Dean Writes Own Deal, Deal?
Tomorrow at city council, Mayor Laura Miller will try to get one of the seven council members who voted to approve Trans-Texas Corridor lobbyist David Dean's $515,000 contract on October 11 to reconsider his or her vote. Tomorrow's the drop-dead date to alter or ditch Dean International's deal with the city, which is on its third contract and has made the former Texas secretary of state more than $1 million, including the 2006-2007 contract. In case you ain't been keeping up with the Dean ordeal, here's all you need to know. OK, more than you need to know. But not all you need to know.
Most folks are unaware of the fact that Dean, who has lobbying deals with the city of Irving and Town East Mall (for what, we're still trying to figure out) and others totaling well into the millions, wrote most of the contract the council approved two weeks ago. And in at least one instance, he got council member Bill Blaydes, who has traveled extensively on the city's dime to faraway places to promote the Trans-Texas Corridor, to sign off on a contract worth far more than the city staff thought Dean should get.
From all appearances, Blaydes loves to travel--and stay at such luxurious hotels as the Four Seasons in Mexico City and Las Hadas in Manzanillo, Mexico (the hotel made famous in the movie 10 with Bo Derek). And, according to the deal Dean has with the city, the lobbyist can pay for council members' meals and entertainment during such jaunts; he can also pay for their guests. And the city has to pay him back. No wonder Blaydes got upset on October 11, when the mayor called into question the use of Dean's expense money. She was saying "David Dean," but she meant "Bill Blaydes" (and "Ron Natinsky" and "Steve Salazar" and "Ed Oakley" and other council members who have traveled to pitch the project that began long before Dean or anyone else from the city ever got involved).
In short, the city gives Dean your tax dollars, and he turns around and spends them on council members who don't have to report those expenses. It's what Jim Schutze calls "an ethics reacharound."
Unfair Park has obtained Dean's original draft, as well as several subsequent versions and all of the city staff's comments concerning the language in the deal. For instance, Heather Lepeska in the Office of Economic Development wrote in a September 14 e-mail to Assistant City Attorney Lawrence Scalf that she thought Dean's original self-penned deal in which he wanted an annual fee of $390,000 "plus expenses incurred" totaling $125,000 was too much money. "We are likely not in agreement on the cost, given they requested $390k annual plus $125 (!) in expenses..."
So he didn't get that. He actually got more than has been reported till now.
In the first draft of the contract, titled "Agreement between DAVID DEAN of DEAN INTERNATIONAL, INC., and the CITY OF DALLAS Relating to the Provision of Transportation and Economic Development Consulting Services," Dean offered some insight into the scope of his work for the city. He promises to work with the city "in the most efficient and cost effective manner" as he promotes the "Dallas NAFTA Trade Corridor and River of Trade Corridor Coalition Project," which will "fulfill the City of Dallas' vision to develop an international inland port into a key driver in establishing Dallas and the North Texas region as the nation's premier logistics and distribution center." He says he will "asisst the Coalition by creating, developing and implementing a program of transportation enhancements and economic development within a specific region of Dallas County," which is the proposed trade corridor.
To do that, Dean writes, he will "coordinate with local, regional, state, national and international public and private entities to promote, garner support and continue to establish an informed support base" for the projects. That sounded fine to staff; that's the job of the lobbyist, after all, down to the letter. But the staff found vague and confusing some other language that followed--chiefly, on page three, his insistence that the city pay expenses for "Consultant and Client" while promoting the project. In the margins, someone has written the note: "What expenses would these be? This seems like it would be 100 % open ended and could make this contract balloon to a huge amount, without proper accountability."
Dean also wanted to review all agreements concerning ports and canals tied to the NAFTA corridor; city staff believes this is something the city should be doing, not the lobbyist. Indeed, there are many things in Dean's original contract that the city said it could and should handle on its own, including any and all dealings with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific and the state; Dean thought that should fall under his domain.
One of the most controversial points in Dean's original deal was the creation of the River of Trade Corridor Coalition itself. Dean wanted it to become a dues-paying membership entity, with Dean keeping all the dough. The city staff said no, the city should get some of that, since the city has funded ROTCC "for the past two years." The staff also wrote that while the ROTCC "objectives are OK...it isn't clear...that the City of Dallas directly benefits from all of them."
Then it gets to the money. Dean wanted his $390,000 to be paid in monthly installments of $32,500 "plus reimbursement of actual expenses incurred during the preceeding month, which such expenses should not cumulatively exceed $10,416.66 per month" without the city's prior written approval. But the contract does give the city a pretty good out: The city, through City Manager Mary Suhm, can give Dean 30-day notice to terminate the contract, and it wouldn't have to pay him for the entire deal, only the whole sum for the last month worked.
On September 29, Lepeksa got a second contract from Dean, and in a note to Scalf wrote that, "I think we are in agreement on the scope, but not on the numbers, and that is not expected to change prior to the council action."
From the looks of it, the numbers did come down some: $390,000 turned to $300,000, and the expense total dropped from $125,000 to $50,000. But there was a new addition: In the contract, Dean wrote that among his expenses, he could include "meals, travel, and related entertainment expenses for City of Dallas officials and/or employees and/or guests and international travel expenses for Consultant and Clients to locations other than Mexico and Canada," and that those expenses would bump up his expense cap an additional $50,000.
This is a section that particulartly infuriates the mayor, who's incensed that city officials are using taxpayers' dollars to pad their frequent-flier accounts, as council member and Dean advocate Bill Blaydes admitted to yesterday on KRLD-AM (1080) during a contentious joint appearance with the mayor. And the mayor wants to know why the city has to pay for "guests" who might go on international trips to, oh, China, where several council members--Blaydes, Salazar, Oakley and Ron Natinsky--spent thousands of your money during their summer vacations.
On October 9 came yet a third contract, this one with the original $390,000 and $125,000 figures reinstated--with $50,000 of that earmarked for something called the "Corridors of the Future" program, a U.S. Department of Transportation project you can read all about right here, if so interested. One thing to note: Proposals for the Corridors of the Future program were due yesterday, with applications being due by April 7. Nowhere on the government's Web site does it mention the need for $50,000, which doesn't mean that isn't right. Just can't find it. Anywhere. But the language about expenses for guests, well, that was taken out in the third draft.
Then comes October 10, the day before the council's vote.
At 9:41 a.m., Jean E. Sides, who works for Dean International and has traveled extensively with Dean, sent Lepeska and Patricia Alexander-Love, Blaydes' assistant, yet another version of the contract--which reinstated the language that allows Dean to exceed his $125,000 expense figure should he spend the money on city officials, staff or their guests.
"We understand Councilman Blaydes is supportive of maintaining this language in the contract as it goes to the full Council tomorrow," Sides wrote.
Eleven minutes later, Lepeska wrote to Scalf and Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the Office of Economic Development, that the new contract allows for "additional reimbursement, per Jean E.'s note below, and that Blaydes wants to keep that language. So I don't know if we need to take it up with Blaydes now?"
Scalf said it was fine, and that he had rewritten the sentence "so it can pass legal muster." Now, Dean would get $390,000, $125,000 in expenses--with not more than $50,000 of that going toward the "Corridors of the Future" competition. But should he spend more on "meals, travel, and related entertainment expenses for City of Dallas officials and/or employees and/or guests," Dean could get up to $75,000 if the council approves it.
But that's not how it wound up in the contract put before the council on October 11. Not at all.
The deal approved two weeks ago said that in addition to the $515,000 in annual fees and expenses, Dean also gets an additional $25,000 if necessary that only the city manager has to approve, then another $25,000 if the city council gives its blessing. So, in reality, the deal he signed with the city two weeks ago is closer to $565,000 than the oft-reported $515,000 figure.
This should come up at council some time in the afternoon. Not that it'll make any difference; it's doubtful the council members who voted for the deal two weeks ago will change their minds, not when there are trips to Mexico and China and AAdvantage miles to be had. Free trade, dig? --Robert Wilonsky