Texas AG Tells Dallas It Can No Longer Use Samuell Land "As City Officials See Fit"

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Entire farm.jpg
Courtesy Friends of the Farm
An aerial view of the Samuell Farm, donated to the city nearly 70 years ago
As we've mentioned a couple of times over the last week, the Texas Attorney General's Office has been taking a long, hard look at how the city of Dallas runs the W. W. Samuell Permanent Foundation and the Samuell Trust Fund, as well as how the city maintains and dispenses of properties the philanthropist and physician left to the city upon his death in 1937. On Wednesday, during a closed-door executive session, the city council got a peek at an agreement the City Attorney's Office hashed out with the Texas Attorney General's Office and OK'd the deal. Which is why the AG's office just sent us its official statement concerning terms of the deal, which "imposes management practice modifications, increased transparency, and greater accountability on the Park Board and its staff."

The agreement, which says that the Park Board's management and oversight of the Samuell trust needs "to be improved," also prevents the city or the Park and Recreation Department from "selling Samuell Park property without notice to the Attorney General and approval by the Court." Says the statement, which you can read in full after the jump, the agreement "specifically provides that Dr. Samuell's will created a charitable trust -- and did not simply give Samuell property to the City of Dallas for use as city officials see fit."

The city must also provide the Attorney General's Office by May 1 a report "detailing current operations at Samuell Park properties and future plans for the Samuell Farm," which has been a point of contention for at least the last decade.
Statement by the Office of the Attorney General    
    
The Office of the Attorney General and the City of Dallas today executed an agreement that will ensure the city fully complies with court orders governing the disposition of Dr. W. W. Samuell's charitable estate.     
    
Despite Dr. Samuell's considerable financial assets, he wrote his will by hand on the back of a prescription form.  Because only two sentences were used to dispose of a multi-million dollar estate, multiple courts have had to interpret the meaning of Dr. Samuell's will since it was probated in 1940.   
    
As construed and applied by Dallas County State District Courts, Dr. Samuell left multiple real estate properties to the City of Dallas for the benefit and use of its Park Board as park land.  The Park Board serves as trustee of a charitable trust that holds title to the Samuell properties.  Also pursuant to court orders, Dr. Samuell's cash, stock, bonds, and other assets formed the corpus of a separate charitable trust that uses its proceeds to create, maintain, and improve Samuell Park properties.     
    
Today's agreement specifically provides that Dr. Samuell's will created a charitable trust -- and did not simply give Samuell property to the City of Dallas for use as city officials see fit.     
    
Initially, the City questioned whether the Samuell properties were held in a charitable trust -- and instead contended that it held title, in fee simple, to Dr. Samuell's charitable gift. The agreement reached today protects Dr. Samuell's charitable purpose by acknowledging that his
property is owned by a charitable trust and will remain park land that is open and available to Dallas families for generations to come.
 
Importantly, today's agreement prevents the City or the Park Board from selling Samuell Park property without notice to the Attorney General and approval by the Court.     
    
Because the Attorney General is charged with protecting the public's stake in charitable resources, this office's Charitable Trusts Section reviewed the Park Board's management practices to ensure they complied with the court orders governing Samuell assets. The State's review indicated that the Park Board's management and oversight needed to be improved.  
 
As a result, today's agreement imposes management practice modifications, increased transparency, and greater accountability on the Park Board and its staff.     
    
By May 1, 2009, the Park Board must prepare a report detailing its recent actions involving the Samuell Farm property. That report must include the status of improvements to the Samuell Farm that the City Auditor recommended in a 1999 audit. The Park Board must also establish
a standard quarterly accounting statement that is used to account for Samuell properties, as well as assets used and administered by the Samuell Trust. Under the agreement, the Park Board must also review written reports detailing current operations at Samuell Park properties
and future plans for the Samuell Farm. Copies of those reports must be provided to the Office of the Attorney General.   
    
The Office of the Attorney General will continue to work with the City
of Dallas and Park Board officials to ensure full compliance with this
agreement and the court orders that govern the disposition of Dr.
Samuell's gifts to the city.   

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