Code Breaker

Mayor's plan commission appointee asked to resign amid ethics complaint

"[B]ecause Mr. Spence was associated with the City of Dallas Planning Commission," Bright wrote, "the information responsive to his request was released to him."

Spence, who has never met Ramirez, says he suspects Ramirez is using the restaurant as a guise to open a bar that will only attract drunks to the neighborhood. "We don't want this one to slip through like Billares de Mexico," Spence says, referring to a nearby pool hall that obtained the same type of state permits Ramirez is requesting.

Spence's suspicions came through on a set of questions he distributed to Ramirez's lawyer and his future neighbors shortly after Spence contacted the TABC. The document, which states that it was "Drafted by David Spence, District 3 Plan Commissioner," asks who Ramirez's clientele is, who his chef is, what his construction budget is, whether he will display beer signs on the property and whether his landlord has any "equity or lender interest."

Robert Ramirez to David Spence: "Enough is enough."
Peter Calvin
Robert Ramirez to David Spence: "Enough is enough."

For weeks now, Ramirez says, he has confronted neighborhood rumors that Moreno or some other purportedly shady partner secretly owns the restaurant. "It is my project, and still nobody wants to believe it," Ramirez says.

Spence suggests there are problems with Moreno's "perception" in the neighborhood, but he declined to be specific. Spence, a lawyer, also confirms that he "mentioned" that he was a plan commissioner when he called the TABC, but says he was unaware of any state laws that prohibited him from obtaining Ramirez's application. The document's release, Spence says, was a mistake on the TABC's part.

In hindsight, Spence says, he shouldn't have included his political title on the questionnaire he distributed, but says he was only trying to help Ramirez prepare for a breakfast meeting he unsuccessfully tried to set up with some neighbors.

"I put that on there in order to elevate the situation or to give the questions an impartial meaning," Spence says. "Would I do that again? No. But I did it."

Last month, Ramirez says, he showed up at a meeting with Housewright and Councilwoman Elba Garcia, who represents the Bishop Arts District, and discussed withdrawing his application for a late-night permit. Although he later agreed to seek a stepped-down liquor permit, he says he refused to agree in writing that he would never seek a late-night permit.

Because the neighborhood's other full-service restaurants typically close at 10 p.m., Ramirez believes there is a demand for a late-night restaurant. But Ramirez says he was willing to compromise on the restaurant's hours until after he established his reputation in the neighborhood. More important, he says, he understood that the compromise would resolve the dispute. Housewright confirms that the late-night permit was the central issue.

"That was the whole motivation of that meeting," Housewright says, adding that after it was over, "I thought we had everything settled and everybody was happy with each other."

Everyone except Spence. He continued to call city building inspectors to complain about various city code violations he claims he found when he personally inspected the restaurant's exterior. Spence says he did that because he discovered that it is nearly impossible to convince the TABC to revoke a liquor license once one is issued. So his only option, he says, was to "defeat the application" altogether, and the only way he could do that was by showing that Ramirez is not up to city codes and enlisting the city's help in protesting the application to the TABC.

Ramirez, who provided copies of various city permits that he has obtained, says he has made many changes, including three alterations to his parking lot, in response to Spence's complaints and says he is willing to make any other changes necessary to ensure that the restaurant meets all city codes. In the meantime, he says, "enough is enough."

"He [Spence] is undermining every move I make," Ramirez says. "The concern was the after-hours permit, and we've given that up, but the problem still persists."

Since she formally asked that Spence resign, Moreno says, Miller has not adequately responded to her numerous requests to discuss the matter. (Miller left a brief message on Moreno's voice mail June 11 before flying to Washington. The mayor left a similarly belated message with the Dallas Observer on the same morning.)

Given the extent to which Miller has portrayed herself as a champion of ethics, Moreno says, it is now time for the mayor to live up to her pledges.

"She needs to lay down the law and make sure everybody is measured the same," Moreno says. "Let's just see if the mayor is going to do what she has been preaching all this time."

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