On Wednesday, the Dallas city council will meet behind closed doors to discuss a host of subjects -- among them, pending lawsuits involving the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' floodway report. On the briefing agenda, you will also find an item that has been making cameo appearances in front of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board since September:
Legal issues regarding the W. W. Samuell Permanent Foundation, Samuell Trust Fund, park properties devised under the will of Dr. W. W. Samuell, and related matters
As it happens, those "legal issues" involve the Texas Attorney General's Office, which, since March 2008, has been investigating the city's administration of the W.W. Samuell Permanent Foundation, which, according to city archives, "generates funds for park maintenance, upkeep, and beautification" of nearly 1,000 acres of park land the physician and philanthropist donated to the city upon his death in 1937, including Samuell-Grand, Samuell-Garland (or Hobby Park off McRee Road and Northwest Highway) and Samuell Farm.
(Update at 3:32 p.m.: Paul Dyer, director of the Dallas Park & Recreation Department, says the item was just deferred until next Wednesday's council meeting.)
There are several things at issue here. According to several sources, the AG's office is looking into how the city has lived up to its obligation to not only maintain the properties -- and the fight over Samuell Farm, which the city once considered turning into soccer fields for Mesquite, is something we've been writing about since 1999 --- but also create further parks out of land Samuell left to the city, which, says the Dallas Municipal Archives' inventory of files related to the trust, was "the largest single donation to the Park Department and was for many years one of the largest bequests ever made to the City of Dallas." Also, the AG is looking at what the city's done with money made off the sale of some of the land and how it maintains the trust fund consisting of blue-chip stocks worth nearly $1.7 million upon its donation in 1937 and now worth a guesstimated $7 million, according to city officials in a published report.
The AG's office will not comment on open investigations, but sources indicate a resolution will be reached sooner than later, more than likely with the city and Greg Abbott's office coming to some kind of an agreement that will not result in litigation.
Samuell left to the city about 35 properties worth close to $1.2 million total, some of which were to be sold, some of which were to be leased and some of which were to be turned into parks. But according to Hugh Brooks, who ran Samuell Farm from 2004 till last October, the city "sold properties it should not have sold, kept properties they were required to sell and failed to generate reasonable revenues from properties left for those purposes." He also tells Unfair Park that the city did not create the number of parks required by a 1940 judgement following the probate of the estate.
Brooks wrote a letter of complaint to the Texas Attorney General's Office in January 2008 in which he brought some of these issues to light. He sent a follow-up missive in February and has had limited contact with the AG's office since then. But he does not know the details of the investigation -- "none whatsoever," he tells Unfair Park.
Incidentally, Brooks and Samuell Farm just re-surfaced in Alexa's cover story two weeks ago -- in which city officials told Brooks Dallas had enough trees and didn't need to turn parts of Samuell Farm into "a reforestation tree farm."
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We've tried to reach City Attorney Tom Perkins for comment, but he's been unavailable. So too has Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, who returned Unfair Park's call late yesterday but is in a park board meeting all day Tuesday. In a November 14, 2008, front-page story in the Sunnyvale Gazette concerning the fight over the Samuell Farm and the stocks Samuell left to the city, Dyer acknowledged that, yes, there was some kind of AG investigation; he also insisted the city has put all monies made from the sale of Samuell land back into the maintance of other Samuell-donated properties, as stipulated by the courts more than six decades ago.
He also suggested that AG's office had wrapped up its inquiry and cleared the city:
"As a result of that investigation, the good news is that we've not handled the money inappropriately. In addition, it was proved that all monies earned off the parks goes back into spending on the parks."
Update: Dyer called Unfair Park at 2:59 p.m. Tuesday and said he's been told by city attorneys not to talk about the Attorney General's Office's investigation. "I am happy to talk about it when I get the OK to do so. But until the council has heard the attorneys, and they briefed the board today, I can't talk about it." He said he spoke to Sunnyvale paper only because that was "before we had conversations directly with the AG."