This isn't our first item about Park and Rec's proposal to sell Samuell Farm and Samuell New Hope Park, and it won't be the last. I'm waiting to hear from the Texas Attorney General's Office how it feels about Thursday's agenda item, given that it was but 14 months ago the state told the city that Dr. W.W. Samuell didn't donate all that land and money in '37 "for use as city officials see fit," no sir.
I did, though, talk to Park and Rec director Paul Dyer this morning, and he reiterated something assistant director Willis Winters told me yesterday: This didn't begin as a proposal to sell voters on selling the Samuell properties, but is and always has been about parting with Elgin B. Robertson.
"This is not an initiative to solve the budget crisis," Dyer says. "This will do nothing to solve the budget crisis. We're looking at Elgin B. Robertson as a potential to create funds to purchase much-needed land within the incorporated limits of the city of Dallas where we have less density in terms of park land. Even if we put this on the ballot in November, that won't happen for four, five, six years -- till the market's much better."
Which does nothing to calm Hugh Brooks, the Dallas attorney who for years ran Samuell Farm under the auspices of the Friends of the Farm and who's had it with the city's management of the Samuell Trust and the Samuell properties.
We've been writing about Brooks for years -- like back in '03, when he offered to take over the farm at no cost consideration to the city and was told no thanks, since back then Mesquite was offering to take over the farm and plant soccer fields. Said then-Park and Rec assistant director Carolyn Bray, "There is a huge, huge, huge soccer need throughout the city, and it will also allow for the city of Dallas to utilize those fields as well." (Bray's now the department director for Equipment and Building Services.)
Seven years later, even Dyer acknowledges that's the last thing the city of Dallas wants. But Mesquite can't afford to manage the property; neither can Sunnyvale, which is managing Samuell Farm North by pretty much leaving the thing alone.
Brooks says it's pretty simple: The city can't sell the Samuell properties. It's that simple. Says so right there in Samuell's handwritten will. And the fact the city's even considering selling it -- to do what? -- is nothing short of a breach of trust and a conflict of interest, as far as Brooks is concerned.
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"You have to ask: Does the Dallas Park board meet its fiduciary obligations as a trustee of the Samuell trust, and the answer is no," Brooks says. "It can't. There is an unresolvable conflict of interest. You can't represent the trust and represent the city's interests. If the city needs money, how can you use trust property to reduce the burden of park management on other parks? When the budget comes up and says, 'You have $100 million to spend -- we'll give Samuell parks zero and Dallas parks $100 million,' how do you sit on both sides of that table and argue on behalf of the trust when you represent the city?"
Brooks isn't about to let this slide -- even if the board opts not to move forward with the proposal on Thursday and decides instead to put only Robertson and a small piece of Joey Georgusis Park on a November referendum. He thinks it's time -- past time -- for the park board to step aside and have installed in its stead "independent trustees who are solely and exclusively responsible for preservation of assets and trust, as per Dr. Samuell's wishes."
Again, we'll have to see what the AG's office thinks of that. Till then, Brooks warns the city: "You can't make parks by getting rid of parks."
By the way, Winters was wrong about one thing: Someone is locking and unlocking the gates out at Samuell Farm. It's closed today. Mondays too.