Park Board Reluctantly Signs Off On Privatized Fair Park

The packed house of a marathon park board meeting.EXPAND
The packed house of a marathon park board meeting.
Stephen Young

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings got what he wanted.

After an arduous Dallas park board meeting that lasted more than eight hours, the Rawlings-pushed plan to offload the management of Dallas Fair Park to a private foundation achieved an important step, moving on to what will surely be a city council squabble over the fate of the 277-acre exposition grounds.

On one side is Rawlings, Tiffinni Young whose seventh city council district includes Fair Park, and Walt Humann, the Dallas civic leader tapped by Rawlings to lead the privatization effort. On the other side are people who want to emphasize the park part of Fair Park Opponents to the mayor's plan pushed to get more details about what the hand-off to Humann would look like.

Rawlings called an emergency press conference Monday afternoon to say that the park board needed to sign off on the plan and that it needed to do it Thursday. By the time Thursday's 8:30 a.m. meeting started, the Dallas city council briefing room was completely full and spilling out into city hall's flag room. There were more TV cameras than have probably been at park board meeting in a decade.   

Among the speakers on the open mic were Kevin Felder, who lost to Young in a city council runoff election in 2015, Friends of Fair Park President Craig Holcomb and former Dallas City Council member Alan Walne.

Felder asked the park board to take more time before it voted. The full details of the Humann plan haven't been available, to the public or the park board, long enough, Felder argued, for appropriate vetting. Holcomb and Walne pushed for the vote to happen because, they said, they trusted Humann's leadership. The time to act on Fair Park, as it has been for the last couple of decades, was now, Holcomb and Walne argued.

When Humann took center stage after lunch, he was peppered with questions from members of the park board appointed by Dallas City council members who've opposed the plan. Paul Sims, appointed by Philip Kingston, offered several dozen amendments, most of which passed, only to vote against it anyway.

Sean Johnson, Young's appointee, accused Sims and others of fighting a proxy battle for their city hall counterparts, cryptically remarking that "eagles don't fight snakes on the ground."

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The most significant concession won by the plan's opponents was another drop in the fee the Humann led foundation would potentially be paid. That number has now been cut to $21 million a year after starting at more than $30 million when details of Humann's plan first became public.

The meeting's sole entertainment came from the inconsequential tirades of District 5 Park Board Representative Yolanda Williams. As my colleague Jim Schutze outlines in greater detail in his post this morning, Williams spent a large portion of the meeting in histrionics over people from outside South Dallas who she said were interfering with the process.

"I'm offended when outsiders come and and say you aren't including the community," she said in the midst of a tirade against Dallas' favorite anonymous internet gadfly, Wylie H., whom she repeatedly called Wylie Davis.


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