Congresswoman Calls Out John Wiley Price for Shaking Down Development Deal

Local pols back off a master plan that would have put the squeeze on a major southern Dallas development

Congresswoman Johnson told me she didn't remember Price being present. Pettis Norman and his group were upset with Allen for having complained about them to Johnson. She did remember in general terms suggesting to Allen that an apology might help move things forward.

In fact Allen wound up signing a bizarre document in which he basically apologized for being a victim. "By this writing," the document states, "we apologize for the unfortunate use of the term, 'shakedown,' and the manner in which our comments have affected Mr. Pettis Norman, Mr. Willis Johnson and Mr. Jon Edmonds in the Dallas area."

But—and this is a key point—Allen still refused to hire SALT as his consultant.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is the good guy in a very bad story.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is the good guy in a very bad story.

Whatever calming of the waters Congresswoman Johnson had hoped to achieve with the meeting, the waters did not go flat. Price began opposing TAG on a series of key issues—a bridge, a special trade zone, water and zoning, and other issues. Price appeared at functions where city officials were touting the plan and tried to disrupt the proceedings by shouting "Equity, equity," from the wings.

Congresswoman Johnson was blunt with me about her view of Price's role. "If people want equity," she said, "they have to come up with some money. Most of the time folks don't care what color you are if you come up with money."

At one point Johnson says Price came to her in the company of State Senator Royce West, who represents District 23 in southern Dallas and the county. "Royce called and said it was very, very important that he talk with me," she said.

West confirmed to me that he had discussed the SALT group proposal with Johnson. He said he was not a member of SALT.

Johnson said she agreed to meet with West and Price. "They said to me, 'We're the toughest three people in this county.' That was John talking."

She said Price told her, "'If we stick together, we can get a lot of things done. These people [TAG] are not going to come in here and there not be some blacks making money. They really need to leave some money in this community.'"

I invited both West and Price to comment on Johnson's description of the meeting, but did not hear back from them.

Johnson said after TAG declined to hire SALT as its consultant, she witnessed a clear pattern of trouble visited upon TAG by Price. "What has happened since that time is that every time I hear something about it, it's John doing something."

She believes she knows why. "John was holding out until he could arrange for somebody to get some money."

The Dallas Morning News editorial page has pooh-poohed Richard Allen's concerns over the so-called master plan, painting him as seeing "enemies behind every tree" and asking what can be wrong with a study.

Johnson says she knows exactly what was wrong with the study: "This study that [Price] came up with sounded like a wonderful idea. But when I read about it, I said to my transportation assistant, 'Uh-oh. I know exactly what's taking place here.'

"He said, 'It sounds like a good idea.' I said, 'It is a good idea, but coming from John, I'm suspicious of it. I know he never stops until he gets his way.' As it turned out, that's the way it was."

She said she was pleased when the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted against supporting the master plan effort and against Price at its October 21 meeting, declining to take part in the study: "It was a great idea, but I knew there was something in the crank there if John was leading it."

One thing Richard Allen was willing to say to me on the record: He said he does not believe that any of the behavior he has encountered in this long, sordid saga crosses the line into illegality.

He's probably right. Uncomfortable? Yes. An atmosphere that invites investment in the city? No. But illegal?

I had a long chat with Dallas criminal attorney Tom Mills in which we pretended not to be talking about John Wiley Price or the inland port but only about a theoretical case. I wanted to know what the sequence of events amounts to legally—the visit from the consultants, the turn-down, the campaign of trouble from the public official.

"It sounds like that may come as close as it can come," he said. "But it may not be illegal."

People can propose anything they want, Mills pointed out. The person being propositioned can say no. An elected official may deem a project good or bad for his jurisdiction.

Johnson gave me her own bottom line. "Every time there's an opportunity to do some kind of development in the southern sector, people get discouraged because of all the mess they have to go through with two or three people, and they say they moved on."

She said she has viewed The Allen Group's project as singular and historic in the promise it brings southern Dallas. "What else could we put out there that would be more important?...Because nothing has happened out there the whole years I've been here. I'm ready to do whatever it takes to get it going."

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