As the city?s director of the Trinity River Project, Rebecca Dugger is the city?s expert when it comes to all things Trinity. With the toll road campaign in full swing, it was only a matter of time before someone took a look into how Dugger was conducting herself during such a contentious debate.
At the end of August, I filed an open records request with the City of Dallas for documents pertaining to Dugger and the Trinity River Project. Some of them were sent on to the Attorney General, but I recently got my hands on the rest (1,441 pages) and a look at some of Dugger?s email communication reveals she is speaking regularly with Craig Holcomb, executive director of the Trinity Commons Foundation. She has attended meetings with him, asked Holcomb for advice and is receiving information from him that she should have known.
I talked with Dugger to go over some of the emails and documents that I found to be disturbing. When I described her as a board member for the Trinity Commons Foundation, I was surprised by her response....
?Their Web site lists me as a board member?? Dugger said. ?Huh, I didn?t know I was a board member.?
I later called Holcomb to get his reaction and he was quick to say she?s an ex-officio (by virtue of office or position) member. ?There?s a difference,? Holcomb said.
When I asked him if he thought it was misleading that this wasn?t on the Web site, he pulled it up and said she was listed as an ex-officio member. However, he pulled up the Trinity Commons Foundation Web site and I was referring to the Save the Trinity! site.
?It says nothing about her being an ex-officio member on this site,? I said.
?Well, it should,? Holcomb said.
?Don?t you think it?s deceptive to have it listed that way?? I said.
?That was inaccurate,? Holcomb said.
I guess I can?t blame Holcomb for the mistake. With how chummy he and Dugger have become, I?m sure he forgets that she?s not part an organization firmly opposed to the Nov. 6 vote and that spent $40,000 on blockers during the May elections.
On July 20, Holcomb sent an email to Dugger with ?HNTB? in the subject line.
I met with them [HNTB] today. They have been hired by NTTA to do the urban design of the Parkway. They would like to be part of the lakes meetings. That makes sense to me as one of our biggest hurdles is getting the Parkway designed. Thoughts?
HNTB is a national firm that handles architecture, planning, transportation and urban design with local offices in Dallas and Plano. This was Dugger?s response:
Hmm?not sure why NTTA has hired someone to do urban design. If so, what are we doing? And what exactly would they be doing (with our ideas)?
But if they?re doing it, then yes, they should be invited IF Trinity Parkway guidelines is an agenda item.
This email exchange is troubling for several reasons. When Holcomb refers to ?one of our biggest hurdles,? there is the implication that they are fighting for the same side in the toll road campaign. Also, knowing the road design was a big hurdle only a couple of months ago is damning news for the Vote No! side.
What?s really surprising is how Holcomb is the one delivering information to Dugger and then she asks him questions about what is going on. She is the director of one of the most important projects in the history of Dallas, yet she is being fed information from someone who has debated in support of the current alignment on several occasions and is the executive director of a foundation that has supported the political efforts against the referendum.
... ?How did you end up meeting with HNTB and finding out they were taking over the urban design for the road?? I asked him.
?I don?t know what you?re talking about,? Holcomb said.
?Well, you found out that they were taking over the urban design and then you told Rebecca Dugger,? I said.
?I don?t remember,? Holcomb said.
?I have an email here that says that is what happened,? I said.
Holcomb?s memory suddenly got better, although only slightly.
?I guess they told me,? Holcomb said. ?I don?t understand what you?re getting at.?
I explained my concern about the email and Holcomb became agitated as I pressed him for an answer. I?m not sure if he just doesn?t like me (probable) or doesn?t like my questions (very likely), but Holcomb can be a hard guy to get a straight answer from. Finally, he surrendered with this.
?Fine,? Holcomb said. ?I guess I knew before she did.?
...After speaking with Dugger and Holcomb, I talked with Angela Hunt for her reaction. She said this email underscores the fact that it doesn?t appear that the City of Dallas and the taxpayers are running the Trinity River Project and it seems to be run by other interests.
?If you look at the corporations and businesses listed on the Trinity Commons Web site, their supporters are the same companies that are benefiting most financially from this endeavor,? Hunt said. ?It?s troubling to see someone who is the head of that organization having more knowledge and information.?
Holcomb wasn?t the only one put out with talking to me yesterday. While researching another email between Holcomb and Dugger, I spoke with Bob Stimson, president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce and former council member. Here is the conversation from July 26:
Holcomb: On August 24 at 11:30 a.m., I am talking to the Oak Cliff Chamber membership meeting about the Trinity. They want visuals. I ain?t got ?em. Can we partner?
Dugger: I would LOVE to partner with you. What kind of visuals do you want? Do you want a whole presentation or just some boards? Do you want me to attend as a backup/visual eye candy?
...?The only thing I did at the Oak Cliff Chamber was at their request, I brought a poster board of the project, set it up, stood by the board before Craig Holcomb?s presentation and answered questions about the project,? Dugger said. ?Mr. Holcomb then gave his presentation and there were probably three or four questions that he couldn?t answer that were technical talking about the floodwall and the flood frequency. He referred them to me and I would answer them in a technical manner and I sat back down. He continued to do his thing for advocacy, but I did not. I was simply there as a technical resource at their request.?
I wasn?t at the meeting, but this kind of excuse is unacceptable. The idea that Holcomb can give a presentation that promotes one side of this issue and have a city employee by his side gives the impression that they are on the same side regardless of what information Dugger is providing.
... I gave a call over to the Chamber to find out if they had extended the invitation to Dugger.
I spoke with Kiyundra, who told me Holcomb was the only invited guest and Dugger attended of her ?own accord.? However, as I was asking her to spell her name and then for her last name, she started to panic and put me on hold. When she returned, she said, ?Never mind; strike that.? She then told me Stimson would be calling me back.
I told Stimson I had a very simple question. Was Dugger invited by the Chamber to speak on Aug. 24? Rather than answer a really straightforward, easy question, Stimson went on the offensive.
?Were you there?? Stimson said.
?No, I wasn?t.? I said.
?Well, you really shouldn?t be reporting on something you weren?t at,? Stimson said.
Stimson, an advocate for the toll road (see his video), continued to attack me with questions about why I was asking about it and why I needed to know. He refused to give me an answer until I explained that I was trying to determine whether the Chamber had invited her or if Holcomb had brought her himself. As soon as he heard that, he said, ?Oh, I invited her.?
... Another communication that concerned me was one between Dugger, Jodi Faulkner (Dugger?s secretary) and Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan from June 28.
From Faulkner to Dugger: George Shafer called. He wants to talk to you about updating Councilmember Carolyn Davis on the Trinity. He had lunch with her today and realized that she knew nothing about the project and she mentioned that Ms. Hunt has already been trying to give her ?an update.? [rest of email redacted]
From Dugger to Jordan: How do you want me to handle this?
George Shafer is a real estate developer and chair of the Texas State Fair. He?s also on the board of the Trinity Commons Foundation.
... ?These emails indicate a continuous effort, a concerted effort on behalf of City of Dallas employees at taxpayers? expense of collaborating with the opposition on a political campaign to effectuate a specific outcome of this political effort,? Hunt said. ?Not only is that in violation of the city?s ethics code, but it violates Texas elections law. I think we should all be troubled by this.?
Indeed, we should be troubled by this.
I also received Dugger?s time sheets from June 6 through Aug. 28, which included 13 hours and a mileage reimbursement for speaking engagements similar to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce meeting. I asked Dugger if she felt it was ethical to be using taxpayers? money to do the presentations and if she thought she might be coming across as an advocate.
?... It?s part of my performance plan to do presentations on the Trinity Parkway and my bosses haven?t seen fit to tell me not to do it. Again, my marching orders are to give presentations on the Trinity Project.?
...On July 24, Dugger received an email from Daniel Oney, research and information manager for the Office of Economic Development, requesting ?a great overhead photo of the Trinity River Corridor Project.? Dugger sent him a photo and Oney responded.
Rebecca, are you concerned with using artists? renderings on Trinity projects with the potential referendum pending? Maybe it is safer to show actual photos?
Dugger: Yes, I am concerned, but don?t know what else to do. I use this photo in my presentations to various groups, since it is the locally preferred option at this time. Until the actual vote (or in the case that there are not enough valid signatures for an election), we have our marching orders to continue with this option.
We don?t really have any actual photos at this time. Check out the attached though?
The question at hand is really about where these so-called marching orders are coming from. Dugger claims it?s from the council, yet in all the documents I received, I found very little (if any) communication between Dugger and any council member. However, she talks a lot to Holcomb and also has been seeking information from Marcus Wood of the Mixmaster Business Association. Wood is also a board member of the Trinity Commons Foundation.
So the question begs to be asked. Is Dugger representing Dallas citizens in her role as director of the Trinity River Project or is she representing the Trinity Commons Foundation?
...If you believe the latter, then as Hunt suggested, the city?s ethics code and Texas elections law have been violated. It also proves something most of us already knew. City Hall isn?t run by the people; it?s run by special interest groups like the Dallas Citizens Council and the Trinity Commons Foundation.
This is what makes Hunt so unique. While everyone else is bowing to the real powers of City Hall, she stays true to the mission of why she ran for council -- to represent the citizens who don?t have a voice. Thanks to Hunt, Dallas voters will have their chance to stand up and take back the Trinity River Project, which has been taken hostage by the Trinity Commons Foundation.