City Hall

Blewett Says ‘Parks Are Parks’ but Quietly Calls for Another Vote

When the Reverchon giveaway was before the City Council in early December, David Blewett was against it.
When the Reverchon giveaway was before the City Council in early December, David Blewett was against it.
OK, I hate to keep shooting this horse, but all of you people who wanted East Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston and council member/mayoral candidate Scott Griggs out of City Hall because they weren’t civil enough, here’s how civility works:

David Blewett, who beat Kingston in District 14, is Mr. Civil. He campaigned on it. It’s his big thing. Being civil. But, surprise, surprise (which means not a surprise), being civil does not seem to mean being honest. You know the mathematical symbol that is the “equals” sign with a slash through it, meaning “does not equal”? Well, apparently the equation at City Hall now is: “civil” (equals-sign-with-slash) “honest.”

Blewett has been going all over East Dallas throughout the holiday season bragging about what a tough vote he had to cast on Reverchon Park. In early December the council split on a vote to give away Reverchon to a for-profit sports entity. The tie vote killed the deal.

No giveaway. Reverchon remained a public park. Blewett was one of the half of the council that voted to keep it a park.

But later, when he bragged about how he had to man up and vote his conscience, Blewett forgot to mention something important: Two days after the council voted to save Reverchon, Blewett filed paperwork for a revote.

They can do that. A council member can call for a revote. Blewett told me he did it because he wanted to renegotiate specific terms of the deal.

Let’s not get stuck on the fact that the city's charter would put negotiation of the deal in the hands first of the city’s Park and Recreation Department and then in the hands of the city manager. That’s how it’s supposed to work. According to the charter, City Council members are not supposed to get involved in the nuts and bolts.

But in reality, let’s be grown-ups. Nothing works according to the charter. In real life and the way of the world, the charter is toilet paper. Council members stick their noses into the nuts and bolts all the time.

“That’s my biggest thing on this. I do believe parks are parks, and accessibility for regular people is pretty important.” — David Blewett

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If a council member can gain leverage on a deal and use it to negotiate an outcome he or she wants, they do it. Apparently that’s what Blewett has been up to. That wasn’t what I wanted to ask him about. I just wanted to know why he kept the memo a secret.

Negotiations can be secret. City Council revotes cannot. The memo should have been made public when the city secretary received it on Dec. 13, the day Blewett signed it.

Two days after the Dallas City Council turned down a deal to turn over Reverchon Park to a for-profit sports entity, Blewett, who had voted to turn it down, filed a memo for a revote.

Blewett told me the people seeking the sports deal at Reverchon required that he file for a revote: “I was told that they wouldn’t negotiate unless I had actually agreed that it would be able to come back.”

He said he has been negotiating with them: “I do have 10 deal points with them right now. I have not gotten them buttoned up. I have two or three others that are out there that are sticking points. What I wanted was an opportunity to tighten up some of the deal points, so this gave me the opportunity to do that.”

"Maybe I was too crafty." — David Blewett

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He indicated he doesn’t know yet how he may vote when the revote happens Jan. 8: “I don’t how what’s going to happen.”

He also said others on the council would have called for a revote if he had not. “This thing was coming back, with me or without, I’ll tell you that right now.”

I asked him why he didn’t tell people at the time that he was calling for a revote. He said, “I kind of hinted around a little bit by saying that I think there’s a deal in there.

“I don’t have a great answer, only that I didn’t feel comfortable negotiating through social media. I didn’t feel like telling anybody these are the things I want and why.”

I said I wasn’t talking about the negotiations. I asked if he would not have taken public heat for calling for a revote and if he ducked that heat by not telling anybody.

“I have to think about that,” he said. “It wasn’t anything nefarious. Maybe I was too crafty. I know that Philip (Kingston) and other people used the media to try to create a narrative, and I’m not sure I like that. I kind of negotiate my own way.”

So what does any of this have to do with civility? Everything, if civility is a term used as cover for secrecy and looting the till, and the Reverchon deal is all about looting the till.

A public park is worth a lot more than its land value, but in simple land value alone Reverchon Park is worth between $187 and $221 million, according to comparable values around it. In recent years the area around Reverchon just north of downtown has become a high-rise residential gold coast.

The proposed giveaway would turn over 6.28 acres at the center of the park, at a value between $20 and $30 million, to a for-profit professional sports company. Their plans call for ripping down the existing stadium and building a new one for semipro teams in multiple sports. They say they’re sports people, and they know what they’re doing.

So let me ask you something. If this for-profit sports company is so hot, if it has such a smart idea, if it knows what it’s doing and it’s way ahead of the game, then why doesn’t it do what most people in the private sector have to do and go get its own land? Why doesn’t it buy or rent $25 million worth of land near downtown in the center of a bunch of freeways and public transit?

And don’t tell me Jerry Jones gets his land for free. I don’t know why that happens, either. And even if he does, please don’t tell me that means any and every huckster with a big grin and a sports-related business plan should also get free land from the city because … sports.

If their business plan counts on pulling political strings and getting a $25 million free-gift subsidy at the get-go, how solid a plan is that? I could do that one. Jim Schutze’s Business Plan for Jim Schutze Inc.: Step One: Get $25 million gift from city. Step Two: Who cares?

The same day Blewett filed his motion to change his vote, he was on Facebook bragging about what a good vote it had been. He makes no mention of his memo to change his vote.
One of the very worst aspects of this deal from the beginning has been a cynical attempt to fuzz it all up and make it look like a charity by associating it with plans for a park for disabled children, also at Reverchon. At this point, it’s not clear there even is such a plan, but even if a solid plan does exist, it has nothing to do with the fancy sports venue.

The disabled kids thing is being proposed by a faith-based organization with no organizational tie to the sports thing. If anything, the faith-basers should be ashamed of themselves for allowing their cause, which I hope is a good one, to be cynically exploited in this way.

The professional sports proposal has not one thing to do with disabled kids. The proposal is to shut down the heart and center of a public park that has served urban children and families for 105 years, fence it, gate it, chop down the trees, build a for-profit sports palace and, if it’s anything like the rest of professional sports, probably charge nine bucks a beer and $100 minimum for a ticket to get in.

When the council considered this thing on Dec. 11, Blewett went into a big harps and violins serenade about the park being inaccessible to neighborhood kids. And he was right. The sports hucksters may make all kinds of promises about the kids from the neighborhood being able to get in at certain times under certain circumstances, but that will all be up to them and at their discretion and convenience. And what are the chances?

Right now the public owns it. It’s up to the public’s discretion who can get in and who can’t. In his questioning of city parks officials, Blewett unearthed the fact that Reverchon, even as a park, hasn’t provided great access in the past.

But Blewett said at the time — and, again, he was right — that the way to remedy that problem is to keep it a park: “That’s my biggest thing on this,” he said just before the vote. “I do believe parks are parks, and accessibility for regular people is pretty important.”

Much of the sales pitch for giving away Reverchon has had to do with the lame maintenance of the park in recent years. Blewett’s appointee to the park board, Amanda Shulz, has complained in park board meetings that she thinks parts of Reverchon are scabby-looking, so why not give it away?

Guess what, lady. You’re on the park board. If our parks look scabby, that’s on you. You’re supposed to fix the damn parks, not give them away because you don’t like how they look.

Dallas was thrilled three years ago when its parks gained accreditation from the National Recreation and Park Association. But a pattern of giving away park land to commercial uses could call that accreditation in question. After all, what is the hardest and most important thing the stewards of park land must accomplish over time? Keep it.

There will always be pressure to surrender park land to private uses, especially as the city builds strength as Dallas has been in recent decades. As land value goes up, more people covet it. Selling is an understandable temptation.

But just giving away park land is incomprehensibly irresponsible. Is it even possible that the people who serve on our park board and City Council really don’t know the difference between a public park and a private business?

Blewett sounded like he did, when this was up for a vote. Everything he said sounded suitable and, well, you know. So damned civil. But apparently civil just means secret, and secret, when dealing with major public assets, does not equal honest.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze