By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Prominent Dallas political activists Lynn Flint Shaw and her husband, Rufus Shaw, dead Tuesday in an apparent murder-suicide by gun, were players in a tight-knit circle of advisors to Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert—a group keenly interested in city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit contracts.
According to e-mails provided to the Dallas Observer, Flint Shaw and Willis Johnson, Leppert's southern Dallas campaign manager, pressured Leppert to make sure minority contractors seeking city or DART work had to go through their own small group, which they called "The Inner Circle."
Shaw, who was treasurer of "Friends of Tom Leppert," a political fund-raising committee, told Leppert in an e-mail last July: "Willis is the guy. He is the 'go-to' person in all things southern sector and African-American."
Two days earlier Johnson had told Flint Shaw in an e-mail: "HKS is just a start. I still have to get with Matt at Turner, and I meet this week with Chuck at Comerica."
The references presumably are to HKS Inc., an architecture and engineering firm involved in public works projects; Turner Construction, an international firm at which Leppert was once chief executive officer; and Comerica, a banking company that announced a year ago it was moving its headquarters to Dallas from Detroit.
Seeking comment and authentication of the e-mails, the Observer spoke to Rufus Shaw on Monday, less than 24 hours before his death. He referred a reporter to Bickel & Brewer, the law firm providing Flint Shaw with criminal representation on a forgery charge.
Flint Shaw replied to the Observer by a faxed letter in which she declined to comment directly on the e-mails, calling them private, but did not dispute their authenticity and reiterated some of the content.
"Certainly I have strongly urged the mayor and other elected officials to look directly to Mr. Johnson—above almost anyone else—for his insight and perspective on South Dallas."
Johnson, a radio host who has equipment-supply contracts with DART and other local government entities, did not reply to numerous requests for comment.
The e-mails were provided to the Observer by a group of persons who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. The group included several people who have been active in fair-share contracting issues in Dallas in the past. They told the Observer they were acting out of concern that Leppert was undoing decades of effort to open up competitive-bid contracting to minorities.
Political consultant Carol Reed, who continues to speak for Leppert on political matters, says Leppert has always been open about his interest in building strong companies in southern Dallas through public contracting. She says he trusts Johnson and considers him a valuable ally.
"I can tell you exactly how the mayor's office operates as we speak," Reed says. "That is that anyone who wants to see the mayor either calls [chief of staff] Chris Heinbaugh or [deputy chief] Paula Blackmon, and they will set up the meeting."
In 1980 Rufus Shaw was author of a book called How to Be a Rich Nigger, a self-help book written to encourage young black people to believe in themselves. In it he wrote, "Remember, in order to be truly rich you must have that dream of success and be able to see yourself driving a Rolls-Royce, living in a mansion and flying to Africa for that long-awaited vacation to the homeland."
When Shaw was still in his early 20s he was charged with assault and eventually was convicted of cocaine possession. The conviction became an issue in 1993 during debate on a proposal to bar felons from serving on appointive government bodies in the city. Shaw, a member of the Dallas Park Board at the time, said: "They may as well call it the Rufus Shaw law, like Roe v. Wade." The city ruled that Shaw's conviction had been voided on appeal and that he was eligible to serve.
Lynn Flint Shaw, a native of Louisiana, rose to prominence in local arts and charity circles in the early 1990s when Dallas arts groups were under pressure to increase minority participation.
More recently, Flint Shaw, who resigned January 29 as chair of the DART board, has been at the center of swirling problems and accusations over unpaid debts, undisclosed contacts and what appear to be untruthful campaign finance reports.
Shaw conducted a short-lived campaign for city council last summer, quitting the field after only a few weeks but not before raising almost $60,000, mostly from patrons in the arts and real estate community. On January 24, a week before her resignation from DART, the Observer reported that her campaign finance report for the council race seemed to be off by at least $17,000. Michael Sorrell, a lawyer to whom Shaw reported paying $20,000 as a campaign consultant, said he had received less than $2,000 from her.
Shortly after Flint Shaw resigned as DART chair, DART revealed it had discovered a previously undisclosed contract between Flint Shaw and Deloitte Touche, the agency's outside auditing firm, providing Shaw $21,000 a year to advise Deloitte on how to get minority high school students interested in accounting.
A DART lawyer later said the contract was not a violation of the agency's conflict rules because the division of Deloitte that was paying Flint Shaw was separate from the Deloitte division that conducts DART's external audits. Deloitte has refused to comment on whether the contract violated its own rules or the federal law governing accountants and conflicts.