When W.W. Samuell left the city of Dallas thousands of acres of park land upon his death in 1937, he left very explicit instructions: "Real estate to the City of Dallas Park Board for park purposes - not to be sold." Yesterday we broke the news that the Park and Rec board will float a proposal at its board meeting Thursday that would violate the terms of the pediatrician and philanthropist's handwritten will. To which the Texas Attorney General's Office says: Oh, no, you don't.
This afternoon I asked the AG's office for its thoughts on a proposed referendum on November 2 during which Park and Rec would ask voters for their OK to sell Samuell Farm and Samuell New Hope Park, as well as two other pieces of park land. Not today. Not tomorrow. But some day. Maybe. The AG's office, of course, has a vested interest in the park land and the trust: Last year, after more than a year of negotiations with the City Attorney's Office, Greg Abbott's office told the city it needed to do a significantly better job of managing the Samuell Trust Fund and his properties. The donation, said the agreement, "did not simply give Samuell property to the City of Dallas for use as city officials see fit."
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In the statement below, provided to Unfair Park by Jerry Strickland, communications director in the office of the Attorney General, the AG reiterates that position and then some by threatening legal action should it pursue the proposal to sell the properties:
The Samuell Farm property neither belongs to the City of Dallas nor the Parks & Recreation Board -- it belongs to a charitable trust and the terms of that trust require that the property be used as a park for the benefit of the public. As a trustee, the Park & Recreation Board lacks the authority to sell the Samuell Farm -- much less for the Board's own benefit-- and will face legal action from the Texas Attorney General's Office if it attempts to unlawfully sell the land. These recent developments raise serious concerns about the Board's commitment to fulfilling their fiduciary duty to Dr. Samuell's charitable trust. If the Board continues to demonstrate they are unwilling or unable to properly fulfill their obligations as trustee, the Attorney General's Office will work to locate a viable trustee and will ask the court to replace the Park & Recreation Board with a trustee who is actually committed to honoring the terms of the Dr. Samuell's trust -- and fulfilling the trust's charitable mission: providing outdoor park land for Texas families.
Chris Bowers, First Assistant City Attorney, told Unfair Park yesterday that the city has indeed contacted the AG's office about the proposal. The AG's office responded with a missive you will find after the jump, in which Assistant Attorney General Marsha Acock says the city can only consider selling the property if it can't find another "entity" that can "carry out Dr. Samuell's intent." And even then, it will involve a modifying the terms of the trust in front of the court. A referendum, says the missive to Bowers and City Attorney Tom Perkins, is a "secondary requirement."