Who's in Charge at City Hall (Get It?)
Just got off the phone with Allen Gwinn, who's doing God's work (or at least ours) by digging deep into the city's wallet with his just-posted credit-card database. He says he's awfully busy fielding phone calls from reporters who want to know more about the $3.6-plus million he discovered being spent by 260 city employees on at least a few items that don't seem entirely relevant to city business.
"Everybody on the planet wants to interview me today," says Gwinn, who, at this very moment, is on his way to City Hall to visit with City Manager Mary Suhm about precisely why city employees are charging thousands in taxpayers' dough at such places at the Bahama Beach Waterpark and Petsmart.
"She hasn't called me back," Gwinn says. "I don't know if it's gonna be a nice, hanky-filled chat if she's going to go get her baseball bat. I would sort of hope it would nice and pleasant." Thus far, Gwinn hasn't gotten any reaction from city officials concerning his discovery. Unfair Park this morning placed a call to Mayor Laura Miller; she hasn't returned our message yet, but surely she will, right? Right.
Gwinn says he got interested in how much the city was charging after uncovering the fact DISD workers had charged $19,921,229.76 over a 13-month period ending December 2004. But it took him forever to get the information. First, he filed an open-records request for all the charges made by the city on its "procurement cards"; he was told there was no such data. Then, a city council member told him, Ya know, maybe you want to change that to "credit cards." Still, Gwinn says it took him more than a year to get the information -- and that he got it only after he threatened to send his request to the Texas Attorney General.
"When people try to find out what's happening with their tax money, if you uncover enough, now you're looking at a cover-up," Gwinn says. "If DISD had dealt with its procurement card issue when I called attention to it and hadn't tried to hide it, it wouldn't have been a huge sensational story. If they had published it online instead of having me people like me questioning things, employees would have been fired and it would have gone away. Now they're looking at a federal investigation, and it stems from public agencies not being open with the public.
"The city tried to play games with this. It's been the better part of the year getting this information. When they finally acknowledged there were records responsive to my request, it still took 60 days to get them. First they said there was only one employee who knew how to get the information and that the employee had taken ill. Then employees' supervisor got ill. I had to threaten to send it to the AG before they really responded."
Gwinn says since he put the database online over the weekend, he's gotten 6,000 searches -- most, most likely, from every reporter in town trying to find something as juicy as the waterpark or pet store info. "There are probably other things equally as eyebrow-raising in there," Gwinn says. "I think the whole world's going to be looking at this today. There's more interest in the city database so far than in the DISD database. Seems to be, anyway."
And he's not done. Says Gwinn with a small laugh: "There's more stuff a-comin'." Like what, man? More city stuff?
"City- and county-related," he says. "You'll love it."
Sure, we will. Dunno how Mary Suhm or, for that matter, County Judge Margaret Keliher are going to feel about it. --Robert Wilonsky