The Star Chamber

Why is unsuccessful politico Brenda Reyes deciding who gets minority contracts? Because Adelfa Callejo says so.

In hindsight, one can only guess whether the council would have supported Reyes for the DART position had they known the details of the litigation. A year after buying a new computer system from Reyes' company, city staff pinpointed 21 problems that prevented the system from working properly, including the failure of Reyes' employees, which included her husband at the time, from properly solving the problems they were encountering with the system, according to documents filed in the lawsuit. On September 22, 1998, the city formally kicked Reyes off the job, informing her that she failed to fix the problems and the system was in "perpetual default."

Shortly thereafter, Reyes sued, claiming that city employees failed to properly terminate the five-year contract. In addition, Reyes blamed the problems on the city's failure to buy, from her, a more expensive customized computer system. She also argued that "personality differences" between her employees and those of the city soured the deal.

Because the settlement check was so small, it's unlikely that the city council was even briefed on the matter. For his part, Loza says he didn't think the lawsuit was enough of a problem to disqualify Reyes from representing the city's interests at DART. The failed venture, however, may have taken a fatal toll on Reyes' company. In her original petition, Reyes' lawyers argued the termination caused her company to reach a "breaking point."

She's back: After losing a bitter 1997 race against John Loza for the Dallas City Council, Brenda Reyes has resurrected her political career. And guess who's helping: John Loza.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit
She's back: After losing a bitter 1997 race against John Loza for the Dallas City Council, Brenda Reyes has resurrected her political career. And guess who's helping: John Loza.

Around the time Reyes got her settlement money, her business debts began to pile up, including more than $150,000 in unpaid promissory notes. In November 2000, Reyes filed for bankruptcy. Although it's unclear how or if Reyes resolved her debt, the case was dismissed after Reyes suddenly stopped pursuing it in December, right around the time the she accepted the DART position.

Apparently, Reyes wanted the city council members to believe her company was alive and well: On her application for the DART position, Reyes listed her current job as president and CEO of Innovative Computer Group. Two months earlier, however, the company was officially dissolved by the Texas Secretary of State's Office, which had forfeited the company's charter because Reyes failed to pay the required state taxes.

The timing of Reyes' appointment to DART was particularly important for Hispanic businesses. In February, DART entered into a "memorandum of understanding" with the Chamber to increase the number of Hispanic vendors on the receiving end of the roughly estimated $166 million in public funds slated to go to minority vendors as part of the agency's upcoming northern rail expansions, among other projects. (The transit agency signed similar agreements with the city's other ethnic business chambers.)

Indeed, Loza says he expects Reyes to actively monitor the bidding process to ensure that Hispanics get their fair slice of DART's pie.

"One thing I had heard was that the Hispanic community in particular wasn't being aggressively represented on the board to the extent it could be, and I wanted to make sure I picked somebody who would correct that," Loza says.

DART is just one of several government entities, which include the Dallas Independent School District, the city of Dallas and various state agencies, that turn to the Chamber in search of Hispanic vendors to help meet their goals for increasing the number of minorities who receive government contracts. In turn, the Chamber's employees are assigned the task of helping young entrepreneurs learn how to compete for these contracts and, once they are awarded, assist them to ensure that they successfully perform.

Today, critics point to Reyes' failed city venture as a prime example of why they don't think she's qualified to run the Chamber.

"How can she tell me this is how I recommend you go about your business when she's a complete failure?" Moreno says. "What kind of message are we sending to our general membership? It's OK not to pay our bills?"

A vivacious 29-year-old, Moreno says she got involved with the Chamber three and half years ago because, from her vantage point in Oak Cliff, she saw too many small, Spanish-speaking business owners who need an organization like the Chamber to guide them through government bureaucracies, complete with their often-confusing permitting requirements, and into a promising American marketplace.

Back then, Moreno says she viewed the Chamber and its figureheads as heroes. Especially Callejo, a woman whom Moreno recalls watching with admiration back in the 1980s, when she successfully fought to increase Hispanic representation on the Dallas City Council and argued for amnesty programs that eased the citizenship process for immigrating Latinos.

"At one point, I admired Adelfa. I thought, how wonderful it is to have a Hispanic woman who is outspoken and there to represent the community," Moreno says. When she got to the Chamber and found herself seated next to Callejo, Moreno says, "I thought I was looking at a role model. I wanted to be Adelfa."

When she speaks of Callejo nowadays, Moreno's words ring with bitterness. In hindsight, Moreno believes it wasn't Reyes' qualifications that got her the Chamber job, but her political alignment with Callejo.

"I am extremely disappointed that Ms. Callejo supports people blindly because they are Hispanic," Moreno says, adding, "Brenda was rammed down our throats by Adelfa Callejo. She wants to keep the old regime in that Chamber. Adelfa does not want to let go."

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