Sour Town

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"He screamed at me and said I didn't have the authority to have this information," she says.

After the City Council allowed the agency to partner with private developer Southwest Housing, which is at the center of the FBI investigation into alleged bribery at Dallas City Hall, Dunn wanted to learn more about GHFC. Although it's regularly involved in million-dollar transactions, the agency was a bit of a mystery to Dunn. So she asked for the minutes of their meetings.

But when she called one of the top officers at the GHFC, he refused to provide what are clearly public records. Her answering machine recorded their conversation. On the tape, Ed Jackson, who has served as both the president and vice president of the housing authority, deferred to the mayor's wishes. "You're putting me in a bind, Terri," he said uneasily.

Dunn asked how in the world could she, as an elected official, be denied something as routine as the minutes of a public body. "I've been told by the mayor not to do that," Jackson replied.

Jackson belatedly provided Dunn with the minutes after the city attorney told him to.

Mayor Day did not return repeated requests for comment, but his caginess on the housing authority and its dealings with Southwest Housing only add to the controversy surrounding the company. In December 2004, a divided council--surprise!--approved a zoning change for Southwest Housing that would allow it to build an $13.8 million development for senior citizens called the Primrose at Crist. Holden and Dunn voted against the development, in part because they believed they were being rushed to approve something they knew little about. In addition, many of the nearby residents opposed the design of the development, and the debate had become rancorous.

After the council finally approved Southwest's plan, resident Lee Lutz, who had pushed for the company to decrease the density of its project, went up to congratulate Jack Potashnik, the father of Southwest CEO Brian Potashnik. (The FBI has been investigating Brian Potashnik and his company for more than a year.) By Lutz's account, neither Brian nor Jack Potashnik received her graciously.

"They attacked my character and threatened to bury me," Lutz says. "I think one of them called me a bitch." She would later mount a losing campaign against Dunning, who supported the project.

Even after the council gave its tentative approval, Southwest Housing was staring down a funding deadline from the state to complete financing on its property. Garland's top planning official sent a letter to Wachovia Bank saying the company had not yet satisfied the city's demands. But an employee at Southwest Housing changed the letter to indicate that the company was fully compliant. This forged document ensured that Southwest would not lose the investment it had already made in the project.

Dunn says that the Housing Authority knew about the forged letter but didn't tell the council about it for months. She says that when she asked about the letter at a council work session, the city's chief of police came into the meeting and told her not to discuss it because the matter was under investigation. Nearly a year after the forged letter was exposed to the council, no one knows who doctored it and if that person was fired. A former employee of Southwest who claimed she was terminated for outing the fabricated document has filed a wrongful termination suit against the company. The circumstances of the forged letter remain under investigation.

Like many other issues, the debate over Southwest Housing has fractured the council. The once-dominant bloc voted against the original zoning change the company needed to break ground, but this time they were on the losing side. They suffered another defeat in June 2005 when they attempted to scuttle Southwest's project after it surfaced as a target in Dallas' FBI investigation. Between the forged letter and the shady allegations that have followed the company throughout Texas--not to mention the mayor's wishes to keep the housing authority's minutes under wraps--Holden has a rather ominous prediction: "It wouldn't surprise me at all if some indictments came down here in Garland. This deal does not pass the smell test."

During this past election season, the Web site SuzyBlitz.com chronicled--or perhaps more aptly, instigated--the rancor surrounding the council races. Were this the blog of just another gadfly, her diatribes wouldn't exactly merit attention. The local candidates, however, seem to be obsessed with the writings and positions expressed on the site, which seems to be a cross between A Prairie Home Companion and the Al-Jazeera of Garland. Suzy Blitz, the "nom de plume" of former Garland City Council member Jean McNeal, popularized the term "Gang of Five" and ridiculed them with relish, if not bad taste. Of Harry Hickey, who is a part of that dominant wing and is the council's only African-American member, she made a joke about him being "Jesse Jackson's butler." She referred to Terri Dunn as "uneducated" and accused her of violating the 100-foot boundary when campaigning at a local polling office. "She will be kept under camera surveillance until Election Day," McNeal mysteriously warned on her Web site.
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Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle