Last week’s city council session was odd. It marked a return from defeat for a group led by Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson to vastly expand and reconstruct the Reverchon Park Ball Field. What marked it as odd was how the session unfolded. The public first spoke in support or protest and then the council adjourned for a closed executive session. When they returned, in very quick order, District 14 council member David Blewett recited a list of sweeteners, many financially rooted, that could only have been agreed to by Nelson’s Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC.
Which leads us to a question: Did the two talk outside of the meeting?
After the Council meeting, I spoke with others who were also vaguely uneasy/queasy about the cadence of events. So I looked up what the city ethics code might say.
“SEC. 12A-15.8. RESTRICTED ACTIVITIES.
(g) Lobbying by bidders and proposers on city contracts.
(1) A person responding to a request for bids or request for proposals on a city contract shall not lobby a city council member either directly or indirectly (through a representative, employee, or agent) from the time the advertisement or public notification of the request for bids or request for proposals is made until the time the contract is awarded by the city council.
(2) A city council member shall not discuss a request for bids or a request for proposals on a city contract either directly (with the person or entity submitting the bid or proposal) or indirectly (with a lobbyist, representative, employee, or agent of the person or entity submitting the bid or proposal) from the time the advertisement or public notification of the request for bids or request for proposals is made until the time the contract is awarded by the city council. The department issuing the request for bids or request for proposals shall forward to all city council members any protest received and any response to that protest before city council considers awarding that city contract.
(3) This subsection does not prohibit a bidder or proposer from speaking at the city council meeting where the award of the contract is considered.”
One might think that once the previous Reverchon deal failed to be approved on December 11, any city council member could then talk directly to the applicant up until the moment it was brought back onto the agenda by Blewett.
But Blewett himself filed the reconsideration document on December 13, two days after the council meeting. And regardless, the results of the December 11 meeting didn’t mean the RFP itself was dead (just that applicant’s proposal hadn’t passed). Remember, the 2019 RFP had been originally issued in 2018.
Facebook Post Talks of Negotiation
Once Blewett’s filing of the reconsideration was reported by the Observer on January 3, Blewett posted on Facebook all about his prior and continuing negotiations.
“The Deal Group wanted to be sure they had a negotiating partner in order to revise the deal. So I signed the memo indicating it could be reconsidered.
Since then, I had presented to the group by city staff … 10 deal points that I believed would tighten up the agreement. Here are a few: codified public access percentages and community engagement. Specific protection of the Meadow. Clarity that events will only be permitted with public input, payments to the city will only be for Reverchon Park improvements, no expansion to the site without City Council/Park Board approval, and scheduled stakeholder community meetings to improve the operation of the facility.
Negotiations are ongoing and I am still unsatisfied with the current revenues to the city and our inability to participate in the upside of the deal.”
What Blewett did in negotiating a deal in relation to the Reverchon Park RFP seems to be a violation of city ethics codes. The same may also apply to Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC., who seem to have been “lobbying” Blewett as much as he was negotiating. In Blewett’s own words, “The Deal Group wanted to be sure they had a negotiating partner in order to revise the deal.”
Or maybe not.
There may also be another problem: since the RFP hadn’t yet been awarded, would other bidders have materialized had the negotiated deal been available to other bidders? In my day job, RFPs can’t be changed unless the terms are changed for everyone else. Once awarded, deals can get tweaked, but before awarding the process is designed to ensure level playing fields. In this case, there appears to have been only a single bidder – does that matter?
I was surprised none of the more seasoned council members, nor the mayor, expressed any concern. Perhaps there are none. But for that reason, I reached out to current and past ethics experts seeking opinions. Of the three I reached, one saw no immediate red flags, one did, and one said there was reason enough to file a complaint with the city ethics commission.
And that’s where we are. Is there enough smoke to warrant a discussion of a possible fire? What do you think?
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