Back in September, we said the race to replace District 13 council member Mitchell Rasansky (who's leaving because of term limits) was all but over as Ann Margolin announced a jaw-dropping list of endorsements to go along with her experience on the Dallas City Planning and Zoning Commission, Parkland Hospital Board and Dallas Park and Recreation Board. At the time, her lone opponent was aerospace consultant Raj Narayanan (who has since left the race and endorsed Margolin), but then taxman Brint Ryan hired Allyn & Company as his consultant and started a campaign of his own.
While he lacks the support and experience of Margolin, he's got plenty of personal dough to get his name and face out there (including full-page ads in The Dallas Morning News), and Ryan is relying on his 17 years as CEO of one of the North America's largest tax advisory firms to convince voters that he's the better choice. He also says he'll overcome Margolin's endorsements through hard work.
"Every weekend I'm out walking door to door," Ryan says.
Ryan, 45, earned his master's degree in accounting from the University of North Texas in 1988 and spent three years with Coopers & Lybrand before founding Ryan, a tax services firm headquartered in Dallas. Coopers & Lybrand later merged with Price Waterhouse in 1998 to form PricewaterhouseCoopers.
One of Ryan's key campaign issues is the city's potential $100 million budget deficit. He says he has spent the last 20 years helping companies around the world make their operations more efficient, wring out excess costs and reduce their taxes. Ryan stresses that although $100 million is a large number, it represents less than 3.5 percent of the city's budget, and it's merely a question of doing more with less and getting better, faster and cheaper.
"We should be able to reduce our budget by 3.5 percent without inflicting any tremendous pain in one area of service or any one group," he tells Unfair Park. "It's not a big stretch in our world to have $100 million in savings for a major company, and let's face it: Dallas is almost a $3 billion business."
As for exactly what he plans on cutting or changing to fix the budget, Ryan won't offer specifics, only noting that he met with City Manager Mary Suhm a few weeks ago and spoke with her about utilizing technology to be more efficient. "Nobody has a monopoly on ideas, but the benefit I think I bring to the table is I have seen so many different situations and so many different ways that governments work," he says.
Ryan must balance his dedication to slimming the budget with another campaign issue: hiring more police officers and supporting pay increases and benefits. He says it's a matter of prioritization, stressing that crime prevention is a critical part of the budget.
"My experience tells me when we have an organization as big as Dallas is, we can find the money by being more efficient, by spending money wisely, by maybe looking at things that we did years ago that are not as effective as we thought they would be and reallocating those dollars to things that are more important," Ryan says.
Ryan also wants to implement a permanent tax freeze on homeowners age 65 and older, and he says ethics reform is needed at City Hall. He cites "people being investigated by various law enforcement agencies" and money spent that "is not directly benefiting taxpayers and the citizens of Dallas" as his concerns.
"I want to make sure that we all understand what the rules of the game are and how the citizens of Dallas expect us to behave when we're representing them," he says.
The convention center hotel project is a tough issue, Ryan says, because he sees himself as a smart economic development professional that wants to grow the commercial tax base, and he believes the hotel is necessary to compete in the convention market. However, he doesn't support the current proposal because the city will own the hotel.
"It is not the role of government to compete in the private sector. I would have structured it differently, and, unfortunately, it does not look like I will get to weigh in on that issue," he says. "If private developers are not willing to risk capital in this endeavor, I don't think we should ask the taxpayers to."
Ryan isn't well-versed on the specific deal points, conceding "those are good arguments" when presented with arguments from the pro-hotel side. "But at the end of the day, we've got the government owning a hotel competing with the private sector, and I can't agree with that," he says. "Government should do the things it's charged with and good at and nothing else."
He also admits to having limited knowledge about the Trinity River Corridor Project, which he describes as having "huge potential" and "transformative enough to do everything we can to move it forward." Yet he views the toll road as an obstacle in the park project.
"We don't need to put ourselves in a position where we've backed a white elephant," Ryan says.
A resident of District 13 since 2005, Ryan previously lived in District 12 from 1994-2005 after spending time in Irving and Big Spring. He moved his family into a "temporary" $3.2 million residence one street down from Rasansky while his 20,000 square foot mansion was under construction. Construction on his new home, which is valued at $9.9 million and features 12 fireplaces, has gone on longer than Ryan anticipated. "My wife is very, very particular," he says.
Margolin is plenty well-off herself, as her home is on the tax rolls for $1.8 million, but Ryan's wealth has been the main contributor to his campaign. The most recent campaign finance reports show a measly $985 in contributions for Ryan along with a $50,000 personal loan, while Margolin snagged more than $130,000 from 277 donors and only needed a $5,000 loan.
Ryan's campaign materials were recently exposed as violating Texas Election Code, and he chalks it up to being on a high-speed learning curve. "Obviously I'm disappointed we made the mistake," he says. "I'm sure before this election is over I'll make a few more."
While his job keeps him out of town at least once or twice a week, Ryan says that will change if he's elected. He claims that his role has lessened over the past five years, and his 56 partners see this as an opportunity for less micromanaging. If he is able to knock off Margolin, a plan is in place for three people on his executive committee to take on a larger role with the firm.
"I'm looking forward to adjusting my schedule so I will be able to spend more time here and more time focused on the issues that I think are very important to Dallas," he says.
So what does Ryan think about potentially overseeing the district where President George W. Bush now calls home?
"I've thought about calling him for pointers," Ryan says, noting he's met the former president and wife Laura a number of times. "If the welcome signs are any indication, I think he's getting a pretty warm welcome."