City News Roundup
Fair Park and DART are hot topics in this week's Dallas city news
The Dallas city pension fund could break the bank, the State Fair folks are facing sanctions, and the DART board has a vacancy. Here are this week's top stories in Dallas city news:
A looming emergency over the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund could have disastrous implications for the city, including bankruptcy. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said as much while meeting with state officials in Austin in early November.
The mayor asked the state to give the city control of the pension fund. Currently pension fund members approve the fund benefits. Rawlings compared it to a "Bernie Madoff scheme."
In order for the state to give the city control of the pension fund, state law will have to be changed.
Earlier in the week, a judge gave the Dallas and Fire Pension more time to prove that its expansion of its board of trustees was legal. The ruling comes after several officers filed a lawsuit against the group. The police and fire fighters filed suit to attempt to stop the trustees from cutting benefits. The suit claims that the board has been operating illegally since it began expanding its members from the original seven-member board.
The lawsuit was filed on the eve of an election of several amendments, meant to rescue the fund from collapse within the next 12 years, according to the Dallas Morning News. Pension officials want a $1 billion taxpayer bailout on top of the benefit cuts in 2018. Rawlings warned that the bailout could be disastrous.
Frontburner dug back to the early roots of the pension mess. In 1992, the board — consisting of council members Charlotte Mayes, Mattie Nash, and Charles Tandy; fire employees Gerald Brown and Charles Luedeker; and police officers Larry Eddington and John Mays — approved a program called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, a risky venture that promised unrealistically high returns.
State Fair slacking
A court battle is underway to force the State Fair of Texas to turn over records that could reveal secret financial arrangements.
A post on watchdog.org follows Jennifer Riggs, an Austin attorney, who filed an open records request with the State Fair last year. Her request asks for financial records, contracts, and correspondence between executives and Dallas officials. The Fair claimed that it wasn’t a government agency subject to public records laws.
For the next 19 months, Riggs and the State Fair were tied up in court until Judge Staci Williams sided with Riggs. The judge also imposed sanctions on the fair for abusing the court system. Those sanctions were overturned on appeal. The fair dropped its case, but while the case was in court, fair executives were able to avoid giving potentially damaging depositions while a highly publicized plan to privatize the park was underway.
Riggs filed a motion this week asking the court to again impose sanctions on the State Fair.
DART board candidates
The board that oversees DART has a vacancy, and two candidates were reviewed for the slot by the Dallas City Council's Transportation Committee: Howard Gilberg, an environmental lawyer nominated by committee chairman Lee Kleinman; and Patrick Kennedy, founder of Walkable DFW and an urban planning whiz.
Kennedy is a longtime advocate for better city planning. Gilberg admitted during his interview that he was "not an expert on DART," and knew only what he'd read in the newspaper. But the committee voted to recommend Gilberg.
The appointment still has to be approved by the city council. Committee member Sandy Greyson said she would seek a full council vote on Kennedy instead.