If Brenda Reyes doesn't get elected to the Dallas City Council in May, perhaps it will be the electoral equivalent of three strikes and you're out.
Formal filing for the spring council elections hadn't even opened by the end of last week, and the 36-year-old businesswoman already found her campaign beset by triple tempests.
First, Reyes has yet to explain whether she moved into council District 2 in time to meet legal residency requirements for the election. As the Dallas Observer reported last week, the apartment Reyes now claims as her home address was still under construction when the November 3 deadline passed. City election officials have given Reyes 30 days to clarify questions about where she lived on that all-important date, and to show that she can legally run for the seat being vacated by outgoing councilman Chris Luna.
Second, council members learned last week that Reyes' computer company was poised to receive a $1.2 million contract from the city, raising questions about whether a potential councilmember should pursue a taxpayer-funded contract. The council decided to postpone a vote on the contract.
Finally, the Observer has learned, Reyes' campaign treasurer has been forced to give up her seat on a city board after it was pointed out to her that she was violating city ethics codes. Carmen Garcia is not allowed to serve as a campaign treasurer while sitting on the Reinvestment Zone 4 Board, city officials say.
All in all, it is not an auspicious start for a budding political career.
Potentially most damaging is the question of whether Reyes' company should receive a city contract.
Charles Paige is decidedly against the idea, although not entirely for reasons of political purity.
At 8:50 a.m. last Wednesday, Paige was scrambling to meet the 9 a.m. deadline to register as a speaker for the city council's regular weekly meeting.
At the time, Paige was extremely worried. Just a day earlier, he had learned that the council was going to decide whether to give Reyes and her company--Innovative Computer Group, Inc.--a five-year contract to overhaul the way the city manages its building inspection and construction records.
Paige is the president of CompuSite, Inc. Like Reyes, he has spent 11 months trying to convince city officials that his company should get the contract. On the eve of last week's council meeting, Paige was stunned to learn that the contract had mysteriously landed on the council's agenda--as addendum item number 7.
Paige was also surprised to learn that Reyes is planning to run for city council in the May 3 election. Because city council members cannot obtain city contracts, Paige wanted to make sure the news of Reyes' candidacy didn't surprise anyone on the council.
If Reyes gets the contract and then gets elected to the council, Paige asked the council, who is going to complete the five-year contract?
As it turned out, Paige wasn't the only one who was surprised that Reyes was bidding for a city contract and running for the city council.
When addendum item number 7 came up for discussion shortly before noon, Paige asked the council to delay its vote on the contract for two weeks--a move that would give council members time to compare the Reyes proposal with his. He also pointed out that the project had significant implications, given Reyes' political aspirations.
The prospect that a council candidate might be awarded a contract startled some council members more than others.
Councilman Al Lipscomb, no stranger to the ethical problems created when elected officials cast about for private business deals, wondered if Paige's information was correct. Mayor Ron Kirk, taking time out from his Kindness Week activities, felt the need to respond.
"Mr. Lipscomb, I have no idea whatsoever, and I don't know if that's grounds to approve or not approve this contract," said Kirk, who sounded agitated by the query.
Lipscomb persisted. "Who is this person?" he asked, referring to Reyes.
The question caused Kirk to sputter and, apparently, embrace the philosophy that ignorance really is bliss.
"I don't want to put us in the position of knowing," Kirk said hastily. "We don't know."
Kirk didn't clarify who the "we" is that he referred to, but one person surely knew who Brenda Reyes is--incumbent councilman Chris Luna, who has boasted that he "groomed" Reyes to succeed him on the council. Luna appointed Reyes to the Cultural Affairs Commission, and several of Luna's closest allies are shifting their support to Reyes' campaign.
What is important, Luna told his colleagues at the council meeting, was not who Brenda Reyes is, but who the staff thinks should get the contract.
City Economic Development Director Mike Marcotte assured the council that Reyes was the staff's choice. Although Paige had filed an official protest against the staff's December recommendation to award the contract to Reyes, Marcotte assured the clueless council that Paige's protest was deemed to be "without merit."
"Based upon that, Mayor, I move approval," Luna piped in, calling for a vote that would have cut off further discussion of Reyes, her company, and her candidacy.
But council member Max Wells wanted to know more. Although he usually has little sympathy for business owners who complain about losing city contracts, Wells told the council he was feeling uncomfortable.
"I can't imagine anyone getting ready to run for council who's down here bidding on contracts," said Wells, who made a motion to delay the vote on the contract until May 14--eleven days after the election.
Other council members soon added their own questions to the debate. They wanted to know what would happen if Reyes got the contract and then got elected. They also wanted to know what the differences were between the Reyes and Paige proposals.
City Attorney Sam Lindsay said Reyes can either give up the council seat or give up the contract. Unfortunately, Reyes could not inform the council of her intentions, because she was not at the meeting. Reyes, who did not reply to the Observer's request for an interview, later claimed that there would be no conflict of interest if she won both the contract and the election.
"The contract would be only six or seven weeks long. I have no conflict of interest at this point, because my end of it would have been done well before the election," Reyes told The Dallas Morning News.
The issue, however, is not nearly as clear-cut as Reyes made it sound.
The briefing report on the project clearly states that the installation phase of the contract--which Reyes' company would perform--is scheduled to be completed by June 30, 1997, at the earliest. That deadline, however, assumed the installation project would start on February 1, 1997.
After the new computer system is installed, the contract also includes a five-year period during which Reyes' company would oversee the maintenance of the project, known as an electronic document management system. Although the details of the bids are not subject to public review until the contract is awarded, it is probable that Reyes would hire and oversee a subcontractor, who would carry out the five-year maintenance program.
As part of her bid, Reyes was asking the council to approve $393,857 for the installation and no more than $800,000 for the maintenance, bringing the total cost of the project to at least $1.19 million.
Paige wouldn't discuss the details of his bid, but he said his offer would save the city time and about $118,000.
"The only thing I was asking is they reconsider not awarding that contract," Paige says. "I'm asking her [Reyes] to take a good look as to whether she wants to do business with the city council or be on the city council."
After city officials informed Paige in December that they were recommending Reyes for the contract, Paige filed an official protest. On February 5--two days before the contract landed on the council agenda, Paige says he was told that his protest was "without merit." Paige asked the city to provide him with information about appealing the decision, but says he never heard from them again.
"I had worked with staff for the first 11 months and really jumped through a lot of hoops to get that contract," Paige said after the council meeting. "I found out yesterday that this item had been put on the agenda."
During Wednesday's debate, Marcotte claimed that the Reyes bid was "head and shoulders" above Paige's bid, but some council members didn't buy his explanation and requested more information before they vote.
For now, the details of the bids remain confidential, but other information indicates that Paige and CompuSite, Inc. have an impressive track record in gaining public and private contracts.
Since 1990, CompuSite, Inc. has won at least seven contracts from the city and was a subcontractor on several others. The projects the company has worked on include computer installation and maintenance for the city's 911 system, the police and fire departments, Dallas County courts, and the Dallas County Auto Theft Task Force.
As part of his bid, Paige said the subcontractor that would oversee the five-year maintenance of the EDMS system is Altris, which is recognized as a leader in image-processing technology and document management. Altris clients include Honeywell, IBM, Du Pont, Southwestern Bell, Hughes Aircraft, the city of Los Angeles, the London Underground, and the United Nations, to name a few.
Reyes, who has never landed a city contract in Dallas, declined to provide information about her company's past accomplishments.
Mike Marcotte, who oversaw the bidding, did not return the Observer's phone calls seeking comment on how the contract wound up on the council agenda.
Councilwoman Donna Blumer says that if Paige hadn't asked the council to delay its vote, she is certain that Reyes would have gotten the contract without any questions being raised about her political aspirations.
"I don't know the circumstances behind the decision to put this on the agenda. It was definitely staff," says Blumer, who complains that the project was too important to be sent to the council as a last-minute addendum.
"We rely on staff to bring forward the best bids. I probably would have voted to approve," says Blumer, who describes the item's appearance on the agenda as "interesting."
"In listening to [Paige], we decided that we really needed to take another look," adds Blumer, who predicts that the incident will "be the impetus for some serious policy discussion."
Blumer may wind up talking to herself.
Of the six council members who didn't want to wait until after the election to vote on the contract, Kirk and Luna were at the top of the list. But it was council member Don Hicks that probably summed things up the best.
"I'm not for postponing government business for political aspirations. Hell, we don't make much money. They know that," Hicks said. "Nothing is secret. It's kind of like being half pregnant. You either are or you aren't."
While the contract question has been set aside for the time being, another wrinkle appeared in Reyes' campaign last week.
When Reyes named Carmen Garcia as her treasurer on December 20, 1996, Reyes resigned from the Cultural Affairs Commission, a seat to which Luna appointed her. Reyes had to resign because city ethics codes bar council candidates--and their treasurers--from serving on any city boards or commissions. But Garcia, whom Luna appointed to the Reinvestment Zone 4 (Cedars Area) board, did not resign.
Dallas Election Manager Jeff Watson says he called Garcia in early January to see if she was the same Carmen Garcia who serves on the Reinvestment Zone 4 board. "She said she didn't recognize the board," Watson recalls.
On Friday, Watson called Garcia again just to make sure she wasn't the same person as the Carmen Garcia sitting on the board. In response, Garcia told Watson that she is the Carmen Garcia on the reinvestment board after all.
Watson says he then informed Garcia that she can't serve on the board and be Reyes' treasurer at the same time. Garcia says she resigned her board position in a letter she sent to Kirk on Monday. When Watson first contacted her last month, Garcia says, she misunderstood his question.
"I didn't know that was against the code of ethics," Garcia said Tuesday. "But it's all taken care of now, so there's no problem.
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