Webb Chapel Developer Offers Three Benjamins For Ballot, But is it Illegal?

Did a developer offer to buy votes of approval for his proposed residential project in North Dallas?

On Sunday, I received a note from Doug Bedell, a resident who seems to be leading the opposition to the proposed Northaven Trail Village project that would see 35 homes constructed on a 4.4-acre parcel zoned for 19 homes. The development was part of former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller’s anti-development campaign rhetoric and one of three precincts she bested council member Jennifer Gates. (Background here, here)

Bedell forwarded me an email from another resident, Amy Wallace titled, “Northaven Trail Village buying votes.” The brief email, dated June 12th, stated, “I was approached Sunday by Mr. Gleeson, who wants to build the homes where the school is. He was trying to collect my blue form for the city. I didn’t give it to him. Today he called me and offered me $300 if he could pick it up and deliver it downtown. He’s trying to buy us off!(Emphasis theirs)

For reference, “Gleeson” is David Gleeson who’s working with David Weekley Homes on this project.

There was no evidence supplied that this offer was made to more than Ms. Wallace and Gleeson responded that, “I made such an offer to one person — out of frustration and exasperation at trying to get that person to take the time to fill out the form. I have hand delivered letters/presentation to 49 homeowners who have not turned in their forms; placed MANY phone calls and follow-up calls; knocked on doors; follow-up emails.  MOST of the 119 residents in the Notification Area designated by the City obviously do not care about this case.”

A second response clarified, “no payments have, or will be made.”

Nowhere does it say that Gleeson is trying to influence a vote, just that he would pay $300 in order to collect and deliver a ballot (presumably reflecting any sentiment) to City Hall. Now he’s the developer, so clearly he’s looking for as many positive votes as he can get, but he doesn’t say that. He just offered $300 instead of a 55-cent forever stamp.

Response rates for city notification cards in development areas are notoriously low and typically lean towards the opposition (because there’s a lot of “just don’t care” in the world). Is Gleeson/Weekley simply trying to up the response rate to get a more accurate picture and hopefully pick up some apathetic-homeowner support?

During the election, there were just 42 votes cast in the precinct where this project would reside. Within the city’s 500-foot notification area around the proposed development, the city sent ballots to 119 property owners – as of this moment, just 32 have responded – or 27 percent – which is actually pretty high (sadly).

Of course, the whole complexion changes if there was proof that a collected ballot’s vote had been changed – that would be big. But as the offer was seemingly made to and denied by one person, any tampering is unlikely.

Yes, we all see cash as being sleazy, but what’s the difference if a developer offers to put up a taller fence or increase landscaping to gain support from an individual property owner? How about when a developer pays for a bus and a box lunch to take supporters to City Hall to stand up for key votes? Are these common acts bribes?  Is a bush and a fence different than $300?  How?

If anything, the fence comes with strings that $300 just to cast a vote doesn’t seem to. And there’s an argument to be made that in this neighborhood, $300 isn’t much enticement balanced against the permanence of a development (possibly an August electricity bill).

I have not reached anyone at City Hall willing to go on the record on this situation. Bedell’s email to me stated that, “Neighbors have brought this to the attention of Sarah May and Margot Murphy. We were assured the proper authorities have been alerted to this issue.” These are absolutely the right steps to take.

However, Bedell continues, “Certainly it should be disqualifying for a developer to bribe a neighborhood into approval for his PD. Many of us have urged the city to suspend the entire process because he has corrupted the balloting.”

Gleeson/Weekley are not city employees, subjected to city ethics policies, and so far, all that’s been done is an offer to “buy” a single response – any response. Regardless of the city’s response, Gleeson’s tactic has just made this case a whole lot more difficult – part of a pattern of self-inflicted wounds that have dogged this project. Regardless of reality, this action’s bad smell may very well increase opposition and make the project untenable.

This brings me to what Bedell writes next, “It is also odd that Mr. Gleeson evidently has access to the ballots as they arrived at the city. We understood the ballots are only revealed at the zoning commission meeting, which has now been postponed until July 11.”

Actually, it’s not odd at all if you know where to look. The city posts real-time updates of the person-by-person responses to zoning cases on their website. As of this moment, the city is reporting, of the 119 notified, 32 have responded and 26 oppose the project while six support.

One can imagine why Gleeson is shaking the bushes trying to increase the response rate.

In the end, we’re left with the question of whether paying people to simply vote is a deal-killer?  Is $300 considered a bribe or the price a developer is willing to pay to get some portion of the 73 percent of non-voters to vote at all? If Dallas offered $300 simply to cast a vote in the recent Dallas City Council and Mayor’s race, would turnout have been more than a laughable 10 percent of registered voters?

We may all think it’s more than tacky to pay a “concerned citizen” to check a box and drop an envelope in the mail. But what if that’s what it takes to chisel away at apathy and get a more accurate picture of sentiment?

For the record, while Amy Wallace (nee Bradley) had the time to alert the neighborhood about being approached by Gleeson a week ago, she still doesn’t appear to have found the time to mail her ballot.


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 sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

10 Comment

  • WOW….whatever Gleeson’s intended purpose, the optics and ethics are horrible. I provided Mr. Bedell Founder David Weekley’s personal email address to reach out to him. I can’t imagine he would have any stomach or tolerance for this method of doing business. David Weekley Homes, LLC builds more than a thousand of homes a year in a dozen or more citizens. Logic would dictate that compromising the core values of 40+ year old, privately held company, makes no sense. That certainly isn’t consistent with what I know of him or the company I have dealt with personally. The north Texas leadership for DWH is in Carrollton. Mr. Gleeson is NOT a decision maker. I don’t want to think his tactics are endorsed by the company but will watch this story closely.

    • mm

      Bad optics, yes. But unethical? That’s the real question. Why is cash so much more shameful and thoughtless compared to the billions spent on gift cards picked up at the Kroger checkout counter?
      .
      Thanks for the clarification they’re not building homes in citizens. That’d be a painful riff on a ship in a bottle. 🙂

      • If you are asking me, you have come to the right guy. Legally, bribery requires demonstrating a “quid pro quo” relationship in which the recipient directly alters behavior in exchange for the gift or money. In most states it also requires both parties to understand that arrangement although they do not have to admit it. The ethics have a lower standard in most cases. In this case, a legitimate business that offers someone money for their ballot to vote as they please is neither a bribe and most likely not illegal. However, the axiology of the ethic, (is it right or wrong), looks to normative ethics for a moral course of “practical” action (a code, standard or even a higher authority) or applied ethics which asks what is acceptable based on the persons obligation (or allowance). Business ethics normally follows an applied ethics model since it deals mostly in things not considered moral but rather in what others, customers for example, would find acceptable. In Texas, tort law often puts the question of what is right or what was reasonable to a jury of six informed yet disinterested people. In educational law and ethics (my particular area of expertise) School administrative decisions are often questioned on basis of applied ethics. In fact we teach students seeking administrative credentials the concept of “reasonable” as a means of gaging applied ethics in addition to the Code of Ethics for professional educators. All that to say, in the case of Mr. Gleeson’s alleged act of offering $300 for a ballot in which he completed ——as a matter of applied ethics, would probably be unethical because I think it fails the test of reasonable ethical behavior given the circumstance as I currently understand it. So, your question of isn’t building a higher fence or planting more shrubs philosophically a same or similar act? It’s not for two reasons. First, philosophy and thus ethics always acknowledges benefits for the common good as an important variable. If the shrubs or higher fence fulfills the good or betterment of many and NOT of one, it could be perfectly ethical unless the law prohibited it. Second, voting and voting rights have a much more stringent standard in the law. People won’t vote, for example, if they believe their vote doesn’t matter, if they think the system is rigged or if they think the decision is corrupt or already made. Hence, the system of voting requires a higher standard of scrutiny since the act of voting is necessary for other societal systems to work. If it’s acceptable (and not illegal) to coerce (beyond simple assistance) the very act of whether I vote or not, then the validity of voting can be compromised. How would that influence whether I or others vote in the future. (I.e. will only vote when I have a secondary benefit of voting,…). The public good would certainly not benefit from such a system.

        I realized I gave you a lot more response than you requested or expected. Ethics is a much more difficult thing than legality in a free society. I hope I added something to the ethical discussion. In our current political environment, a little ethical conversation cannot hurt!

  • What he said.

  • Jon – I know it doesn’t fit with your narrative that we neighbors are unsophisticated nincompoops, but the tally of neighborhood votes is not available online as you state here: “Actually, it’s not odd at all if you know where to look. The city posts real-time updates of the person-by-person responses to zoning cases on their website.”

    Per the city plan staff, to see the latest tallies you have to go down to the commission office and manually go through the responses. The city staff compiles a summary like you uploaded in advance of hearing dates set for each case. Evidently the document you posted was prepared when it appeared the case was scheduled earlier this month. It has since been postponed until July 11, so there is still time for folks to vote.

    So where did you get the copy you uploaded here? Just curious.

    • mm

      I don’t think you’re nincompoops, but I do think you’re naive to not understand how little density this is compared to what it could be. I also think the neighborhood is concerned with the wrong things. This doesn’t let the developer off either, they’ve done a shoddy job at presenting.
      .
      We writers have to keep some secrets. The website where I printed out my list of respondents is there if you can find it. You’re right, if you want to see the physical ballots, you have to go to City Hall – I did – and you’ll see what that netted Thursday.
      .
      Yes, there is still time for ballots to be turned in and I think everyone should.

  • Thanks again for your opinion, Jon. We get it. We should be jumping for joy at the prospect of this ugly neighborhood imposition. The city staff got back to me after my initial inquiry. Another wing of the bureaucracy posts these tallies. For any interested, access it from https://developmentdata.dallascityhall.com/ … click on “Property Owner Notification,” then enter the case number (Z189-182), then click “Export Response Report” then click either radio button (CPC or Council – but they are the same information, just different titles). Finally, click “view responses” and it will download a Word document. This whole process seems designed to confound.

    • mm

      I never said you should jump for joy on ugly. That’s what you should be concerned about. But that’s not what your neighborhood is primarily worried about.

  • How many of us residents have you bothered to seek opinions from?
    Answer: None.
    So I don’t think you know anything about the primary reasons people are concerned about this proposed rezoning.