[Editor’s note: Jon Anderson is a columnist for CandysDirt.com who lives in District 13. His opinions are his own.]
It’s only been a few days since I broke the story of former Dallas mayor Laura Miller’s candidacy for city council District 13, and the whirlwind of sound bites has already begun. Multiple news outlets have reported variations on Miller’s bite of being a “mellow” 60-year-old in an attempt to distance herself from her combative days as mayor. Any news outlet covering Miller’s campaign will quickly see that for the political lie it is.
Ignoring Miller’s combative attacks on council member Jennifer Gates, how “mellow” is it to join Twitter for the express purpose of calling out Gates in six tweets that now seem to have been scrubbed? But as you’ll see below, Twitter never forgets.
(Editor’s note: Miller did not delete her Tweets, they were all replies to Gates, which we documented in this December 2018 story. In the interest of transparency, we’re linking to it now, and indicating our error with a mark through).
Ignoring campaign rhetoric japes, Miller is unabashedly running for city council because of zoning – specifically, two zoning cases that haven’t made it to plan commission yet. This myopathy pigeonholes her as a one-trick-pony candidate in a district and city that requires more.
Equally telling is a seeming lack of research by Dallas news outlets. WFAA identified Miller supporter Steve Dawson as a “resident.” Dawson lives in University Park and can’t vote for her. His family owns a small apartment complex behind the Pink Wall. As regular readers know, seemingly to keep competition out, Dawson fought the Pink Wall’s Laurel development at Miller’s side and continues to fight area progress. In the WFAA story, Dawson claims Miller has wide support in District 13. If that were true, why didn’t she offer up a “reference” who actually lives in the district?
In Miller’s announcement, she names former Sen. John Carona and former city council members Donna Blumer, Mitchell Rasansky, and Sid Stahl as supporters. Given their admitted ignorance of the zoning issues in the district, I wonder if their support is little more than the toll of friendship.
That a city district with many needs is reduced to a single issue in a single area should be troubling to residents living outside the Preston Center orbit. To get very specific, anyone who is untouched by St. Michael and All Angel’s proposed development of Frederick Square and the redevelopment of Planned Development District 15 (PD-15) within the Pink Wall should be very wary of Miller’s desire to do much for you.
For those involved with these two zoning cases, Miller may wind up being a paper tiger.
Potential Recusals in Miller’s Bedrock Zoning Cases
Before I hit zoning, it’s interesting to see the second “trending” column on D Magazine this weekend was from February 2017. It’s titled, “Laura Miller Profits From the Pension Mess.” Interesting read and refresher.
Anyway, within PD-15, Miller’s husband and family own a $408,000 condo at the Athena. Should she win, she would have to recuse herself from any deliberations and voting. Unless, of course she were to announce the sale of her husband’s interests at the Athena.
Regardless of any asset divestiture, she might still have to recuse herself from all things PD-15, her past outspokenness and deep, behind the scenes involvement in PD-15 would place her under an ethics spotlight. Recusal would be guaranteed if money changed hands, whether from the towers, their attorney Robert Albright, or anyone else involved. Certainly one place to look might be the “No More Towers” signs that first appeared around St. Michael but have recently begun popping up around PD-15.
According to the city Code of Ethics:
(7) Because independent advice from boards and commissions is essential to the public decision-making process, city council members shall not:
(A) use their position to influence and deliberations or decisions of boards and commissions.
(C) demand that board or commission members vote as requested by the city council member or threaten board or commission members with removal.
Assuming recusal, were Miller to appoint a certain friend to city plan commission, a friend who’s been itching to be a city plan commissioner, his own history in PD-15 would make his impartiality … interesting.
St. Michael and All Angels
The situation isn’t a lot better at Preston Center. D Magazine reports that Miller and her campaign treasurer Doug Deason have worked for three years fighting St. Michael’s expansion plans. Doug Deason is the son of Darwin Deason who lives in an 18,270 square foot condo at 8181 Douglas – across the alley from the church’s proposed development. Three years is a lot of work to be done for free. Would Deason-connected campaign contributions be problematic?
Were money to have changed hands, Miller would have to recuse herself again. And if that same suspect for city plan commission were seated, his own business interests may require his recusal.
There was also this interesting Twitter exchange with Council Member Jennifer Gates that erupted after DMN posted an un-fact-checked editorial by Miller in December – Gates’ tweet seemed to be “mellow 60-year-old” Miller’s impetus for joining Twitter just to snipe back.
Connecting the dots, you had Darwin Deason offering $10 million to help fund the Preston Center garage project at the moment St. Michael was seeking to redevelop the land outside his many, many windows.
I spoke with Gates over the weekend and she told me of a meeting between Deason and herself. Gates said it was “my impression it [the $10 million that never materialized] was tied to my support for no rezoning of St. Michael.”
And now Deason’s son is Miller’s campaign treasurer.
Preston Center Garage
So far, it seems like Miller could vote unencumbered on the future of Preston Center’s central garage (as much as anyone can, considering the convoluted ownership, control, and responsibility). However, again assuming her city plan commissioner pick, there may be plan commission conflicts as this individual owns property within any notification area.
What are the optics of a city plan commissioner being involved in decisions that have a high probability of effecting his personal property valuations? Not good.
Gates’ Transwestern/Laurel Recusal
Looking back at council member Gates’ recusal from the Transwestern deal that brought about the Laurel at Preston Road and Northwest Highway, we see someone who took the appropriate step back. Gates’ husband and several family members work for real estate services firm JLL. Headquartered in Chicago, JLL is a publicly-traded $9 billion global real estate services company that acquired The Staubach Company in 2008.
The sellers of the future Laurel development hired a JLL agent to broker the deal with Transwestern. Gates’ family were not involved directly in the deal. Gates’ husband is a national executive at the firm. The overall benefit to the family came from the percentage of the agent’s commission that was retained by JLL corporate.
Put in perspective, it would be similar to Ebby Halliday recusing herself because one of her agents was selling a property. Sure, money changed hands, but it was a diluted pittance by the time it made it to her.
But even with this low-grade conflict, Gates did what was right and stepped away. District 11 council member Lee Kleinman took over all public outreach meetings and effectively acted as the council’s representative on the case. When it made it to city council for a final vote, it passed without Gates’ involvement.
Miller, on the other hand, seems to be running on a platform that’ll put her in the crosshairs of conflict in her signature mission. Expecting voter support based on specific cases she may have little control and ethical influence over seems nonsensical.
To some, Miller’s run is a way to force Jennifer Gates into the public zoning debate Miller challenged her to last December on her newly-minted Twitter account. Multiple Miller confidants report being asked by Miller to run against Gates. When all declined to go against a popular council member, Miller took up the banner herself.
Miller makes no bones that her candidacy is “a referendum on development in District 13 now and in the future.” Voters will have to ask themselves, is an uncompromising one-issue politician worthy of representing the raft of other concerns facing District 13 and the city of Dallas?
Stay tuned for the political pivots necessary to make Miller appear more palatable and engaged with the larger issues facing the rest of District 13 residents – you know, the vast majority with no skin and little concern for the one-hit-wonders of PD-15 and St. Michael zoning cases.
Whatever that pivot looks like, just remember, her words betray her. Getting her way on these two zoning cases is truly Miller’s only concern.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) 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. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.