Let's Be Honest, Dallas's Minority Contracting Mess Didn't Come About by Accident

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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If you start reading the lead editorial today in The Dallas Morning News, you're going to think at first that the editorial writers have done a good job explaining what has gone wrong with minority subcontracting in Dallas -- a central theme in the ongoing FBI Dallas political corruption probe.

But you will be wrong. The editorial writers have not done a good job. They start out right. Then they fall off the cliff. In the end they do a bad job and a disservice.

The editorial deals with a company owned by a close personal and political associate of southern Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. It explains how the company, Wai-Wize, run by radio personality Willis Johnson, gets lucrative make-work subcontracts allowing general contractors to tick off the minority participation box on their bid proposals.

At the conclusion of the editorial, the newspaper takes its usual noblesse oblige posture by suggesting that the real failure here is of the power structure. The wise men and women of the city's northern hemisphere should have done a better job, the editorial suggests, preventing predictable mischief in the city's rascally southern latitudes:

"But we should not see the mess with Wai-Wize, which also holds contracts with Dallas County, DART, Parkland Memorial Hospital and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, as proof that promoting minority businesses is misguided. If it proves anything, it is that elected officials and regulators have done a poor job of holding all parties accountable and making certain the system operates on merit, not politics. That is where the work should begin."
No. No. Folks. That's not what happened. C'mon. It's not that the white power structure looked the other way and allowed Wai-Wize to get a lock on minority subcontracting at public entities in Dallas. The white power structure created Wai-Wize. It made it happen.

In a series of stories and columns in 2008, the Observer reported specific and detailed arrangements -- a political strategy -- by which former Mayor Tom Leppert elevated Willis Johnson and Wai-Wize to the status of Number One Gatekeeper for all minority subcontracting in Dallas. The arrangement even had a code name, revealed in emails that we published: "The Inner Circle."

One of the events we described was a kind of mini-convention for would-be minority contractors held at the headquarters of the regional transit agency, DART, on a Saturday morning. It was a meet-and-greet. There were hundreds of people there -- eager hopeful minority contractors looking for a way in, as well as representatives of most of DART's general contractors.

The event was run by Johnson. He was introduced by Leppert. Leppert, the mayor of Dallas, had no particular business even appearing at an event that had to do with DART, an agency of which he was not a part. Johnson was a radio host. Who elected him anything? Why wasn't DART running its own event?

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Photo by Patrick Michels
Tom Leppert and Willis Johnson, BFFs
The message was clear. Johnson was the man selected by the Leppert/Citizens Council/Downtown Rich White Guy leadership as the gatekeeper for all minority subcontracting. This arrangement received solid support from The Dallas Morning News in both editorial and news columns, especially in its coverage of the Inland Port controversy. Another powerful ally backing the deal was the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is supposed to supply us with rational planning.

Let's go back to the editorial. The News says " ... elected officials and regulators have done a poor job of holding all parties accountable ... "

Is that the problem? Hell no. The problem is that elected officials, regulators and newspaper editorial pages created this situation. They did it because it worked for them. If we're supposed to rely on the same kind of elected officials, regulators and newspaper editorial pages to clean up the situation, we are truly toast.

This was not and is not and will never be a southern Dallas deal. This is a cross-town deal. It's absurd to suggest that the traditional establishment in Dallas will clean up this mess. They made the mess.

I'm not excusing southern Dallas. It takes two to tango. People are responsible for their own behavior. But let's not excuse North Dallas, either. And let's sure as hell not look to North Dallas to clean anything up.

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42 comments
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rogerclegg
rogerclegg

Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract?  It's good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex.  But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either--whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing.  Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: http://www.pacificlegal.org/pa... ).  Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

W W
W W

Regarding Ray's comment..

"I want to see Brett Shipp try to approach Ross Jr. and ask some questions. That would be awesome! "

_________________________________________________

Mr. Perot is not an elected official. Unlike Mr. Price.One would expect Perot to hid safely under the rock.. 

alfredo
alfredo

If any criminal charges come out of the Inland Port deal hopefully Perot will be included

pencil
pencil like.author.displayName 1 Like

JWP and WJ are nothing more than cardboard negro's, pocketing chump change while their white daddies walk away with the jackpot.

guy smiley
guy smiley

Couldn't be more correct about the relative scale of theivery here.

As an aside, I think negroes would be plural here, not possesive here.

Catbird
Catbird

If you smile at me you know I will understandCause that is something everybody everywhere doesIn the same languageI can see by your coat my friend that you're from the other sideThere's just one thing I got to knowCan you tell me please who won that silly warYou must try some of my purple berriesI been eating them for six or seven weeks nowHaven't got sick onceProbably keep us both aliveWooden ships on the water very free and easyEasy you know the way it's supposed to beSilver people on the shoreline leave us beVery free and easy

lindi33
lindi33

Catbird, why are you quoting lyrics from a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song here? I don't get the relevance. Please explain.

pencil
pencil

Is that you, Al Sharpton?

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

If memory serves me, which it may not given the effect of my gin & tonic, dehydration, and some of my meds, pre-mayor Laura Miller did an expose for the DO on sham minority contractors working on the Cotton Bowl rehab about twenty years ago.

It was the white guys pulling the strings then too.

The number one person responsible for not paying attention and permitting this to fester is The Dallas Morning News.

El Rey
El Rey

"rational planning". That makes me chuckle, Jim.

There are 24 regional Councils of Governments (COGs) in Texas. All too often, a COG gets thrown into this because they throw out money to fund projects or events. I'm not saying there are totally clean hands at NCTCOG, but I've never seen Willis Johnson picking up checks in Arlington. The money is almost always funneled through the 'COG, with no real control over who it goes to, only because that is how state and federal law dictates the money flow. It is government money laundering, if anything. Of course, the 'COGs get their cut 'to handle grant administration'. Look at the earmarks and the legislation and you will see who is really throwing money to their cronies.

Beck
Beck

Baby steps.  The DMN needs to learn to walk before it can run.  Give them some time to learn how to be journalists.  Patience.

itsteeeerible
itsteeeerible

funny how they try to find the middle on everything in the eds. wasn't one of their past board members, who past on to the other side, hired beacuse he was a minority. he railed against the rich who didn't pay their "fairshare" and now we found out he was a non-paying tax scammer. typical left leaning paper disguising itself as a "moderate" paper. they continue to circle they wagons. some of us have long memories. kudos to laura white. she scared to power structure ala chicago..

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner like.author.displayName 1 Like

The DMN is as liberal as the Dallas money establishment who, to my knowledge, have no interest in distributing wealth to anyone but themselves.

Jay
Jay

Is it Dallas' "money establishment's" responsibility to distribute wealth to others?  I would settle for investments which create local jobs, so others could earn their own wealth.

Guest
Guest

It just goes to show that any system designed to eliminate the good ol' boy network just manages to create more good ol' boys.

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

Minority Contracting has very lofty, well-intentioned, goals to create opportunities for minority owned businesses. It is unfortunate that some people feel the need to corrupt such a program for the benefit of just a few. Very sad. The minority contracting community should be outraged at these scams.

Joe L
Joe L

This is illuminating.  A few years ago, a friend of mine who is a CPA asked me to help a client (I'm a business consultant) prepare to bid for contracts set aside for minority business. As I researched, I came upon a widely held opinion that such contracts were essentially (corruptly) rigged to favor a small group of cronies. No one else stands a chance, even though they are the more legitimate businesses and minorities. Most of the contractors were not really even in the businesses, they were just a minority front, apparently like Johnson and some other John Wiley Price cronies.

This is kind of consistent with what I was told.

It is unfortunate that our only daily newspaper assists this corruption

Brian
Brian

Any time a government contract process places weight on something other than the things related to the performance of the contract, it is corruptible. Anything that is easily corruptible can be assumed to already be corrupted. Most likely someone wrote the laws to allow for the corruption. Replacing the politicians without changing the laws will only create new criminals to replace our former politicians.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

And so of course, you and your friend blew the whistle on this corruption, right? See, when people know uit is going on, that is one thing--we all kinda knew. But when you see the machinery of it all, damn man, turn them in.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Diane -- turn them into who?  And use what for evidence?  This problem is the rules were written by the good northern people in conjunction with the chosen good southern people to allow them to do this. I actually discussed this with my dear-friend-who-shall remain-unnamed, who told me "how exactly does that help my business in Dallas if I go after the business people who supposedly want me to succeed?"  To which I had no good answer.  

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Seriously, corruption is jusitfied to maintain business with ---wait for it--CORRUPT PEOPLE?Guys, it is quite easy. Mr Allen did it with the Inland Port, the thing that started all this. He stood up and said to the FBI, who is charged with investigating crimes involving public officials and/or interstate commerce, and here we are. Anytime you hide assets from taxation, lie about income, create fake businesses to get around set-asides, you are a crook. If you see it go on around you and say nothing, then you are as lousy and crooked as they are.

And yes, I have taken that step. I did see a criminal act involving gov't funds and I did call the FBI. Long story short, I was just an observer who came across is accidentally, but it meshed with TWO other people WHO ALSO called them, and the person went to jail for stealing---STEALING your tax dollars. You're welcome. I can sleep at night.

replay
replay

I'm thinkin' the Feds might be interested in hearing about some of this kinda stuff........

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Yep.  Unfortunately, your experience mirrors that of my friends.  Tragic if you ask me.  We should be putting all of these "no bid" contracts out for published bid, open to any who have the experience and qualifications.  That's called growing businesses.  You would think the powers that be would be supportative.  But not so much here.

Perry Moore
Perry Moore

Let's take that bony finger and point it at the mastermind of this entire scheme. Rich white guys in Dallas, Texas did not wake up one fine morning and, from heartfelt pangs of magnaminity, decide to give cooperative black folks a piece of the pie. Federal mandates attached to federal dollars created a new occupation--minority contractor. I recall another lucrative, albeit short lived, occupation foisted upon us by federal strong-arming. Remember the "asbestos inspector" craze?

Ray
Ray

I want to see Brett Shipp try to approach Ross Jr. and ask some questions. That would be awesome! Wonder if Dechard would let him do it.

Observerfromnear
Observerfromnear

It is my belief that Dechard is involved in different aspects, with "politics, as usual". 

Dub
Dub

JS - Please explain how NCTCOG "backed this deal"?

JimS
JimS

Richard Allen, developer of the Inland Port, declined to pay Willis Johnson et.al. $1.5 million and give them 15 percent equity in his famliy-owned business. JWP went on the warpath against Allen, holdinhg up funding for key infrastructure icldiung the Wintergreen Bridge and demanding that NCTCOG money be withheld from Allen-related projects until Allen submitted to a re-planning of his project, which had been fully planned for five years. MichaelMorris, transportation director of NCTCOG, joined inthe hectoring of Allen, demanding that he provide a list of all of his employees broken down by gender and race, a requirement outside any NCTCOG mandate and utterly odds with minority contracting requiremenst at all other local units of government. Morris and the Morning News  backed the phoney planning requirement, used to hold up infrastructure investment in Southern Dallas while billions were flowing to help Alliance Airport in Fort Worth.   

Confused
Confused

Here's the part that confuses me:  If the Perots are paying JWP to quash the Inland Port, what's with the 15% equity?  What if Allen had paid it?  Would JWP have allowed the deal to go forward in spite of what the Perots wanted from him?

Brian
Brian

At best, JWP was dangling the government planning agency's equivalent of crack in front of the Council of Govts. Dallas County wanted to block all development until a massive area plan was conducted for some 30,000 acres with NCTCOG in charge. You had a prime piece of real estate with money waiting to be spent, and they were going to get to decide how and where everything would go. How could they turn that down?

replay
replay

Classic Pay to Play............Classic Dallas.

TrueTV
TrueTV

Schutze - You are actually making the Dallas Morning News report on this stuff now. Way to go!!!!!!!

I thought they had a policy of not reporting on corruption they are involved in, which is why they never report of political corruption on Dallas? 

Observist
Observist

Quotas elevate iniquity more than they alleviate inequity. 

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

You would be referring to the Dallas Country Club's 100% white Christians only tax exempt quota?

rke
rke

The "white power structure" did not create Wai-Wize.  Part of it did with the collusion of the usual suspects.  I  get the whole angry 60's white liberal thing, but there is more to it.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

So you're saying the Perots  and Tom Leppert aren't white?

JimS
JimS

I do not get the angry 60s white liberal thing. What do you mean?

replay
replay

Absolutely right on the money! Why give the minority contracting work to deserving, legitimate minority contractors when you can give the work (and the money) to one of your "friends"?

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Spot on.  I have several friends who have tried to crack this nut for years, thinking that their HUB certification and qualifications put them in the mix.  The problem is that there's never been a level playing field in this county.  And the DMN continues to shoot itself in the ass by suggesting the reason it isn't a level playing field is because the good white people of northern Dallas should have paid more attention.  All the good white people who own the companies who have to find those minority participation subs are told by other good white politicians who they are to call.  Nobody else need apply.

Joe L
Joe L

What you describe is similar to an experience I had.  Please see the comment I posted.

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