Trinity toll road backers [Vote NO!] write confusing ballot language, then claim it was drafted by their adversaries [Vote Yes!]
Oct 29, 2007
by Sam Merten
When I posted my latest conversation with Mayor Leppert, I promised a follow-up to discuss issues from the Oct. 22 forum that concerned me. The first thing that bothered me was Leppert claiming there have been “zero” private contributions since the petition drive began.
Normally this wouldn’t have been a big deal. He’s been saying this throughout the campaign. However, I was at the Oct. 17 debate at Vickery Towers when Bob Meckfessel, who was debating against Angela Hunt, admitted that a large gift had recently been given to the Trinity Trust Foundation.
This was brought up when a great question from the audience was asked. The question was, “What does the absence of a toll road in the park have to do with private donations? Why would one way or the other keep rich people from giving to the park?”
Meckfessel said he wasn’t sure because he’s not rich, but then provided this confusing answer.
“The fact is, and I think Gail Thomas would confirm this, is that private philanthropy has basically dried up during this time,” Meckfessel said. “Hopefully, once it’s resolved either way, it will start up again. In the meantime, it has come to a halt.”
Basically dried up or come to a halt? Hunt asked him if any large gifts had recently been secured and he replied, “Yeah.” Meckfessel then changed his tune.
“It [private philanthropy] has not dried up,” Meckfessel said. “It has slowed down in that it’s not flowing in as fast as it was.”
So I’ve been sitting on this, waiting for a response from Gail Thomas, president of the Trinity Trust Foundation. However, I’ve been told she’s out of town. She may or may not get back to me, but really, would Meckfessel backtrack if a donation hadn’t been made?
Of course not. With or without confirmation from Thomas, Meckfessel’s admission is a clear indication that Leppert has been lying about “zero” private donations. And it’s not like Leppert could have forgot since he’s on the board of directors of the Trinity Trust Foundation.
The other big thing I learned at Vote No’s one-sided forum was that the issue of trucks being on this road is becoming more of a concern as more people supporting the road continue to send different messages. The NTTA made it clear it doesn’t want trucks on the road and now Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, has told me trucks won’t be using the Trinity Turnpike.
Morris, who gave a PowerPoint presentation giving his 10 reasons why people should vote no, didn’t mention trucks. However, I caught up with him after the forum and asked him if trucks would be using this road.
“We won’t have trucks on the toll road, on the Trinity Parkway,” Morris said.
I then asked why the lanes have been designed at 12 feet instead of 11 feet and he said because federal funds are being used, the road must be designed to federal standards, which are 12-foot lanes.
This would all be fine except for members of the Vote No! campaign saying the opposite. Bill Blaydes admitted trucks will use the road at a Lake Highlands debate Oct. 1. Here is what he said.
“Trucks are gonna use it. Trucks are gonna use it because it is the fastest route of getting through a metroplex that is growing at the rate of 3,000 people a day.”
It’s not like Mayor Leppert hasn’t acknowledged this himself. When he teamed up with Bob Meckfessel Oct. 7 at Temple Emanu-El, moderator Dr. Richard Wasserman asked the Vote No! side if the road would be available to 18-wheelers as well as regular vehicles and Meckfessel replied, “Yes.”
“So it’s an open tollway,” Dr. Wasserman said. “So that would be open to all types of traffic.”
“But truckers hate paying tolls,” Meckfessel said.
“Truckers hate tolls, but truckers hate sitting in traffic jams probably equal to that. Obviously it depends on the toll and the traffic jam, but that’s certainly a consideration,” Dr. Wasserman said. “You don’t see a lot of trucks on the Dallas North Tollway.”
“Also, this is not the route that truckers use,” Leppert said.
Clearly the Vote No! campaign knows something the NTTA and Michael Morris don’t know. What is known is that the Allen Group contributed $50,000 to the Vote No! campaign and sponsored an event to help Mayor Leppert recoup $950,000 in debt from his mayoral campaign. Another $50,000 contributor to the Vote No! campaign is the law firm Thompson & Knight. One of its clients happens to be Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF).
The Allen Group and BNSF are the major players in the inland port project in South Dallas. The Allen Group is building a 6,000-acre facility called the the
With all these trucks wanting to get out of the South, they are going to want the best way to bypass downtown congestion. The Trinity Turnpike will be a way for these trucks to move out of the South faster. This is why the Vote No! campaign has been saying trucks will be using this road. So for Leppert to say “this is not a route that truckers use” is well, misleading at best. Why the NTTA and NCTCOG are out of the loop, I have no idea, but the connection is clear.
I have to hand it to Vote No! on this one. For once, they were actually up front about an issue, even when it conflicted with what the NTTA and NCTCOG were saying. However, the knowledge that this road will be a major truck route should be a concern for voters, especially since the NTTA has said trucks using this road would be bad for the environment and Michael Morris was adamant that the NCTCOG wants to keep trucks off this road.
The NTTA told me that restricting these trucks from the turnpike would require approvals from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), the NTTA and the Dallas City Council. I think we know what the Dallas City Council is going to say on this one.
Let’s play another game of connect the dots. Back when Councilmember Ron Natinsky was accusing Angela Hunt of writing the ballot language, I was able to get Assistant City Attorney Jesus Toscano to admit it was the City Attorney’s Office that wrote it.
“Our office, along with bond council, wrote the ballot language and presented it to the council and the council approved the ballot language,” Toscano said.
Since then, I’ve been trying to contact City Attorney Tom Perkins to find out about the city’s bond council and ask him a couple other questions. Perkins has been a tough man to get a hold of, so I finally asked a secretary to find out about the bond council, and she came back on the phone and told me it is Vinson & Elkins, where Ron Kirk is a partner. Suddenly I was told, “Tom would like to talk with you.”
I asked Perkins why the bond council was involved in writing the ballot language and he said, “Because I chose to consult with them.” I then asked if he had any issue with that since Ron Kirk has been so intimately involved in the Vote No! campaign.
“That occurred long before any campaigns were put together or his role or anything like that,” Perkins said.
“Looking back on it, you don’t see any issue with it?” I said.
“No,” Perkins said.
Perkins also wanted to point out that the city has teams of bond council and Vinson & Elkins is one of the members of the team. When I asked for the other members, Perkins said, “I’d have to get you the names of the other law firms.”
So what happened when the ballot language was written was Tom Perkins, who works for the council members (14 of which are on the Vote No! side), consulted with Vinson & Elkins, which happens to have one of its partners working on the Vote No! side, to come up with the confusing language on the ballot.
“The ballot issue is very confusing, indicating that we should vote "NO" or "YES". We thought we had it figured it out when we went to vote early today. Then we found that the ballot is "FOR" or "AGAINST". Very confusing and we hope we supported your view, but we are not sure. It seems that some politicians are deliberately trying to confuse the voters again. I hope you do not lose by one vote.”
This was the response from Randall White, who is the president of the Corporate Citizen Group. Carol Reed and Associates is listed among CCG’s clients.
“Thank you for your comments. Yes, the ballot language is unclear and confusing. It was drafted by the opponents to the Trinity Project for their petition and, by state law, was the language the city had to use for the ballot. The ballot language has also been posted on our Web site and on the county elections Web site for some time. We have been communicating to our constituents for a month that voting no means voting against the referendum. Like you, we hope that voters will understand the impact of their vote.”
I also asked Perkins about Rebecca Dugger’s PowerPoint presentations. My first question was very simple, “Your office has approved the slides that she’s using, is that correct?”
“I’m not discussing any conversations or discussions that our office has had with staff,” Perkins said.
“Why not?” I said.
“Because those are privileged communications,” Perkins said.
“I’m not asking you to talk about any communication, but I’m just asking you to confirm that you approved the presentations that she is giving,” I said.
“I’m not discussing those conversations,” Perkins said.
So, to recap, you’ve got Meckfessel admitting that a large private gift has been given despite Leppert going around town saying no funds have been raised. You have the NTTA and NCTCOG saying there won’t be trucks, but Vote No! is saying there will be trucks. And now, it should be crystal clear why. Finally, you’ve got Tom Perkins working on behalf of the council asking Ron Kirk’s law firm for advice on writing the language on the ballot for which both sides admit is confusing, yet the Vote No! side wants to blame the Vote Yes! side.
Confused yet? If not, check out Vote No’s TV ad.
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