Dallas council member’s actions in Lake Highlands deal aren’t right

Alderman Adam McGough has built a lot of credibility with those of us who have known him since serving as the local attorney – and who have often been on the same page trying to make Dallas better.

My reporting path – whether it’s code compliance, loose dogs, or Project Safe Neighborhood – has often crossed with McGough’s good work.

Under the flag of Service, Service, Service, he has consistently achieved great successes for his Lake Highlands District 10, including crime fighting, neighborhood restoration and economic development.

Now I’m trying to reconcile this Adam McGough with what was in the headlines last week. The one considering future employment with Atlanta-based City of Refuge while the nonprofit was also seeking council approval for a $ 28 million development on 12 acres of urban land in McGough’s district.

Even after listening to McGough’s serious and detailed explanations for 90 minutes on Monday, there is no other way I can put the pieces together: his zeal for the project – potentially transformative for both the homeless and their Lake Highlands neighbors – made him a defamatory Case of tunnel vision.

McGough strongly disagrees with my assessment and firmly believes that he did nothing wrong. He seems really baffled that so many of us have questioned what happened.

He says that every act related to potential employment in City of Refuge was transparent and honest, that he sought legal advice and followed it to the letter.

But none of that makes this right. An elected official cannot even think of working on a project that he or she is promoting on the horseshoe.

Among Adam McGough’s four-term tenure on the Dallas City Council was his leadership role on public safety issues. Last month, McGough (third from right) listened as the city’s Domestic Violence Task Force Chair Jennifer Staubach Gates spoke at a press conference on the matter. Also present were (from left) Lt. Dallas Police Department Kylee Hawks, Police Commissioner Eddie Garcia, and Mayor Eric Johnson.(Emil Lippe / special article)

The first, even vague, mention of anyone working for City of Refuge in any capacity, McGough was obliged to end the discussion. With full conviction he should have replied: “Let’s not have this conversation” or – at least – withdraw immediately from the matter in the Council.

The way McGough sees it, he ended up doing just that – “I ran in the opposite direction” – but through a two-month decision-making process over the course of the summer.

“It was never about putting myself in an advantageous position,” McGough told me. “It was just about how we can make this project as good as possible.”

McGough described the many angles he considered to determine the best course and the many experts he spoke to. “Ultimately, it wasn’t the right decision to pursue this as it may create a perception,” he said.

In earnest. But that was way too late. The look is awful and these types of stains are difficult to wash off.

My interviews over the past few days with half a dozen key actors in this drama – in the City Hall and with City of Refuge – have made me feel like I’m talking to people who live in completely different universes of facts, timelines and viewpoints.

I suspect more will be exposed, and maybe my assessment that McGough screwed it up will prove wrong. This is the one time I want to be wrong, given the excellent work I’ve seen over the past 15 years or so.

But what he’s done here is stupid at best – and McGough, a civil and criminal lawyer who is serving his last two years in office, is not a stupid man.

The city's property at 12000 Greenville Avenue is unused as it was the location for construction of the LBJ Freeway.The city’s property at 12000 Greenville Avenue is unused as it was the location for construction of the LBJ Freeway.(Smiley N. Pool / Employee Photographer)

McGough’s loyalty shouldn’t be to the City of Refuge project, no matter how worthy the nonprofit, but rather to ensuring that the city receives the best possible offer.

That is exactly what McGough did in 2016 when he called for a competitive process instead of unilaterally allowing a Walt Humann-led nonprofit to administer Fair Park.

McGough’s memo during this controversy argues, “The city should seek proposals that will provide the best value for the city. Any organization with a plan that will best benefit the city and provide significant financial or other benefits to the city should be encouraged to submit their proposal. “

So McGough and City Hall would also have the property at 12000 Greenville Ave. should treat.

Although City Manager TC Broadnax – at least temporarily – pulls the plug on the City of Refuge plan, city bosses and employees shouldn’t be off the hook either.

They know that these rare no-bid deals are always controversial. Have you fully investigated the issues? Did you feel pressured not to do it? Did you just want to move on to the next one?

Several Council members raised these issues at the two most recent meetings of the Council Committee on October 4 and November 1.

Mayor Pro tem Chad West told me he had long raised concerns about the Community Inspired Redevelopment Demonstration Project Program, the mechanism created in 2020 that allows people to skip the RFP process for deals like the City of Refuge project.

“That is exactly what I feared – a no-bid process in which business is done without going through transparent and fair processes,” said West.

“I was blown when I was told by staff at the October committee meeting that they were theirs [City of Refuge’s] Finances. “

Adam McGough's leadership role since he was elected to the Lake Highlands seat of the Dallas City Council has included serving as Vice Mayor.  Earlier this year, the council elected Jaime Resendez from District 5 to the post.Adam McGough’s leadership role since he was elected to the Lake Highlands seat of the Dallas City Council has included serving as Vice Mayor. Earlier this year, the council elected Jaime Resendez from District 5 to the post.(Ryan Michalesko / employee photographer)

When the project was first unveiled in the summer of 2020, many of us inside and outside the City Hall were intrigued by its possibilities, especially since Bonton Farms, based in South Dallas, was the main partner.

I wrote the first article on the proposal, which was to envision tiny homes for transitional housing, vocational training opportunities, a co-working facility, market, coffee shop, and acres of gardens and green spaces on the urban lot at 12000 Greenville Avenue, the last as a staging area was used for the construction work on the LBJ Freeway.

Six months later, I was more skeptical when Bonton Farms pulled out and City of Refuge, originally a small partner, took the lead. McGough and Bonton Farms founder Daron Babcock assured me at the time that the change was nothing more than Babcock realizing that he had just taken on one project too many.

Babcock told me on Monday that it is unfortunate that the City of Refuge efforts may not survive. “Our city needs more innovative, holistic approaches to helping vulnerable people, and they should build these things, not tear them down.”

He acknowledged that an out-of-state nonprofit like City of Refuge was understandably faced with more questions, but noted that its long history in Atlanta, particularly its ability to provide education and jobs, is impressive.

Babcock is right that Dallas desperately needs more affordable housing and help for the homeless. But it’s hard to imagine now that City of Refuge is part of that blueprint.

The next vote to move the nonprofit’s plan forward would almost certainly have been on the council’s agenda on Wednesday had it not been for freelance journalist Steven Monacelli’s November 3rd Twitter post with several internal emails from the city.

Among them was an email from McGough to City Attorney Chris Caso in February that the councilor said he needed an opinion on “my possible private employment opportunity” to serve on the City of Refuge Atlanta leadership team and wanted to know what steps must be taken that he had to accept if he accepted a position in order to “ensure transparency in the future”.

The email goes on to say: “I will perform some of my duties in Dallas and help plan, develop and build the City of Refuge Lake Highlands project over the next few years.”

Town hall is trying to find out who leaked this news, and McGough told me Monday that he expected this response to help people better understand his side of the story.

Christie Myers (center), who was in Uptown in August 2020 during a volunteer effort to encourage people to register for the census, has been a close friend of the McGough family for years and a familiar face in the work of the District 10 councilor.Christie Myers (center), who was in Uptown in August 2020 during a volunteer effort to encourage people to register for the census, has been a close friend of the McGough family for years and a familiar face in the work of the District 10 councilor.(Tom Fox / Employee Photographer)

He and I also shared my concerns about Christie Myers, a long-time close friend of the McGough family and a familiar face in the Councilor’s District 10 work.

Her Arrow Consulting Group, which received $ 20,000 for working on McGough’s last campaign according to campaign finance reports, also lists City of Refuge as a client.

When I asked McGough if his close friend was being paid to consult on a deal that was so important to the councilor, he told me he had nothing to do with her getting the job – and only found out afterwards.

Myers abruptly left Dallas for her home in Flint, Michigan earlier this year. She didn’t respond to my questions about details of her work for City of Refuge, despite confirming that the nonprofit was a customer.

The idea that the leaders of City of Refuge signed a contract with Myers without first speaking to McGough is, like so much here, hard to believe.

This is exactly the kind of deal that so often undermined confidence in City Hall and at times even got federal agencies off the ground.

Perhaps now is the time to give some serious thought to the Ethics Reform Task Force’s recommendations to Mayor Eric Johnson. Topping that list was the establishment of an inspector general’s office to investigate complaints of wrongdoing.

I can’t help but think that an independent investigator would be very helpful right now.