My headline is a riff on yesterday’s Jim Schutze piece over at the Observer titled, “Flying Monkeys Shield State Fair Contract Just When it Should Be Set on Fire.” If last year’s citywide kerfuffle about the Fair Park sweetheart deal Mayor Rawlings tried to give pal Walt Humann, complete with a $20 million per year dowry, didn’t tick you off enough, Schutze ices that cake with a Powerball-size shaft State Fair has given Dallas taxpayers. It’s not super long, go read it … I’ll wait.
Done? … Seriously, go read it … Yes, now … Sheesh!
Also in that piece was a snippet about the obfuscation the city is employing in seeking bids to take over the management of Fair Park (because evidence shows the city is too lazy and inept). That snippet had perfect timing since last night there was apparently the only community meeting the hired consultants will be having.
Who are those consultants? ABI Dallas, also known as Alpha Business Images, which is owned by Sophia Johnson … the wife of Mayor Rawlings’ very, very well-connected advisor for south Dallas, Willis Johnson (Google him). Seems our mayor is unable to seek input beyond his earmarked Rolodex. First Humann (who attended last night’s meeting) now the Johnson’s. Who’s next in the alphabet?
Ironically, it was Sophia Johnson herself who spoke about the “complete integrity” of the Fair Park process.
Oh wait, you didn’t hear about the meeting?
Mysteriously, the invitation was kinda secret, seemingly meant to ensure a tiny turnout. But more than one Fair Park friend got hold of it and plastered it out there. Were I not on the Oak Lawn Committee email list, I wouldn’t have heard about it from City Hall until Friday morning when city council members finally began alerting their constituents.
Attendees saw that the organizers were clearly caught off guard by the turnout, as five rooms holding an average of 40-50 people were overflowing with an estimated 500 attendees. Supplies of pens, clipboards (maybe a dozen), and comment cards evaporated almost instantly, replaced by hastily ripped pieces of blank paper.
The showing was definitely a shock and a marker to those in power who might have figured the furore surrounding Fair Park had died down and an under-the-radar meeting would check their “community participation” box. There may have been more people at this meeting that the ones held last year. Sorry folks, Fair Park isn’t dimming in the public consciousness.
City Hall should take note, but I’m thinking not. Like last year, the Fair Park freight train is preparing to leave the station. Will our new city attorney and city manager blow kisses as it leaves that politically-connected station or will they stop and search it for contraband? Surely an acid test for both men’s integrity.
So what was this meeting?
Well, it was only a meeting in a loose sense of the word. After scant instructions, the mass was split into five groups. Once in a group, five facilitators circulated between the rooms at 15-minute intervals to ask a single question. Your personal answer was to be written on the printed card …then blank card … then blank paper provided.
The five questions included: What should be done with the historic buildings? Should a Fair Park manager interact with the community and how should success be judged? What’s best way to communicate to the Dallas citizenry (so those avenues could be avoided?)? Etc. We were told council members answered the same questions (but we weren’t provided with their answers, which would have made a good ending to the meeting). Instead, after the last question, attendees simply wandered off into the night.
For the question about Fair Park management’s desired qualifications, I listed that they should be a stranger to Mayor Rawlings and the State Fair.
There was little or no discussion. In my room, with time to spare, 2-3 participants were invited to read their answers. Under what should be added or subtracted in Fair Park, I listed the State Fair as needing to be subtracted as it is currently operated.
To say the groups were frustrated by what one attendee called a pop quiz, would be a gross understatement. Some attendees also seemed to be plants by either the city or State Fair. In my room one woman cooed about using Fair Park’s vibrant attractions at every opportunity. We’d have been none the wiser had Mrs. Johnson not referred to her using an honorific the woman had not given. Clearly they knew each other for the purposes of this exercise.
We were told that the city expected to issue the Request for Proposal (RFP), developed by the Mayor’s advisor’s wife, in July and that the evening’s answers would be “tabulated” and included. How in the hell would the essay answers to five questions, plus a card asking for more questions, answered by 500 attendees be “tabulated” at all … that’s 3,000 ballots stuffed with essays … let alone in under a month?
They won’t. We’d been had.
Mitchell Glieber, president of the State Fair of Texas summed it up when speaking with Fair Park activist and consultant Jacqueline Espinal, “… this isn’t for stakeholders, it’s for the community.”
Turns out the Dallas Summer Musical’s performance of Dirty Dancing wasn’t the only piece of dirty theater to tread the boards in Fair Park last night.
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 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.