By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Let me point something out, before we pass on to the next P.U. Zoning is worth a lot of money. The 23-acre parcel in this deal was valued by the appraisal district at about four grand an acre before the rezone. The parcel right next to it, which is zoned multifamily, is on the books at 14 grand an acre.
Jafar says it was Provident, not he, that profited from this rezoning. If this land traded at pretty much the going rates for the area, that 11-3 vote at council a month ago was worth approximately $230,000 to Provident. In the pocket. And Fantroy does do business with Provident elsewhere.
Let me add something else important: None of that breaks any rules or any laws that I know of. Real estate guys get to maximize their value and make a profit if they can swing it. As long as I have covered City Hall (centuries), city council members often have been business persons, and business persons do business with business persons.
Mayor Miller focuses her criticism of this deal on the way Fantroy and Thornton-Reese worked around the conflict-of-interest rules. She says she likes Fantroy. But when a Dallas Morning News reporter asked her after the council session about the smell test, she says she had to reply honestly:
"When a reporter says to me, 'Is it a problem that he recuses himself, but he instructs the council how to vote on it?' I say yes. That's a problem.
"What am I supposed to say? Am I supposed to be like every mayor before me and say I don't see any problems around here?"
Fair enough. But let's proceed deeper. You got the clothespin on, right?
The principals in the Simpson Stuart deal say they are "collateral damage," smeared by this affair when they had done nothing wrong. They also suggest it would have been virtuous of the mayor, in the spirit of full disclosure, if she'd mentioned that one of her biggest political contributors has a competing project right across the street from them.
I checked. Indeed, Brian Potashnik is a principal in a deal right across Simpson Stuart from the Jafar deal. Potashnik and his wife, Cheryl, are maxed-out contributors to Miller's campaign fund, $5,000 each per reporting period, the legal max, whether Miller's running for office or not.
I asked Miller about it. She said she opposes all new multifamily zoning in that part of town, whether it's Potashnik or not. She said she recently testified in Austin against tax breaks for all of these projects, including Potashnik.
But what is that darned odor that won't go away? Where's it coming from? It's not...no...it's not coming from Councilman Blaydes, is it? The one who said the Fantroy deal was so blatant and obvious?
Blaydes is the principal real estate agent for the Dallas Independent School District for all of the land acquisition associated with the current $1.37 billion bond program. The arrangement pays Blaydes $15,000 a month plus a commission on all land purchases. A DISD spokesman told me that the district has paid Blaydes a total of $420,000 since June 2002.
In May 2003, a week before Blaydes was sworn in, he attended a council meeting and was provided a council briefing packet as a council member-elect. During that meeting, according to Blaydes' own sworn deposition, he saw that the Catholic Diocese of Dallas was half an hour away from winning a zoning change that would have made it impossible or very difficult for the school district to condemn a chunk of land the district wants for new schools--a piece of land Blaydes was trying to get for the district and on which he would be paid a commission.
Within minutes, Blaydes was cozied up to the council rim confabbing with members of the council. The Diocese's deal was unceremoniously yanked from the consent agenda. In that one stroke, the Diocese lost a battle worth millions of dollars. And Blaydes won a deal worth a few pennies to him personally.
Blaydes wasn't on the council yet. He did not address the council from the microphone as a representative of DISD. He broke no rule. Since being sworn in, he has scrupulously recused himself on all DISD issues.
"I contend that I have done nothing that was in the least way illegal or immoral or unethical," Blaydes told me. "I take my oath very seriously."
But, you know. P.U.-hughie-dewie-and-louie!
Well, thanks for following me around today. On the count of three, we all run outdoors, pull off our clothespins, pass out into the reflecting pond and try not to drown.