Jon Anderson: Rawlings Railroads Humann Plan for Fair Park That’s Light on Accountability [UPDATED]

Fair Park Ferris Wheel SM

Turning Fair Park over to a private nonprofit could be good for Dallas, if it is held accountable, Jon says.

[Editor’s Note: We’re hosting a robust conversation about the future of Fair Park here on CandysDirt.com ahead of the 8:30 a.m., Aug. 4 City of Dallas Park Board meeting that could help decide the iconic landmark’s fate. Earlier we had a post from Amanda Popken covering the Monday meeting at the Hall of State. Below, Jon Anderson puts the plan itself in his sights and shows why Mayor Mike Rawlings and Walt Humann are in a hurry to pass the Fair Park Texas Foundation 20-year contract. We join our brethren from D Magazine, Dallas Morning News, WFAA and Observer in voicing concern and skepticism.]

The City of Dallas is set to become Fair Park’s and the State Fair of Texas’ Sugar Daddy if Mayor Rawlings and Walt Humann have their way.  On Thursday, the Parks and Recreation Board is set to vote on the Humann plan for Fair Park, after five silenced board members walked out of the last meeting after Parks Board President Max Well sought to limit discussion on the plan, leaving the meeting without a quorum.  Those were five brave, and I think correct, souls.

To back up a few days, there was a flurry of activity on Monday.  First, Mayor Rawlings had a press conference to whine about a meeting later that day titled, “Our Fair Park: A Conversation About a Dallas Treasure” to which neither he nor District 7 representative Tiffinni Young were invited.  While not being invited to the stage, they certainly weren’t precluded from attending the meeting, which by all accounts they didn’t.

The meeting was a place to yet again voice concerns that have been unanswered by Humann and Rawlings.

The issue for opponents isn’t the setting up of a public-private partnership for the stewardship of Fair Park.  The issue is the shroud this plan has operated under and the fear that the management contract with the city has loosey-goosey language and blank timetables that enshrines continued opaqueness for the next 20 years (the term of the contract).

For example, requirements for public meetings and open records are apparently not in the most recently distributed management agreement. But both Rawlings and Humann claim this is a myth along with the contract’s lack of specific planning goals to reconnect the park to the neighborhood, install needed parklands and the like.

UPDATE: The updated agreement is now available as part of the Parks Board meeting agenda for Thursday. The new document does have language supporting open meetings but is unclear on public access to financial records beyond IRS Form 990.  The document is a HEAVILY edited work-in-progress with pages and pages of strike-throughs and edits visible along with a boatload of blank pages.  Hardly the sort of condition a document of this type needs to be in on the eve of a multi-million dollar vote on a multi-decade project.

In addition, work you’d think would have been done is still TBD.  One passage reads:

Development of Performance Plan will (i) . No later than April 30, 2017, the Foundation shall identify the marketing performance objectives and operational performance indicators (hereinafter referred to as “to be included in the Performance Plan and shall provide a written report to the Park Board with respect to same. No later than December 31, 2017, the Foundation shall identify and develop the various devices and systems that will be used to measure the Foundation’s performance with respect to the performance indicators”

More “trust us” without substance.

Another passage about the community park states:

Section 6.16 Community Park. Subject to Director’s approval, noNo later than six (6) months from the Commencement Date, the Foundation intends to begin conceptual designs for a community park to be located within Fair Park in the vicinity of Robert B. Cullum Boulevard, Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, Grand Avenue, and Second Avenue, as shown on Exhibit 6.16, to be open to the public free of charge so as to allow the surrounding neighborhood year-round access to green space and recreational opportunities. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this Agreement, a children’s play area, and recreational opportunities. Pursuant to Section 6.05(a), the Foundation shall obtain the approval of the Director prior to the commencement of any construction of the community park. Subject to any necessary consents or approvals, the community park referenced in this Section 6.16 shall remain open to the public free of charge on a year-round basis., including during the annual run of the State Fair of Texas. The Foundation acknowledges that construction of this community park is the Park Board’s top
priority, and the City acknowledges that the Foundation’s ability to construct this community park will be dependent on the ability to raise the necessary funding.” 
(Note: strikethroughs denote deletions of prior language while underlines are additions)

All this passage says is that they’ll begin conceptual design within six months but zero on a timeline for completion and even that can all be scuttled if there’s no money.  Exhibit 6.16? It’s a blank page stating “see attached” with no attachment available.

Now back to the original column…

For those wanting to save their eyesight, the bottom line is that the questions being asked of the plan and its management contract with the city are basic (finances, accountability, plan timelines, etc.).  If the plan architects had the answers to those basic questions, they’d be yelling, “that answer is on page five, paragraph three …” and start reading.  What you don’t do is obfuscate, deflect, get defensive, and shut down questioning.  Because that attitude almost always means either the answer is really bad or the work required to answer that question was never done.   As citizens of Dallas, we should side with the questioners on a project that’ll cost us all for decades to come.

Humann Plan is Certain of One Thing: Dallas’ Bill

Rawlings is happy to place Dallas on the hook for millions a year, but unwilling to answer or demand answers to the straight-forward questions posed by a vast group of local citizens most impacted by the plan. We are not alone in questioning this proposal and it’s strong-arm tactics. The Dallas ObserverD Magazine, and The Dallas Morning News share these concerns.

Monday evening’s audience at the Hall of State concluded with a Q&A session that netted some 50 to 75 questions from the audience.  Were Rawlings and Humann concerned about being transparent and forthcoming, Thursday morning’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting would open with the answers to those questions.  Of course the chances of that are zero.

Instead, we’ll be told, “Don’t worry your pretty little head.”

DOA in the Corporate World

On Tuesday, I spoke with Tammy Johnston, one of the panelists at Monday evening’s meeting and a board member of Humann’s Fair Park Texas Foundation. According to Johnston, the first board meeting won’t even be scheduled until late August or early September. This means that Humann has received little input or guidance from his own hand-picked board.

Johnston told me she hasn’t even seen the current management contract to be able to stand for it or against it.  She further described the board as “token,” with Humann essentially a one-man band.  After her April criticism she was asked to join Humann’s board and thought she’d have some impact from within. I asked her now that she’d been involved for a bit if she’s softened her opinion of the Humann plan.

“No,” she said.

Johnston and I are both from the corporate world and agree this just wouldn’t fly in the private sector.  Key investments are not made based on “trust me, you’ll love it.”

We also work in a world requiring impact statements, implementation schedules, forecasts, and outcome analyses along with multiple quotes for any monies being spent.  Dallas likely requires three quotes to buy a screwdriver but didn’t seek other partners for Fair Park who might’ve offered different and better options.  Why?

Humann et. al. often reference San Diego’s Balboa Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park as shining examples of public-private partnerships.  What’s missing from their cooing are hard-dollar facts.  How has the rejuvenation of these city parks benefited the parks’ operations and surrounding neighborhoods? What are their financial results?  If that research has been done within the Humann plan, it’s not been shared.

But we’re supposed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars on a plan without any financial underpinnings, projections or measurements of success?  Hundreds of millions of dollars without detailed plans for the resuscitation of Fair Park including the year-by-year, building-by-building, tree-by-tree plans necessary to judge funding and results.

This kind of opaqueness wouldn’t fly in the business world Humann comes from either.

Thank Don Williams

Humann’s nemesis on Fair Park is Don Williams, who for the past two years, ever since Rawlings installed Humann to study Fair Park, has been questioning the process and the results.

Johnston told me that were it not for Williams’ questioning, this whole plan would have long ago sailed through its approvals right under our noses.  It’s been Williams’ questioning that’s made the public aware of the issue at all.

State Fair of Texas

I’ve always been skeptical of the State Fair of Texas having a seat on the Fair Park Texas Foundation.  Since when does a tenant get a say in the financial and operational running of an owner’s property?  Especially a tenant who’s been such a poor neighbor and poor steward of Fair Park?

The State Fair is an exemplar of the kind of opaque management Rawlings/Humann claim Fair Park won’t suffer from.  You know, our non-profit State Fair that sued an Austin attorney because she dared to ask for financial information the State Fair was unwilling to give. Just last August they lost the suit and were spanked with a $38,600 fine for filing a “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit.  After losing mightily, did the State Fair turn over the requested records?  Nope, they filed an appeal that’s apparently ongoing.

This is who you want to give a seat at the table to? A seat on a supposed open-book operation that controls the venue for the State Fair’s only event?

Fox, meet henhouse.

In Conclusion

Johnston said she believes Humann has good intentions, and his history in the Jubilee Park area holds some sway, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

Tiffinni Young was quoted in the Dallas Morning News as saying, “It’s not about the mayor, it’s not about me, it’s not about Mr. Humann.”  From where I sit, that’s all this is about. Politics over the courage to do what’s right.  It all smells of the other Rawlings hell-or-high-water project, the Trinity Tollroad.

Facts be damned.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

3 Comment

  • If Don Williams has a problem with something, you can be sure that it warrants due diligence of the first order before serious funds are committed.

    With respect to the track record of another mentioned in this piece, let’s look back a few years to Mayor Mike Rawlings full bore commitment to eliminating family violence from Dallas. He even chartered a large convention hall to have a full day event devoted to getting attendees to commit to eliminating family violence from their activities.

    Fast forward some six months after that full day convention: Some busy body discovered 454 unworked domestic violence files setting unprocessed in an isolated interview room at Dallas Police headquarters. The two detectives responsible for steering these cases had carefully taken interviews, then piled the folders in this interview room unworked.

    What is really disappointing is that there was no summary reporting up the chain of command in the DPD that showed no advancement to disposition of these 454 unprocessed cases that these two DPD detectives left unworked.

    There are concepts, alien to Dallas City Hall of best practice management and governance.

    Thank you, Mayor Rawlings.

  • mm

    I agree with you Jon, too opaque. And too fast. Never got the whole Fair Park deal, seems like much better use of the land could be found which might generate revenue for the city. I don’t like being on the hook for this because we know property taxes are going to go up for DISD, police and hopefully support for the homeless. If you have to keep the fair there, what’s the problem with moving it back?