City Hall

Vonciel Jones Hill and Carolyn Davis Star in Bizarre Council Fight Over City Collections

The issue at hand is a little wonky, but not too complicated. The Dallas City Council took bids for a contract to collect fines for the city's municipal courts. In the next fiscal year, the contract holder is expected to resolve more than 150,000 cases. MSB Government Services submitted the bid most favorable to the city by far, and was awarded the contract by an 8-7 vote Wednesday afternoon.

Right. Like it was that easy.

Since 2002, the law firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson has held the contract and submitted a bid for the new one, but it finished third under the city's scoring system this time. MSB had the highest-scoring bid, because it guarantees the city almost $21.9 million. Linebarger only guaranteed the city $300,000 -- not that they wouldn't have collected more for the city. That's just how much they were willing to guarantee in advance.

What MSB doesn't have is DeMetris Sampson as a former partner, or her firm's history of making generous political donations across Texas. Sampson is a longtime figure in southern Dallas politics and close associate of political consultant Kathy Nealy, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's co-defendant in a pending corruption case in federal court. We're not saying the Nealy/Price case is in any way related to the city bid. It's just fun to note all the links that crop up in local politics.

Anyway, the point is that MSB submitted the best bid by the city's own rules, the well wired Linebarger et al came in third and several members of the City Council wanted to reconsider the bidding process for some reason.

We may never know why Adam Medrano, Vonciel Jones Hill, Jerry Allen, Carolyn Davis, Tennell Atkins, Monica Alonzo or Dwaine Caraway voted to reopen the bids, but we do know that the show put on in the council chambers Wednesday -- specifically by Hill and Davis -- was entertaining.

Hill couched her arguments against MSB as a fight for fairness for minorities. MSB, the winning bidder, has a 79 percent minority workforce. Linebarger has a 74 percent minority workforce. Those numbers were unsatisfying to Hill. She did not care about the number of "secretaries and janitors" who were minorities, she wanted to know about executives and ownership.

"Can you tell me the name of your African-American owner," she asked MSB's representative.

He didn't know the makeup of the company's ownership group and admitted as much.

"Can you tell me the name of your Hispanic owner," she asked.

He gave the same answer.

"Can you tell me the name of your Asian-American owner," she asked, before the bewildered looking MSB rep again said he didn't know the full makeup of the ownership group.

The fact that he couldn't answer the questions, Hill said, was "like urinating on my head and telling me it's raining."

Davis' performance was less polished.

"I have no dog in this pony," she said in the midst of a series of questions seemingly intended to do nothing more than bog down the process.

Seemingly Davis had never encountered a contract during her eight years on the City Council. She seemed confused as to how the city could collect MSB's $21.9 million guarantee.

"It's almost like I'm being pimped," she said.

Yes. It was almost like that.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young