City, Texas AG's Office Close to an Agreement Concerning W.W. Samuell Land, Trust Fund

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On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council is expected to get a look at a deal hashed out between the Dallas City Attorney's Office and the Texas Attorney General's Office's following the latter's yearlong look into how the city manages the W. W. Samuell Permanent Foundation, the Samuell Trust Fund and the properties willed to the city by the physician and philanthropist upon his death in 1937. So says First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers, who today tells Unfair Park that several Dallas city attorneys are going through a rough draft of the agreement at this very moment in advance of its expected presentation to council a week after it was first put on the agenda.

"We've been negotiating an agreement about how the city will handle certain aspects of managing the properties and the monies we receive from the bank," says Bowers -- the bank being Bank of America, which handles the trust fund.

As we mentioned last week, the AG's office began looking into the Samuell properties in March 2008, when Hugh Brooks, who ran Samuell Farm from 2004 till last October, alleged in a missive to Greg Abbott's office that the city hadn't lived up to its obligations to propertly care for and dispose of much of the 1,000 acres Samuell willed to the city more than seven decades ago. Bowers disputes that, saying that every sale of Samuell land was "done with the court's consent," including a recent sale of a city-run parking lot on 1208 Main Street. The AG's office will not comment, pending the presenting during the council's closed-door executive session Wednesday.

Samuell's will, penned on a prescription blank, was short and to the point: "Real estate to the City of Dallas Park Board for park purposes -- not to be sold. Balance to Park Board as permanent foundation. First National Bank, administrator." According to the city archivist:

After the will's probation [in 1940], $1,222,000 was awarded to the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, along with approximately 900 acres of developed and undeveloped property. Samuell's gift is 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. The W.W. Samuell Permanent Foundation generates funds for park maintenance, upkeep, and beautification. In later years the Park Board, with court consent, sold or leased some of the smaller properties to add to the Foundation's funds. Dallas parks bearing Samuell's name include Samuell-Grand, Samuell-Beaumont, Samuell-Garland, Samuell-New Hope, and Samuell Farm.
But as we've documented since 1999, there's been a lengthy dispute over the Samuell Farm; also, a decade ago, residents around Samuell-Grand were furious over the taking of some park land and turning it into a driving range. (And there's the question of how a $1.7 million trust in 1937 is only worth $7 million today -- something with which the AG does not take issue, says Bowers.)

Bowers says the 1940 judgment allowed for "flexibility" when it came to the handling of land -- which the AG's agreement will likely alter.

"Dr. Samuell hand wrote his will, and it's very succinct, pithy," he tells Unfair Park. "I can only surmise since the guy had a lot of money and property that he didn't want to deal with lawyers when he wrote his will, [because if he had] we'd have been spared a lot of the court proceedings we've had since them, including this one. This is the poster child for why someone who wants to do something out of the ordinary should consult a lawyer. I think he would be horrified if he knew the number of times the city and others have had to go to court over the years to adjudicate this."

Bowers can't go into many specifics of the agreement with the Attorney General's Office, because the council hasn't seen the document. That'll happen behind closed doors on Wednesday, after which one of two things will happen: The council approve the arrangement and have City Attorney Tom Perkins sign off on the document by no later than week's end, at which point it will become public record; or they'll send it back with further questions and concerns, drawing out the process till an accord can be reached.

"But as much as anything, it's going to make it easier for people to follow what the city's doing," says Bowers of the agreement. "I think that will be one of the main points: It will be easier for anyone who cares to follow the city's management activities concerning the trust and its funds."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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