Tanking a Home for Foster Children May Help Enrich One County Commissioner's Kid

Commissioner Maurine Dickey tanked a land deal to house foster kids, and now her son is brokering the land's sale.

Jim Suydam, press secretary to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said the Cullen Dickey/Maurine Dickey connection was not an issue for the GLO. "We didn't know that there was any relation," he said. "I'm not sure it would have mattered if there was."

Suydam said the GLO chose from a list of brokers who had gone through a lengthy pre-qualification process. "He was pre-qualified beforehand," he said. "He was certainly the most enthusiastic agent to take this listing, and that's what we look for when we get a broker for these things, because we're looking to move the piece of land."

I did call Cullen Dickey. We spoke very briefly. He promised to call me back but did not. I called his mother's office and left my work and cell phone numbers with her assistant. I explained the call. She did not call me either.

A project to develop this land would have provided housing for teenagers aging out of foster care. But Commissioner Maurine Dickey helped kill the project,and now her son is the broker for the land.
A project to develop this land would have provided housing for teenagers aging out of foster care. But Commissioner Maurine Dickey helped kill the project,and now her son is the broker for the land.

David Little, founder of David Little Real Estate where Cullen Dickey is a principal, did call me. I guess he was speaking for Dickey and also for his firm, which is an old and respected Dallas company.

Little assured me that the GLO deal was something he personally had arranged. "I was awarded...David Little Real Estate was awarded the right to try to sell that property," he said, "and I assigned Cullen Dickey the opportunity to try to sell that."

Fair enough.

Little told me several times that he knew nothing about the orphan deal. "I don't know about that, Jim," he said.

He said he does know Maurine Dickey. "I've known Maurine Dickey. They used to be neighbors of mine for 10 years. I've known them 15, 20 years, but I've never talked to her about this property. I didn't know what the county was doing with it."

He said he also knows Jerry Patterson, the commissioner of the General Land Office, a political appointee. "I know Jerry Patterson real well, but Jerry's not going to give anybody anything. He's going to be fair with everybody."

And he said he has been looking at the orphanage property for many years. "I have seen that property for many, many years. I just stayed on top of it and followed the deal for years.

"We were awarded the right to try to sell it, and that was it, but Maurine Dickey didn't have anything to do with it."

The David Little Real Estate Company Web page describes Cullen Dickey as continuing to play a key role in the Dickey family business, an international restaurant chain: "Additionally, Cullen oversees the site selection process for his family business, Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants," the bio on the Web page states. It goes on to say, "Further, Cullen is a major supporter of his mother's (Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey) campaign and civic efforts in Dallas County."

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, is a popular figure in conservative Republican politics, best known for obstructing a deal to add the Christmas Mountains Ranch to Big Bend National Park.

This is a down market, of course, but in a better market, the Central Expressway property has an extremely valuable city zoning designation. A developer could cover 80 percent of the land with buildings as high as 20 stories. A commercial developer who spoke to me on a not-for-attribution basis described the property as "basically a political deal," because it's owned by a state agency.

The General Land Office, he pointed out, isn't playing with its own marbles. It only has to sell at a price slightly higher than the appraised value in order to show that it has done a good job. He called the appraised value of land in this area "absurdly low" and drew a comparison with downtown land: Last May, when a political debate over a proposed convention hotel put downtown appraisals under a microscope, the county appraisal district had to admit that most of downtown had been appraised at unrealistically low values.

What does that mean for the Dickey deal? I think it means the amount of Cullen Dickey's commission on the deal may be the least important element. The real question is going to be who buys this land and at what kind of price.

I called former County Judge Margaret Keliher and asked her what she thought about it. I explained that I was calling about Cullen Dickey being the broker for the orphanage land. The phone went dead so long I thought the call had dropped.

I said, "Hello." She said, "Yes, I'm still here."

Then she said, "I am still very sorry that that project didn't get done and that the county did not continue to address the needs of children who age out of foster care."

I said, yeah, sure, but what about a member of the Dickey family being in the middle of this whole deal?

"I doubt there is anything illegal about that," she said, "but it just doesn't look good."

Me? All I know is, I'm never watching Annie again. Damn movie. Gets you all soft on orphans, when you need to be thinking about what's highest and best.

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