By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"These fellows had to drive around and take pictures of the track and take those pictures back to DART to show DART what they owned," Johnson told me.
DART's version was a little different. John Adler, a DART executive who was present at early meetings with Johnson wrote to me in an email: "He [Johnson] said that there was DART-owned track all over Dallas, and we said we would have to check it out first. If he would identify the track he is referring to, we would check it out."
Next, Johnson told me that DART instructed the group in how to present their idea as an unsolicited bid, even giving them a sample bid to use as a template. DART more or less agrees with that version. Then DART informed Johnson what kind of insurance or bonding the contractors would have to acquire. The contractors told me they found the proper insurance and paid for it.
And here they hit a bit of a snag. Johnson and the contractors told me they thought that this was pretty much a lock-cinch deal for them, once they met all the requirements, since they were the ones who brought the idea to DART and since DART didn't even know it owned the track in question until they told them.
DART told me that's not how it works. They say they told Johnson that they can't award a contract without going through a competitive bidding process unless the service or commodity being offered can only be obtained from the single source offering it. "We said that other parties have approached DART in the past proposing to remove track," Adler said. That meant the best they could do for Johnson's group was put out a request for proposals for a pilot section of track and wait to see who responded.
At that point, Johnson and the contractors began to come a bit unglued. Well, actually, they called me. Nobody calls me unless they're totally unglued.
The contractors, I am sure, saw a nice piece of business slipping away. But worse, all of them assumed the idea of using the salvage operation as a pilot program for ex-offenders would be lost forever in the bureaucratic maelstrom.
Did I say something about good news? Oh, yes, sorry. It is time for that, isn't it? Last week I was sort of at the point of bleak, weary, soul-shriveling despair in all this, otherwise known as Wednesday, when I called John Carter Danish, chairman of the DART board, and asked him if he had ever heard a word of any of it.
To my surprise, Danish said he knew about it and thought it was a great idea. He said DART had been busy with a lot of major fish to fry in the Legislature and with member cities and cities that have decided they want mass transit even though they are not member cities. He allowed that DART might have let this one slip between some cracks for a while.
"The concept is one DART likes," he said. "We have had a lot of stuff coming down the pike. We're wrestling with all kinds of issues. I think we're going to give them a positive response. We're probably not working as quickly as they would like, but we'd like to see this happen."
Just because I don't always trust what I think I'm hearing, I asked Danish again if he thought the plan presented by Johnson and the two contractors was a good one.
"We think it's a vision and a dream worth doing," he said.
I wanted to offer him a little secular amen, but I thought that might be over-familiar. When I told Johnson and the contractors what Danish had said to me, they were all overjoyed.
They know there's a still a fair amount of road to get down before anything happens. They'll be disappointed if the deal goes to some other bidder. But if the ex-offender element stays in it, they will all be deeply gratified no matter who gets the job, and so will I, and so should we all.
So that counts for good news, does it not? C'mon. It's not bad news. Yet. Best I can do.
Through the grapevine I heard this project recycles rail lines, renovates dilapidated property areas, provides educational training for those attempting to get "back-to-work", and engages minority contracts--at ZERO costs to DART through an UNsolicited bid. The project is named "Second Chance" so maybe DART gets second chance to get it right.If I were involved in the board of a publicly funded company, or a public citizen, and saw a potential project with benefits for departments ranging from public relations to environmental to community and minority affairs--at NO COST--I would suggest they jump on it. It certainly shouldn't take more than two years.DART and Second Chance can set a positive example... for a change.
This would be a wonderful begining for ex-cons. My neighbors told me I was crazy when I put together a group of ex-cons and parolees to replace my roof. All the guys had roofing experience, but no one would hire them. I bought the materials, picked the most experienced to oversee, and paid them each lunch and $10 per hour. I have had 4 roofs on my house and this is by far the best and prettiest one--and it cost the least even with my upgrade to high-end shingles. The guys were great workers and very courteous. Yet after they finished my job, only one of them was able to find additional work--and only because he had a relative who owned a roofing company. At the time my housing developement had lots of homes that needed roof work--but the management refused to even consider hiring these guys because of their status as felons. They ended up paying much more for shoddy work.
This is a great idea for everyone. DART don't let us down. This is an opportunity to really give to the community.