City Manager Mary Suhm Will Tell Council She Did Nothing Wrong in Deal to Drill Parkland

Categories: City Hall

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Sam Merten
"In short: Bite me."
Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm will tell the city council on Wednesday that she had every authority to lease a 22-acre parcel of parkland to Trinity East, the gas-drilling company that wants frack the Trinity River floodplain, despite that land not appearing in original lease approved by city council. She'll say the same thing about a side deal she quietly cut with Trinity East to help it secure the permits it needs to drill in parkland.

"The City Attorney's office has affirmed her authority" to make both deals, Suhm writes in a letter to council. The memo is part of a lengthy briefing, on display below, that Suhm will present on Wednesday at the behest of Mayor Mike Rawlings after the lease and the side deal came under scrutiny in recent weeks.

The lease with Trinity East netted the city $19 million, but the city plan commission and city council have both appeared reluctant to allow Trinity East follow through on its plans to drill. The briefing documents, which were uploaded to the city's web site tonight, are long and tedious, with a consistent theme echoed throughout by Suhm: I did nothing wrong.

On the matter of the magically appearing parkland: Suhm claims the land, 22 acres near Luna Vista Golf Course in North Dallas, wasn't included in the original lease because it had only recently become city property, and the property records weren't updated when the lease went before council. When it did become clear it was city property, she says, Trinity East asked for it to be included.

Suhm points out that city staff discussed it before the council in 2008, noting that it would be the only parkland where they would consider surface drilling. A transcript is included in the briefing below, and the city provided this audio excerpt from the meeting:

The transcript actually seems to indicate that the council should have signed a separate lease, with separate fees, for what's vaguely referred to as "this parcel that had the radio towers." But I suspect that will be debated at length on Wednesday.

On the matter of the side deal: Suhm maintains she was offering the same help she would any company looking to do business with the city. Specifically, she says, city staff offers this help when the city council "has determined a project is in the city's best interest."

In this case, both council and city staff had been clear that the project Suhm quietly pledged to support -- drilling in parkland -- was very much not in the city's best interest. But again: I suspect someone will bring that up Wednesday. Maybe a few people, and probably loudly.

We'll bring the popcorn.

Trinity Gas Lease Briefing by


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59 comments
WatchingSouthDetroit
WatchingSouthDetroit

Teflon Mary does it again.  The corruption, waste, inefficiency, cronyism, and just plain mismanagement just continues.  "World class city" ?  I don't think so - The only thing world class about Dallas is how bad the city (and county) government is. 

Reality
Reality

Where can I hear Suhm provided audio clip of 2008 meeting? 

WylieH
WylieH

I think what we're seeing here is an unintended consequence of the combination of 14-1 and the weak mayor system working in tandem.  Once a City Manager is installed, if he/she can manage to keep 6 members from actively opposing her, he/she is in for life. Even worse, a well-advised City Manager can essentially handpick his/her successor.

What this means is what many of us have long suspected--- Dallas is run by an unelected dictatorship, in the form of the City Manager's office with "blocking and tackling" provided by the City Attorney (who works for the City Manager, NOT the elected representatives).

While the City Manager wheels and deal in the backrooms over tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, her consistent message to the Council and citizens is that we're broke.  To keep everyone distracted, she consistently serves up contentious issues guaranteed to keep the Council preoccupied bickering over a few hundred thousand dollars here or there... a minor change to a sign ordinance, etc.  All the real business of the City is conducted out of sight on behalf of people generally unknown to the electorate.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Just give them their damn money back and hope they do not sue for performance.

But don't mimic the old joke - "If you don't like the deal, just ask for your money back."

"can I have my money back?"

"No"

"I said you could ask for your money back.  There were no promises that I would have to reimburse for non-performance."

But if she had the authority to cut a deal, then rest assured that may be proven in court if these guys want to go forward with the deal.  Bottom line - the City took the money and for whatever reason it looks like the City is trying to craw fish,  

We don't want to take the excuse to a jury.

angelahunt
angelahunt

TO CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA:

If you made an open records request to the City of Dallas that should have resulted in the release of Mary Suhm's side agreement with Trinity East, please email that to me ASAP, along with any response you received from the city.  angela.hunt@dallascityhall.com Thanks.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

I just sent this to everyone at City Hall:

1. That the Wednesday briefing on February 27th be held in public as part of the City Council agenda.   Dallas citizens deserve and have a right to hear everything from the City Manager and City Attorney. Dallas citizens also want to hear what questions are raised by what Council members.

2. That the Mayor appoint an independent investigation team that is based outside of the City of Dallas. That team would need to be approved by the City Council in a public vote of confidence.

3. That all lease agreements between Expro Engineering Trinity East Energy are put on indefinite hold until the investigation is completed, and after the City Council makes important decisions about drilling in the Trinity River Floodplain/Park land/ecosystem.

4. That all documents, side agreements, communications between Expro Engineering Trinity East Energy and the City of Dallas from 2007 to the present be made available to the public on a easy to find Dallas City Hall web page.

5. That the Council formally instruct the City Manager to take a leave of absence until the investigation is completed by the outside investigation team, and all questions are answered. That the City Manager cannot return to her job unless there is a formal public "vote of confidence".

director21
director21

We need ALL Dallas citizens to immediately write letters to each and every Dallas City Council member demanding a public briefing rather than a secret one conducted in executive session. In those letters we need to demand that hardball questions be asked and that definitve answers be given by Suhm and Perkins.

Those letters should also be sent to the editorial staff of the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, Channels 4, 5, 8 and 11. We need media coverage of this issue, and we need it NOW!

joecook
joecook

I am confused by reading only the first page of this "explanation." How is it that Mary has true and complete authority to grant the Park land lease, yet sends a letter making no guarantee?  EIther you have the authority-or you don't!  She needs City Council approval for the deal? Well, did she ask for it and get it?

It would be better to state clearly how she messed up, and let the council sort out why, and what motives exsited -or did not exist.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

So Mary attitude of "bite me-kiss my ass-fuck all of you-because I thinks I can get away with this" has more testosterone than anybody else at 1500 Marilla. I will wager that there is more to come out between today and Wednesday that will continue to make heads spin. Mike Rawlings needs to "grow some" and ask for an independent investigation outside of Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins doing their own investigation. That scenario is just weird for Mike to ask for that. Anything less, shows that his hands are just as dirty as Suhm's and Perkins. Any Council member who doesn't ask the tough questions and sits there with their hands folded is also showing to be a willing participant. Yes, I'm looking at the other 11 City Council members. That Wednesday briefing better be held in public or the torches and rakes are going to be in attendance at Dallas City Hall.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Joe, where at the Hospital are they drilling????


Parkland, capitalized, one word, is fucking County Hospital.  I think your engrish teacher or editor might ask u to say 'park land'.  maybe...if he weren't a DISD graduate

director21
director21

Okay, I think I am starting to get it now. This is all an environmental health project, and we just have not seen it before. Mary Suhm and Tom Perkins want to replace all the chemical fertilizers used by the City of Dallas for cultivating both park lands and City Hall with BULLSHIT!

I am reading through the entire presentation Mary is scheduled to make and lies just keep jumping out at me. On page 7 of her presentation Dirty Mary claims that on "September 12, 2007, Council adopted (11-1, 3 Absent) a gas drilling ordinance (amending the Development Code) that required SUPs and other controls specifically for drilling

New ordinance included the latest in requirements and controls

 – Removed prohibition of drilling on parkland

Still in effect today"

In fact, that is a lie! The published Dallas Development Code, as it existed then and as it exists today, specifically prohibits drilling on city-owned park land and states that "A Specific Use Permit may not be issued for mining on city-owned park land." You can look it up - Article XI, Section 42.3.1E(iii).

The problem with Dirty Mary trying to cover her ass with this work of fiction is that she has too much ass to be covered by any amount of paper and bullshit. If one reads her presentation carefully, then it becomes obvious that it is filled with irrelevant information, lies, innuendo and misleading statements which I intend to address point-by-point to several City council members before the hearing on Wednesday, which is shaping up to be in executive session where the general public will not be allowed to witness it or be informed about what was said and by whom.

An independent investigation is required. The Dallas City Council lacks the credibility and integrity to do a comprehensive, honest, public investigation and then take appropriate actions against those who have violated the law and the trust of the general public.


MikeyLikesIt
MikeyLikesIt

I guess we all live here at the pleasure of the City Manager.  She reminds me of Cartman's "I do what I want" speech.  Life in the City of Dallas is a series of exercises where City Hall pretends to listen to people and then goes right ahead and does what it wants.  Public health and safety be damned.  

zactrahan
zactrahan

Bottom line: Suhm did not have City Council authorization to lease this park land for drilling, and yet she did it anyway. She and her staff claimed drilling would not be allowed on park land, and yet she has been working all along to help Trinity East drill on park land. If this is allowed to stand, what's to stop her from leasing any publicly owned land in Dallas for gas drilling or for any other industry, with or without permission from City Council? Where are the limits to her power?

schermbeck
schermbeck

1. If these kinds of agreements are common, please show us some more examples where the City Manager has pledged the cooperation of city staff to approve permits that violate current city ordinances or specific council instructions.

2. Why didn't the City Manager's office release this side agreement to the public or City Plan Commission members, say three years ago when this matter first came to the City Plan Commission, or at anytime since? Why didn't the Trinity East representatives step up and offer it? Might it be because the participants knew it wouldn't pass the smell test?

3. The same piece of land is referred to as parkland, or not parkland, depending on when it suits the purpose of trying to get it past the City Council or Park Board.  On Page 55/56 (the timeline), in the space of a few paragraphs...

June 25th, 2008: Council materials say: “The City of Dallas is PROHIBITING SURFACE level DRILLING and mineral production on PARKLAND as part of the gas leases."

But there's this: "The Park Department Director also confirmed that there was one property BEING CONSIDERED for SURFACE drilling, the Radio Tower site, that WOULD NOT AFFECT ADJACENT PARKLAND." 

So it's not really parkland on June 25th, even though it sits in the middle of a golf course and is surrounded by parkland.

On August 15th 2008, when the leases are actually signed, it turns into parkland: "The proposed drill site locations ARE PARKLAND and in the flood plain. THESE PARKLAND sites were identified as proposed drill site locations BECAUSE  a Chapter 26 Council public hearing is required; a code amendment to allow the gas drilling and production use in the flood plain or a fill permit is required; and an SUP is required" (Are they really saying they specifically selected this parkland for drilling because it would need all the bells and whistles...that any other piece of parkland would have to go through to get drilled?)

Only five days later the council and public again are assured by the City Manager that "“The City of Dallas is PROHIBITING SURFACE level DRILLING and mineral production on PARKLAND as part of the gas leases."

But the City Manager knew parkland WAS being targeted for surface drilling at that point. The leases explicitly calling it parkland had just been signed, as well as the agreement to use city staff to lobby for the permits on parkland. That's kind of a text book definition of deception. That was in 2008.

In 2011, when the Park Board finally votes on this, the land goes back to being described as NON-PARK SURFACE DRILLING. This is three years after the leases identifying the tract as PARKLAND have been signed, as well as the side agreement also identifying it as parkland. Again, an attempt to deceive.


4. Since they signed off on much of what's happened over the last five years, the City Attorney's office could be as culpable as the City Manager in this deception. What's needed is an independent investigation. 


James080
James080

@GuitarPlayer  

They're still busy with JWPrice, Daphne Fain, Kathy Nealy, Lisa Blue and Craig Watkins I assume.They'll get around to looking into Dirty Mary someday Suhm.

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

@Reality It should be playable from the embedded player above, although I'm having trouble with it now. I'll see if it's broken and fix if it is.

aprilladybug
aprilladybug

@WylieH The City Attorney, City Secretary, City Auditor, and Civil Service Board Secretary are not under the City Manager's Authority.  In fact, these positions are appointed by City Council and the staff in these Offices report only to them and not to the City Manager.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH 

I certainly agree however, I think we should try and break this up in two phases to avoid a big cost to the taxpayer.

The first phase is - give back the money immediately and hope they accept it.

If the city doesn't offer or the company refuses to accept the return of their money, then phase II will be on steroids:

fire the City Manager

fire the City Attorney

change the charter to a strong mayor form

and get some damn city council people that know what they are looking at

schermbeck
schermbeck

@holmantx I think the point is that some of us see a distinction between "The City" and "The City Manager" that the City Manager herself no longer recognizes. She's not the City, even if she signs secret agreements on its behalf as if she were.

tbarker1
tbarker1

@angelahunt  Good work, thanks for the effort!  It appears (from experience) that the City will, now, routinely, forward many Open Records requests for Texas Attorney General Opinion.  That has been the experience with the Save Winfrey project.  We have not seen any footprints by Ms. Shum, there but not asked directly about any City Manager involvement with the Paul Dyer/Mary Brinegar/ Gerald Worrall emails.


director21
director21

@ozonelarryb I hate to pick nits, but technically you are correct. It should be "park land" as two separate words. By the way, I was educated in DISD, and I have no problems with proper English language usage, spelling, punctuation, grammar or sentence structure. A teacher cannot teach an unwilling student.

WylieH
WylieH

@director21 In fact, Suhm did slip the parkland exemption for gas drilling by council on that date via Ordinance #26920.  Although she neglected to mention it anywhere in the title heading, the ordinance not only provided for the right to drill on parkland, it actually allowed drilling on parkland to take place without any setback requirements from adjacent properties/uses (other than a 25 foot setback required by the fire department).

It doesn't look like the community had any idea this was happening, since the only people who spoke in connection with this item were:  1 guy from Exxon Mobile, another guy repping another exploration company, William Cothrum (who wasn't identified as representing anyone in particular) and Frank Ward, a South Dallas construction contractor/minister and close associate of Marvin Crenshaw.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@director21 You should email each Council member this weekend and give them your bullet points. It will take most of them at least 3 days to understand it, should they read it at all.

WylieH
WylieH

@schermbeck  Excellent points; this is has all the hallmarks of a cover-up.   Suhm waffles back and forth, changing the description of the property from parkland to non-parkland whenever this suits her purposes.  She and the City Attorney also make the bold assumption that the City Council would have approved the inclusion of this tract in the Trinity East lease--- so (in her mind) it's no big deal that it wasn't included in the tracts that WERE approved for drilling.

Also, if this was no big deal, why has she fought so hard to avoid compliance with the public information act requirements, fighting tooth and nail to keep relevant documents hidden from City Council?

 

 

WylieH
WylieH

@aprilladybug You are absolutely right and I stand (very embarrassed and) corrected.  The City Attorney can also be dismissed by a simple majority of the Council. 

My apologies for the mistake, but I have to say, the City Attorney doesn't seem like he works for the Council.  Very interesting.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH Right now our mayor is just a ribbon cutter,  A promoter of the city.

And didn't a federal judge order Dallas to 15-1?  I wonder if we could go back to federal court since it looks like we are subverting the intent of the order.

Budget battles need to be in the horseshoe in front of the people.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH and the problem with that is, this council doesn't want to work hard.  

Dallas is the largest city in the nation to run a weak-mayor form of government.

WylieH
WylieH

@schermbeck @holmantx This is where the City Attorney's Office comes into play.  Here you appear to have Tom Perkins, the City Attorney, signing the document as well, confirming she had authority to execute the lease, even though that doesn't appear to have been the case.

WylieH
WylieH

@tbarker1 @angelahunt It's not only that the City refuses to comply, forcing requesters to seek the intervention of the State Attorney General's Office.  Even AFTER the Attorney General instructs them to hand over records, they frequently sue the Attorney General and STILL refuse to comply.

You have to admire the arrogance of Suhm and the City Attorney's Office-- recklessly wasting taxpayer dollars in an effort to keep taxpayers from understanding what they are doing.

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

@director21 @ozonelarryb Locally, for clarity, you're right that we're probably better off avoiding using Parkland in headlines, where it would be capitalized and thereby confusing to people familiar with the hospital. But parkland's definitely a word.

Parkland: "land with clumps of trees and shrubs in cultivated condition used as or suitable for use as a park." 

Am I missing something?


director21
director21

I am not certain that what you allege to have happened is, in fact, valid under the law. If enough Council members ascertain that they were unaware of that ordinance change taking place when they approved Ordinance 26920, assuming that is, fact, the actual ordinance number (I am not personally aware that is accurate, though it may well be), then a judge could set aside the change you allege to have occurred on grounds that it was not clearly delineated to the Council at the time they approved it.


director21
director21

@darrd2010 @director21 I intend to do that very thing. First, I have to go back through Mary's b.s. presentation and make note of specific points and the pages on which they appear because I lack all faith in our City Council having the intellectual curiosity or integrity to do their own homework. They want and need everything spoon-fed to them, which is why we are in this mess.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@schermbeck @WylieH @holmantx 1st - give the money back then ask for forgiveness.  Let's avoid finding out if she had the authority in front of a jury.  Juries punish cities who try and get out of contracts like this.  And again, before we do anything else, let's see if they will take their money back.  We can play gotcha later.  

schermbeck
schermbeck

@WylieH @schermbeck @holmantx But in fact, no one from the City Attorney's office signed the original side agreement. Only Suhm signed, something I'm told is not unusually the case. So maybe this is all post-agreement CYA scrambling, and not reflective of who knew what in 2008 and 2011. We'll never know until people are under oath.

WylieH
WylieH

@tbarker1 @WylieH @angelahunt Like I said, the City Attorney doesn't work for the City Council, he doesn't work for the Mayor and he certainly doesn't work for the citizens of Dallas.  He has one client, and one client only:  Mary Suhm.

tbarker1
tbarker1

@WylieH @tbarker1 @angelahunt , Yep, I like Raymond's blog entries about the lawsuit by the City over his ORR from last summer.

Funny, the TX AG ruled that the City had to provide Hal the records of email between City and Arboretum, after the lawsuit was to be terminated. Then, the City filed a new TX AG Opinion when Hal demanded those files in Oct.  It goes on and on. We forwarded the last go-round to Angela for her review of what appears to be a patterned plan by the City Attorney.

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

@darrd2010 @joe.tone Thank my wife for not minding me reading city documents and typing furiously while my mother-in-law waited at the airport. We'll have a deeper analysis this week, and coverage from the hearing, of course.

director21
director21

@joe.tone Technically right or not, a lot of confusion can be avoided by using "park land" rather than "parkland", especially since we have a county hospital named Parkland, and as far as I know there are no plans to drill at Parkland, though it would not surprise me if that happened.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

@joe.tone No, you're not and by using the term Parkland with Parkland, the term "scandal" covers two different stories. Thanks for putting this up 9 hours before DMN.

WylieH
WylieH

@director21 @MarkO @WylieH @schermbeck See my comment above-- apparently, Suhm made drilling on parkland legal on September 12, 2007.  It was buried in a 64 page gas drilling ordinance adopted by Council on that date.  It doesn't look like Council or the community knew that provision was in there.

director21
director21

@MarkO @WylieH @schermbeck I am not so sure that really is the question. Your question assumes that somebody was bribed or paid off or promised a future payoff. That may not be a provable claim.

At issue is a city manager acting beyond her legal authority and a city attorney covering up for her. At issue is blatantly false statements made to Council members and the public by both the city manager and the city attorney. At issue is the legality of drilling on park land and in floodplains when both are specifically prohibited by existing ordinances in the Dallas Development Code. At issue is the city manager refusing to obey lawful public information requests under the Texas Open Records Act.


Those issues are more easily substantiated and thus, more relevant questions to be asking. "Follow the money" only works if there actually is a money trail to follow. That might not be the case here. We have a very strong case on much more relevant points.

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