Willis Johnson's Latest Piece of the Action

Evans_Willis_Johnson_Merten.jpg
Sam Merten
We're trying to imagine how the conversation between Willis Johnson (right) and Ryan Evans (left) went as Johnson, one of the mayor's close advisers, lobbied Evans on behalf of his wife's company.
Thanks to Mayor Tom Leppert's push for a lobbyist registration ordinance, we're now privy to the lobbying efforts of City Hall insiders like the mayor's top South Dallas consultant, Willis Johnson. And with quarterly reports due by the end of today, we figured it was a good time to see what Johnson's been up to.

When reports were first filed in April, we found out that in addition to the dough he's banked working for Leppert-related campaigns and his lucrative contracts at Dallas Area Rapid Transit, he also spoke with Leppert and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway on behalf of H.J. Russell, an Atlanta based development and construction company, in a successful effort to land contracts for construction work on the convention center hotel, Parkland Hospital and D/FW Airport.

The big news, however, was Johnson's lobbying of Caraway for Concessions International, a subsidiary of H.J. Russell. Sure, Johnson listed D/FW as the airport the company was targeting and both he and a representative at Concessions International denied the company's interest in bidding for the contracts at Dallas Love Field Airport, but Leppert's crusade to open up the bidding for the concessions at Love was seen by some folks, including current food and beverage concessionaire Gilbert Aranza, as an attempt by the mayor to let his buddy's client sneak in the back door. And Caraway didn't do Johnson any favors when he claimed that the meeting never took place, screaming "bullcorn" while doing so.

It's also worth noting that Johnson spent time lobbying Caraway, council member Ron Natinsky and First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans on behalf of Alpha Business Images, which is owned by Johnson's wife, Sophia Dowl. ABI has designed websites for Leppert, the convention center hotel, the North Texas Tollway Authority, the Dallas Housing Authority and state Senator Royce West. Additionally, it has performed consulting and advertising work for D/FW Airport and the Dallas Independent School District, including the district's 2008 bond program.

Update: While perusing Johnson's Web site, we discovered that his company has also done work for D/FW Airport, the NTTA and the Dallas Housing Authority. Not to mention Dallas County, the city of Dallas and Turner Construction -- where Leppert worked as chief executive officer before becoming mayor.

Clearly, Johnson-Dowl are well connected, which is why we shouldn't have been surprised to find out that Johnson's recent filings reveal that he's lobbying for Texas Petition Strategies, which handled the petition drive for the wet-dry referendum. It was back to the well again for Johnson, who spoke with council member Tennell Atkins and, you guessed it, Caraway, who told us the two had discussed the wet-dry issue instead of concessions at D/FW.

Johnson also has been hired by Motorola and continues to lobby for Affiliated Computer Services, where he's targeting Mark Duebner and Ade Williams, who's the city's director of business development and procurement services. We're thinking he'll have better luck with those two than he did with Caraway on the whole wet-dry issue, since, well, it couldn't go any worse.

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