetter and other experienced investors, including a group involving Darrell Jordan of Hughes & Luce, considered making six-figure investments in Redbird and bringing it out of its underdeveloped funk.

"The only way you would get involved, the only way anyone would finance it, was to start a new company. If you didn't, you wouldn't know who [a would-be owner or creditor] might jump up," says Leadbetter, who says he thought Atkins had been trapped in an uneconomical lease.

Leadbetter, who eventually dropped away, says Atkins was "not a businessman, but we thought he worked pretty hard."

Indeed, Atkins says he paid no attention to his own company's filings in Austin. After only a year under Atkins' management, the company neglected to file a corporate franchise tax report, and for more than a year it was officially defunct. State records show Day started it back up.

Sucsy, too, says his investigation of Day and Redbird, which included interviewing Atkins and White, yielded no clear answers on who owned the company. "It was bizarre," he says. "There were a lot of twists and turns."

It made no sense to him that the Days kept popping up in significant ways, claiming control in letters to tenants and remaining on the premises in an apartment well after Atkins and White became aware of what the Days had done.

If the Days were such meddlers, Sucsy can't understand why Atkins and White continued to associate with them. "I wouldn't have wanted him around after that. I would have wanted him as far away as possible," the prosecutor says.

Atkins won't address that issue, and gets indignant over questions about Day. "This perturbs me," he says. "This is the same thing I went through with my tenants."

Pressed on why he didn't take some action against what he portrays as a paperwork coup, Atkins replies, "If I went out and sued everybody who meddled in Redbird Development Corp., it would be a long list of people to be sued."

Not only did Atkins not shun the Days, though, he tapped one of their long-time friends in Brownwood, lawyer Charles McDonald, to explain to the city the confusing ownership picture once the city started asking some hard questions last year.

The interesting chain of events began in July 1999, when Shirley Day posted a letter that rang alarm bells at Dallas City Hall. It was addressed to Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez, who oversees the city's aviation department. Written on letterhead listing the house in Brownwood as Redbird Development's corporate address and Shirley as president, it announced the company "has made profound changes in its corporate operations...Mr. Gayle White has been placed in full control as operations manager...Please do not direct any future mail to Tennell Atkins, as he is no longer in the collection or payment position." Highlighting one of the implications of Atkins' ouster, she assured Miguez, "The company remains a minority-owned company and we contemplate bringing in additional Hispanics and Afro-Americans."

At the city, a thick file on the matter shows that within days an assistant city attorney got to work researching Redbird's past letters to the city and corporate filings, the ones chock-full of the Days' names, while aviation department staff began compiling George Day's criminal history.

Around the same time, Jack Cox, the former owner, sent city officials a copy of a letter in which Shirley Day told him that a $61,000 civil court judgment he had secured against the company and Atkins was worthless. She explained to him that two Redbird corporations existed, and he'd obtained his judgment from the wrong one. Of the new company, she wrote to Cox, "Mr. Atkins holds no ownership in this company, nor any position, and never has since its inception." She was telling Cox, in effect, tough luck.

That dodge, and the contention in Day's letter that Atkins was out of power, prompted the city to write Atkins for an explanation.

A response came a week later from Charles McDonald, a lawyer in Bangs, Texas, a town of 2,000 near Brownwood. While under suspension by the Bar, Day worked as a law clerk for McDonald, according to the government's allegations in Day's revocation. "We had witnesses who said his car was frequently there," Sucsy says. And Day testified in an unrelated civil case that he worked as McDonald's clerk.

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