The Star Chamber

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

Moreno's freewheeling opinionating is just the thing that causes some of her old colleagues on the Chamber board to cringe. That's not because they didn't have problems with the way in which Reyes was hired. Rather, they are concerned that news about the division in the Chamber, particularly if reported by the Anglo press, will cast the Hispanic community in bad light.

Reached several days after he resigned, former chairman Gonzales confirms that he grew uncomfortable when Callejo personally presented Reyes' résumé to him for consideration early in the hiring process. Worse, Gonzales says he was disappointed to learn that a small fraction on the board hired Reyes in June while he was out of town on a business trip. At the time, Gonzales, who headed the search committee, says a job offer had not been formally extended because the committee members had not finished researching the candidates' backgrounds.

"We wanted background checks on everything. I wanted to show that we could stand by the person who would ultimately be selected," Gonzales says. "In my absence, the offer was made, sealed and delivered."

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.

Callejo confirms that the board's "executive committee" offered Reyes the job while Gonzales was away, but says that he had previously signed off on a new rule that gave the committee the authority to make the decision. Even if Gonzales had been in town, she adds, his presence wouldn't have made a difference because Reyes had already won over a majority of the vote.

"Maybe some of the board members that are dissatisfied, maybe they weren't paying close attention. By then, we'd already made the decision," Callejo says, adding, "I don't know what their problem is. It was explained to them that they had agreed to this."

But Reyes' hiring was not what Gonzales says prompted him to leave. Instead, he says he opposed subsequent changes in the Chamber's bylaws that now require future board members to have owned a business for five years or, if they fill one of the board's corporate posts, that they hold executive-level positions at their respective companies. To Gonzales, the new rules were self-serving on the part of some board members who want to control the board.

"Some people on that board really may not have the interests of the Chamber at heart. Personally, now in hindsight, there's a lot of people that look at it as, I dunno, a social club," Gonzales says. "Certainly the idea of controlling the board is uppermost in some people's minds."

Consistent with his resignation letter, Gonzales declines to name any names because he says the more troubling issue is the long-term consequences of the new requirements.

"It means a lot of our bright young entrepreneurs won't have a chance to run," says Gonzales, who is a director of business relations for Verizon, the wireless phone company. "Having been in the business community for 30 years, no one's gonna prove to me that a person who has been in business five years is more adept at making decisions than a bright young kid who can develop into a leader in our community, even after two or three years of owning a business. We have to be aware that there's young kids out there who are very bright."

As Reyes settled into her new job, Gonzales says he decided it was in everyone's best interest if he simply stepped aside and let her, along with her supporters on the board, pick up the broken pieces inside the Chamber.

He's not the only one. Robert Enriquez says he resigned primarily because, having served with Reyes on another voluntary board, he didn't believe he could effectively work with her. In addition, he says he felt deceived by board politics.

"I felt it was a slam dunk to get her in there," Enriquez says. "I think it was set up so she would be the only candidate."

When he recently answered his telephone, Enriquez let out a groan at the prospect that the trouble inside the Chamber had attracted the attention of a reporter, particularly an Anglo one.

"I hate to see stories from particular groups in the community, African-Americans or Hispanics, that make us look like there's a lot of infighting going on," he says. "At this point in our community, we don't need that."

Enriquez says he is concerned that the power battle inside the Chamber will only hinder its broader effort to assist Hispanics grow strong businesses that are not dependent on government contracts.

"Here's the thing, they [the Chamber's remaining board members] feel they're doing the right thing. That's what I regret about the whole thing. They don't recognize that that's the wrong way to do things. They think they're at war with other segments of the community," Enriquez says, referring to Anglos and African-Americans. "They feel they need somebody tough in there so we get our piece of the pie. Well, that's stupid. This community needs to come together."

The rest of Dallas can only wait and see whether Reyes can succeed in uniting the fractured organization she's now in charge of running. At the moment, her chances don't sound good. Like Enriquez, one of Loza's longtime political strategists, who four years ago eagerly leaked dirt about Reyes to the city's political reporters, let out a groan answering the telephone inquiry about her new job at the Chamber.

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