City's CFO Dave Cook Retires. Oh, Well. We'll Always Have the Convention Center Hotel.

Categories: News

WhiteRock_Cook.jpg
Sam Merten
Cook (pointing) leads a group of citizens attempting to find budget cuts at the White Rock Lake budget forum in June.
While the city's chief financial officer began his career 28 years ago as a computer programmer in the Dallas Water Utilities Department, somehow he didn't find his way onto the pages of Unfair Park until two years ago -- a short mention in a February 2008 piece about the convention center hotel. The story wrapped up the city council's votes approving a feasibility study to refinance the Dallas Convention Center and a cash option on a parking lot in front of the center, which would later become the site for the convention center hotel.

"Dallas will get its convention center hotel," I wrote. "The only question left is what it's gonna cost taxpayers. But don't worry about that. They'll figure it out later."

Of course, Dallas did get its hotel, and it did figure out the financing later. Instead of subsidizing the project to the tune of around $150 million as city officials had been considered at the time, the council wound up deciding to own the sucker instead.

So what does this have to do with the memo sent on Friday by City Manager Mary Suhm announcing the retirement of Dave Cook effective February 19? While Suhm applauds Cook, who was promoted to budget director in 1998 and CFO in 2001, for being a "fixture" in the city's budgets and finances, I'll remember him for providing clarity on a couple key issues regarding the hotel.

In April, I reported that despite Mayor Tom Leppert and others claiming the convention center would be hemorrhaging money to the tune of around $5 million annually without a hotel, a city-commissioned report claimed the center would actually make more money without an attached hotel.

After reading it, council member Angela Hunt contacted Cook, who not only said he hadn't heard of any scenario that would require a subsidy to the convention center, but he told her that previous subsidies authorized by the council would be reimbursed as a result of the center's refinancing. Hunt called out both Leppert and council member Ron Natinsky for lying.

Cook also admitted to two key deceptions by the city on the day the paperwork was signed for the bonds on the hotel: The city set up a local government corporation as a way around the city charter's prohibition against issuing revenue bonds as a debt of the city, and refinancing the convention center did not meet the city's own criteria regarding refinancing bonds.

We've got a call in to Cook for his post-retirement plans, but until then, his candor will be missed. Here's hoping that his replacement, Jeanne Chipperfield, who's being promoted from budget director, provides us with similar gems in the future.


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