City Hall

In Trinity Golf Club Lawsuit, Dallas City Hall Admits That Its Promises Mean Nothing

When it's finished later this year, the Trinity Forest Golf Club will be, per Avid Golfer magazine, "pretty freaking awesome." It will be expansive and undulating, with carpet-like greens and fairways accented by native grasses, all just a short hop from Downtown Dallas.

In the meantime, the private Company of Trinity Forest Golfers, which will run the course, and the city of Dallas, which owns the former landfill the course is built on, are tying up a few loose ends. It has to build the clubhouse. Its team of turf managers have to make sure the grass is just so:  And then there's the matter of the pesky $1 million lawsuit brought by the contractor hired to haul the ungodly amount of dirt that went into making those delightful undulations.

The lawsuit, filed by DCI Contracting last October, claims the city failed to pay for about $1 million worth of work. The city naturally disagrees, countering that it has paid DCI in full.

Many of the details of the dispute, such as whether the city should have to pay for the six days DCI's equipment was forced to sit idle while an archaeologist examined the gigantic pit it had just dug for Native American artifacts, are arcane and dull. But the city's big-picture argument is a delightful glimpse at City Hall's dark, duplicitous soul.

The city has been in a rush to build the Trinity Forest Golf Club since it was announced in late 2012. Businessmen have paid six figures for course memberships. Mayor Mike Rawlings has staked a good chunk of his reputation on it. Plus, the arrival of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament looms.

And so environmentally delicate ponds are drained, large swaths of trees are indiscriminately chopped down, pristine wildlife habitat is threatened, all with scarcely a pause.

For DCI, in addition to being blamed for the drained pond, this meant that it was being pushed to complete work quickly, even if the work exceeded the original $2.3 million contract with the city. According to the company's legal filings, Than Nguyen, the engineer with the city's Trinity Watershed Management department who was in charge of the project, "made multiple oral and written representations that if DCI performed extra work, either necessitated by site conditions or at his direction, Dallas would pay DCI for the work." DCI says it has emails to this effect, though they haven't been filed as part of the court case court.

To which the city responds — and we paraphrase here — And you believed him? LOL!
Getting paid for extra work would have required a formal amendment to the original contract. That would have required either the written authorization of Trinity Watershed Management director Sarah Standifer (less than $50,000) or the approval of the Dallas City Council.

"[U]nder the terms of the contract, City charter, and state law, no City employee was authorized to increase the contract amount," the city wrote in a brief filed this week. "Further the amount of the contract increase claimed by DCI would violate state law because it was not funded and because of its size."

Nguyen, who fell out of favor following the pond-draining incident and now works for the city of Lancaster, according to his LinkedIn profile, had no authority to increase DCI's payment. If DCI completed work based on promises to the contrary, that's on DCI.

There are good reasons for these regulations. It's prudent to have checks in place that prevent cash from being shoveled indiscriminately to favored contractors, particularly given that the cash being shoveled belongs to taxpayers. And stipulating that the facts are still being hashed out and that DCI, whose attorney did not respond to a request for comment, may very well have documents that show a more official promise by the city, it certainly seems that a construction firm that handles government contracts should know enough about the contracting process to demand formal approval before commencing work that goes beyond the terms of the original contract.

Still, You're a sucker for believing us, is a doozy of a legal argument and something to keep in mind the next time you're doing business with the city.
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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson