Welcome to Day Three of our continuing coverage of Park and Rec's proposal to sell, among others, Samuell Farm and Samuell New Hope Park, which will be taken up by the park board at its meeting tomorrow morning at City Hall. (Which Andrea's covering, thank God.) So far we've spoken with First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers, Park and Rec assistant director Willis Winters, and Park and Rec director Paul Dyer and Friends of the Farm's Hugh Brooks; and we've received official comment from the Texas Attorney's Office, which has told the city in no uncertain terms to not even think about selling what ain't theirs, so there.
After we broke the news Monday morning, The News followed up with a story in this morning's paper, in which Dyer goes after Brooks, who spent the better part of the last decade trying to save the farm by "building hiking trails, refurbishing historic buildings and generally tidying up," as former Observer-er Alexa Schirtzinger wrote last year. Brooks also envisioned using the southern part of the farm's 340 acres as a city reforestation farm in 2007, at which point then-Park and Rec assistant director Carolyn McKnight-Bray told Brooks via e-mail, "We have more than enough trees. We have so many trees we do not need a tree farm to support the Park system." That's when the city began reasserting its control over Samuell Farm, despite the fact Brooks's nonprofit was willing to cover expenses the city didn't -- and still doesn't -- have.
Dyer tells The News' Steve Thompson that when Brooks and his Friends of the Farm took over the property in the early 2000s, "We were very optimistic that he might be able to go out and raise some private funding and do some great things, but he wasn't successful. We weren't through with the relationship; we just said as a friends group, you have to have a written contract; we can't allow you to be on the farm operating machinery and using city property without a contract, and they wouldn't sign." Brooks today forwards his response to that point and several others. It's lengthy, and it's on the other side.
Mr. Dyer stated: "When Mr. Brooks took over the property, we were very optimistic that he might be able to go out and raise some private funding and do some great things, but he wasn't successful."
The Facts: Our contractual agreement with the City never contained a requirement that we raise private funding. Ask Dyer for a copy of the MowMentum agreement and read it yourself. Nevertheless, our group successfully raised over $200,000 in private funds. The funds went directly into the park. They were used to purchase fuel for mowers and tractors, supplies, trees, equipment for the produce gardens, fence repairs, a $25,000 roof for Dr. Samuell's house, and other improvements to the farm. The largest expenses included over $100,000 from private donations for a John Deer tractor, mower, pick-up, tilt trailer for tree planting and produce gardens, utility trailers and a Kubota mower. In fact, all of the considerable private support we received enabled us to perform the functions that the City refuses to do today, at no cost to the taxpayers of Dallas. I am attaching pictures of some of the equipment we purchased with private funds to maintain the park on behalf of the citizens of Dallas.
Mr. Dyer's response to our demonstrated success in raising private funds was to insert a provision in the last contract that would require his personal approval for any grant before we could submit it. Mr. Dyer was fully informed of our success in obtaining funding from the Hillcrest Foundation, the Harold Simmons Foundation, the Stemmons Foundation, and many others. Rather than encouraging our success, Mr. Dyer attempted to require his approval as a prerequisite for future grant applications. Had we agreed to this provision, our organization would have been at the financial mercy of Mr. Dyer who had repeatedly demonstrated his frustration with the success we enjoyed at the farm.
Mr. Dyer stated: "We weren't through with the relationship; we just said as a friends group, you have to have a written contract; we can't allow you to be on the farm operating machinery and using city property without a contract, and they wouldn't sign."
The Facts: Friends of the Farm had already been advised that under no circumstances would we be allowed to operate equipment owned by the City. As the MowMentum agreement required us to mow the 340 acre park, we believed that this was Dyer's attempt to make it impossible to fulfill our contractual obligations. Instead, we purchased the necessary equipment at our expense. The new John Deere tractor and other equipment was purchased just prior to our leaving the farm. You might ask Mr. Dyer for a copy of the letter advising us that we could no longer use city equipment or, alternatively, a copy of the agreement we refused to sign. That agreement contains the provision requiring Dyer's approval for new grants but makes no mention of the city providing equipment for our use.
Finally, let's set the record straight regarding the city's position on parks outside the City limits. First, the Samuell properties were outside the City limits in 1940 when the city signed off on the judgment. Second, the location of the property has nothing to do with the obligation to maintain it. In fact, the 1940 Judgment specifically states that no funds can be used on other Dallas parks unless and until the Mesquite properties are developed into parks. The New Hope tract the City is attempting to sell is one of those tracts and has NEVER been developed as a park. Finally, Mr. Dyer and your readers might find it interesting to note that the Park Board sold Samuell property in 1963 and used the funds to buy land for parks outside the City limits of Dallas. That tract, known as California Crossing, is an oft flooded tract of land who visitors generally seek the secluded area for illegal activities. The "park" is still outside the City limits.
The transaction can be found in the archives of The Dallas Morning News in an article dated October 29, 1963 entitled, "Council OK's Purchase Of 186 Acres for Park."