Hey. Want to know where you can find a billion dollars?
Dallas Area Rapid Transit has been saying they are suddenly a billion dollars short of what it will cost them to meet their rail-building obligations, and they’re blaming it on inflation.
I report in my column in this week's paper version of Unfair Park that the money has actually been siphoning out of DART’s budget for years, although I wasn’t sure when I wrote the column exactly why. But since I wrote that column, I have been picking up a stronger scent.
For some reason, DART has elected to marry itself to one main contractor for its ongoing rail-building, instead of keeping the bidding competitive by spreading it around.
Couple weeks ago I made a Public Information Act demand for a bunch of fairly plain-Jane DART documents: DART’s budget for rail construction, its 20-year financial plan, things like that, along with all of its contracts and change orders with Archer Western, its mega-contractor.
These are the kinds of things I could just get shipped over to me from the PR office if I were dealing with a normal agency. DART, I have to make a legal demand for them, because they tell me that’s the only way they will provide them. So I make the demand, as per their instructions.
So, guess what? DART has written to the Texas Attorney General, telling him that Archer Western, a private company, doesn’t want them to release their own budget, a public document. So apparently DART is asking Greg Abbott's office for an exception to the requirements of the Public Information Act, based on a request from a private party.
I can’t tell exactly what they are asking the attorney general, however, because the copy of their letter to him, which they were required by law to provide to me, is almost totally redacted.
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Please let me cut to the bottom line here. DART’s lawyers know they have to give me this stuff. This is a ludicrous stall. In fact, it’s so ludicrous that it means they are in a panic.
Why? I can tell you what I suspect. I suspect that the missing billion dollars is somewhere in those contracts and change-orders that they don’t want me to see.
Look, these people misplaced a billion dollars. Because of that, the whole rail build-out to the suburbs and through downtown is screwed up as a junk pile. And now, in response to my Public Information Act demand, they’re acting like a bunch of bookies burning their betting slips while the gendarmes kick in the door.
I have two words for all of it: OUTSIDE AUDIT! Please allow me to repeat those two words. OUTSIDE AUDIT! Ring the bell, buzz the alarm, flash the lights, honk the horn: OUTSIDE AUDIT!!! --Jim Schutze