The Scarlet Letter

The Dallas City Council is about to mark itself for life with its vote on the Palladium deal

What is it exactly that Ken Wong of Palladium does not want us to see? What's the big secret? It must be a deal-breaker, because he is willing to go to great lengths to keep it hidden.

I called Lisa LeMaster, Wong's spokeswoman in Dallas. She said Palladium won't talk to me, because they didn't like my last article. I'm OK with that. I get the same thing at home.

But I need to say this in their defense, since they are being hurtsy and won't chat. The Sedway report was commissioned by their enemies. Sedway was hired by "The Downtown Group," which is all the people who have big investments in downtown who think giving tax subsidies to a development outside but close to downtown is like holding up a nail gun to the heart of the city. So it's fair to say that there was a big ax to grind before Sedway ever got out the door.

Ken Wong of Palladium has fought so hard to keep details of his deal secret that there is only one conclusion to draw: He's afraid public awareness will kill the deal.
Ken Wong of Palladium has fought so hard to keep details of his deal secret that there is only one conclusion to draw: He's afraid public awareness will kill the deal.

But, you know: They tell you what Ken Hughes spent, you call Ken Hughes. They tell you what common practice is in California, you call California. Eventually you wind up with some very disturbing questions, if nothing else.

Also on behalf of Palladium, let it be said that there is another report in now, the KPMG report, commissioned by the city council, which says Palladium is a good deal for the city. KPMG is a serious international accounting firm.

So was Arthur Andersen.

There were enough back-door, under-the-radar arrangements and codicils in this KPMG report to give us material for our own little Enron debate here in Dallas. KPMG says it signed secrecy agreements with Palladium and didn't look at the whole project, and allowed Palladium to edit their analysis before showing it to the council, because that's what City Manager Ted Benavides told them to do.

Why would Benavides do that? I say he would do it because he's a political bookie: He's worried that council member Mary Poss and the minority council members will win, and the Palladium deal will pass May 22. He wants to be on the winning side.

None of this will go away. If you take Laura Miller out of the Laura Miller phenomenon--not easy, but let's try--what do you have? In her overwhelming landslide election and in the crushing majority right after it in the police pay referendum, you have the major, angry, pent-up voice of middle-class civic-mindedness and of small business.

The basic bloc pushing for the Palladium deal on the council is made up of Mary Poss, who should not be voting on or even talking about this because of her family's close business ties over the years to the Perots but who does it anyway, and you have minority council members, especially African-American members, who have been promised substantial deals for contractors and for affordable housing initiatives, both of which are legitimate political goals.

But to that factor you have to add minority cynicism about the larger community. Minority leaders in Dallas have told me for years that they see the action at City Hall as a big money feast from which they traditionally have been excluded. And it's true. Unfortunately for the larger community--and this is a condition white Dallas created--that means minority representatives on the council don't have to worry themselves with the larger community good. The tragedy and failure of Dallas politics is that the minority community does not see itself as a real partner in the larger community.

If minority council members can snag some contracts and some housing money for their districts, they're way ahead. The bigger the snag, the more they get re-elected.

But that only means the focus of the civic-minded middle-class majority will be that much more intense, that much more ferocious, on the council members the middle class thinks it can vote the hell out of office.

I don't offer the Sedway report here as a definitive proof. It's one side of the coin from an interested party. But if the Dallas City Council pushes this Palladium deal through without first answering every issue raised by Sedway, then Sedway is all that anybody is going to hear about from now until the next election. It's this piled on top of the original arena deal piled on top of the river deal on top of the potholes on top of the general loss of faith in the integrity of the process. At some point, somebody's in for one messy squashing.

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