Dallas ISD

Neighbors of the long-closed H.S. Thompson Learning Center took to the microphone to demand answers about their school at Thursday night’s Dallas ISD school board meeting.

While it was a fairly tame evening, as far as school board meetings go, Thursday night’s regular Dallas ISD board of trustees meeting was bookended by discussions about the larger responsibility a school district has to the communities schools sit in, especially once those schools are closed.

It began during the portion at the beginning of the meeting set aside for public comment, when adamant and angry neighbors of the now-shuttered H.S. Thompson Learning Center made impassioned pleas for the district to give their neighborhood its school back.

The school was shuttered in 2013 when the district shuttered 10 other schools to save about $12 million dollars. Speakers last night insisted that the district had promised that the school would reopen or would be rebuilt. Several insisted the district had promised the school would be back in their neighborhood in two years.

“Our kids deserve better. We want our schools,” a speaker said. “Everyone else is getting their schools.” (more…)

Last night the Parks and Recreation Board held a special meeting seeking public comment on the soon-to-be-voted-on management contract for Fair Park. You may think you’re experiencing déjà vu, and you may be, but from when?  There have been so many Fair Park plans tossed on the fire they make the current California blazes look small.

Most recently you probably recall Walt Humann’s Fair Park Texas Foundation plan (elbowed in by Mayor Rawlings) that made it right up to the precipice of passage before being scuttled in October 2016. (Full transparency: we at CandysDirt.com wondered early on why the Humann plan was being pushed so quickly, and why the city’s share of costs escalated over time rather than decreased.) The scuttling forced the city to initiate a real request for proposals (RFP). Three ultimately responded – Monte Anderson’s Fair Park Conservancy, Humann’s Fair Park Texas Foundation, and the winning Fair Park First (FPF). (Download a copy of the full August 2, 2018 briefing here)

Fair Park First consists of the nine-member FPF Board which is responsible for fundraising, subcontractor supervision, historic preservation and community engagement and outreach. Fair Park management, capital improvements (except those funded with bond money) and Minority and Woman Business Enterprise initiatives will be handled by Spectra. Rounding out the team is Biederman Redevelopment Ventures (BRV) whose job it will be to update the Fair Park Comprehensive Plan and design and program the neighborhood park(s) within the whole of Fair Park.

What this plan delivers is experience. Both Spectra and BRV have done these jobs a multitude of times – and done them very successfully. BRV has transformed over 100 parks – including Klyde Warren. Spectra manages 319 properties – including the California Expo & State Fair. Their résumés speak volumes to what they can and would do for Fair Park. It’s a breadth of experience neither of the other two bidders could match. Fair Park and southern Dallas have been diddled too long to give a project of this scale to those reliant on learning-by-doing.

It’s part of the reason FPF scored 87.54 points out of 100 when judged by their financial plan, experience, project approach and Business Inclusion and Development. The other two bidders scored 65.16 and 78.34 points. (more…)

I am so impressed with Kevin Felder, the new City Councilman for District 7, which encompasses Fair Park. First of all, I’m a little biased because he is a real estate Broker. He is also a lesson in persistence: Kevin has run for his council seat four times before FINALLY winning the D7 seat this past June in a run-off with Tiffini Young, who was favored by the Mayor.

A few weeks ago we told you about a community meeting at Fair Park, sponsored by 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, says our Jon Anderson). This community meeting was to explain and solicit input on the proposed management plan for Fair Park, which the Mayor wants to give to Walt Humann to manage, while the city pays. That meeting had a huge turn out, so huge ABI Dallas literally ran out of paper. But people were not so jazzed about that meeting, felt there were not enough answers provided and too much rhetoric. Even the invitations were kind of crafty: (more…)

In reality, “discussion”was a pop quiz allowing organizers to check a “community involvement” box

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.

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Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas

Hall of State, Fair Park (Photo: Michael Cagle)

All along we’ve been operating under the assumption that the organization founded by Walt Humann — the Fair Park Texas Foundation — was a certifiable non-profit. In fact, one of the things that made Humann’s organization attractive to the City of Dallas is that it could circumvent bidding as a non-profit providing monetary or in-kind resources to be set forward for the park’s management.  Everyone just assumed it was a nonprofit, even Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky.

As it turns out, not so much. Could this be a case of misplaced paperwork, or something far more nefarious?

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Fair-Park-Ferris-Wheel-SM

Earlier today, Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston received a letter from City Attorney Larry Casto responding to his recent queries on the legality of Mayor Mike Rawling’s slam-dunk deal to turn over Fair Park to Walt Humann’s Fair Park Texas Foundation.  The result being “stick a fork in it.”  Humann’s plan may not be “done-done,” but at the very least it’s been skewered and moved to the cool side of the grill.

How did it happen? Lawyer-ese.

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Fair Park doc

Dallas has a new city attorney. His name is Larry Castro, and he started Monday. Sources tell me he is cleaning house somewhat as in at least one attorney was packing bags Monday.* But Castro may also be taking a long, hard look at the legal opinion his department delivered on the Humann Plan to privatize Fair Park.

As you know, we are not against the privatization concept. That the city of Dallas has 277 acres available for — well, the sky is really the limit — is amazing. We think the current plan has holes and is too expensive, has too little oversight, is asking nothing of the State Fair of Texas, and ultimately has very few checks and balances to protect Dallas taxpayers.

And we thought from the very beginning that it was weird, very weird, there was no bidding, which state law mandates so cities always look for “the best value for the municipality.” We are told it’s because Mayor Rawlings said no one told him he had to. And he thinks Walt Humann can work the impossible on negotiating with the State Fair of Texas. Indeed, at the League of Women Voters – sponsored debate in North Dallas last week (which we attended and hope to post soon), Walt Humann indicated that if we try to mess with the SFOT’s agreement with the city, the State Fair will “torpedo” us. In other words, sue the city of Dallas with full guns ahead.

It was scary enough to actually make me think for one second, oh yeah, I get why the Mayor is doing this. Walt Humann is the best guy to negotiate with the Big Bully.

But back to the City Attorney’s office. (more…)

Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas

Fair Park’s Hall of State (Photo: Michael Cagle)

My tip came in last week, this is what I was told by an anonymous source:

“The city attorney’s office is now telling Mayor Rawlings that the Humann plan won’t fly, that they were wrong, and they do need to open the bid up to RFPs.”

As a blogger, I guess I could have published that last week. Instead, I made a few phone calls to the Dallas City Attorney’s office. No response. Then I made a few phone calls Monday. No one has yet to return my call. I sent an email to Paul Simms yesterday, he responded nearly immediately that he had not heard anything.

Then today, Jim Schutze writes in the Dallas Observer — good Lord he posted at 4 a.m., my kind of hours — that the rumors are flying around City Hall that the Fair Park privatization plan is on its deathbed:

 …close observers around town are beginning to place bets on strong rumors that the Walt Humann Fair Park deal will fall apart soon. The ostensible reason – the one for public consumption — would be that a new adverse city attorney opinion says it wasn’t done right.

Hmmmmm.

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