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Is Dugger a Puppet for the Trinity Commons Foundation? Print E-mail
by Sam Merten    Fri, Sep 28, 2007, 09:44 AM

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.

“I’m not on the board of the Trinity Commons Foundation,” Dugger said.

Surely my eyes hadn’t deceived me and sure enough, on the Save the Trinity Web site under board members, “Ms. Rebecca Dugger” is listed.

“You’re no longer a member?” I said.

“I’ve never been a board member,” Dugger said. “I attend their meetings at their request, but I’m not a board member.”

“A Web site has you listed as a board member,” I said.

“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.

I asked Dugger about this email, specifically why Holcomb would be telling her that information and why she wouldn’t have gotten it first.

“Hmm…I don’t know. I think…I can’t even remember when he told me or how he found out before I did,” Dugger said. “I knew that HNTB worked for NTTA and had already done their system-wide urban design guidelines. I think he had just maybe run into someone from HNTB and they told him they were taking it over. I don’t know.”

At least I can give Dugger credit for acknowledging the conversation took place. Holcomb’s memory wasn’t so good.

“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.”

So a new company takes over urban design and he doesn’t remember until I tell him I have proof? This is not something you forget. If he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, he wouldn’t have been so uptight about my questions.

I asked Dugger why HNTB was brought in and she said they were hired to take a more specific look at the parkway. She explained that the Balanced Vision Plan is more of “a view from 10,000 feet” and this urban design gets closer to the ground. Dugger mentioned that HNTB has done work for the entire NTTA system, which led me to wonder if the design was slipping out of the city’s control. She said they haven’t taken over the design, but were merged with the consultants doing the lake design, who originally were in charge of the urban design.

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?

Again, this email gives the impression that Holcomb and Dugger are working together as a team and Dugger’s “visual eye candy” remark speaks to the close relationship the two have. I asked Dugger if she thought it was appropriate to be attending this meeting as a city employee when Holcomb was clearly advocating a position on the upcoming vote.

“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. If I’m at a Nazi meeting and claim to be merely giving out facts about the Holocaust, people are going to make the assumption that I’m a Nazi and rightfully so. It’s called guilty by association.

One part of Dugger’s response that stuck out was that she said she appeared at the request of the Chamber as opposed to Holcomb as it seemed in the email. So 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.” Stimson went on to explain, without any questioning from me, that Dugger “made it clear that she was not an advocate.” Stimson ended the conversation by saying, “Happy fishing.”

Stimson is yet another example of the incredible arrogance and dismissive nature of those in support of the toll road. Was it too much for him to answer a simple question? Apparently so. He felt the need to belittle me and HOW DARE I QUESTION THE MOTIVES OF THE PRO-ROAD GROUP!

I also asked Holcomb about how Dugger ended up at the meeting and he said he asked Dugger after speaking with Stimson. In fairness, I’m sure that was the case. However, Stimson’s behavior became more interesting than his answer and again, Holcomb and Dugger’s appearances together send a message that they are in the same camp.

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. I discussed this email with Dugger and said it appeared as though this was an attempt to rescue council members from getting any information from Angela Hunt on this issue.

“Umm…I don’t know,” Dugger said. “I contacted Mr. Shafer about it and he never called me back. I never did anything either way.”

I don’t know? Not what I was hoping for and certainly not what the citizens of Dallas should expect as an answer. The public wants to hear her say, “No. Absolutely not. There is no effort to keep information from council members and they are certainly not dissuaded from speaking with Ms. Hunt.” But she didn’t say this. She said she didn’t know.

“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.

“The presentation that I give is all fact-based. It’s got the facts of the roadway and the cost of each alignment that’s out there. It’s got facts about flooding, how much acreage it takes up compared to the rest of the acreage, whether or not we need this road and then I talk about the referendum. I say what the referendum says and I say what a ‘yes’ vote means and what a ‘no’ vote means. I do not ever advocate for either side,” Dugger said. “When I do a presentation and they want to have further discussion about the referendum, I’ll leave. 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.”

Marching orders? What are these marching orders she spoke of? I’m glad you asked because she was referencing an email I asked her about earlier in our conversation.

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…

Dugger explained to me that her concern was releasing pictures and then having to come back and put out new ones to make it closer to reality based on “what will and what won’t work.”

“I don’t mind giving people an idea of what something is going to look like as long as they don’t feel like that’s the final picture of what it’s going to look like,” Dugger said.

“If you’re concerned, then why are you continuing to use them?” I said.

“Because people ask me for it. People want to know what it looks like so we do the best we can. I don’t necessarily mind doing it; it’s just the criticism that I know is going to follow if we don’t do it exactly in the way the picture is shown.”

“Can you explain what you meant by marching orders?” I said.

“The last directive I was given from the council was to do the Balanced Vision Plan. So when I talk about my marching orders, I’m talking about what the council directs me to do. So we’re going forward with the plan we have,” Dugger said. “Obviously we’re thinking about what would happen if the referendum passes, but that’s not our focus right now. We’re continuing forward with the last directive that we’ve been given by council.”

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 former, then I’d ask you to consider the question if a city employee was doing what Dugger has been doing, but against the road instead of in favor of it. Let’s say hypothetically that City Manager Mary Suhm had been communicating regularly with Angela Hunt and other TrinityVote supporters, speaking at meetings along with her. There would be a huge public outrage.

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.


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Comments (13)add comment
written by Mike , September 28, 2007

Great job of reporting, Sam. Keep up the good work. The more that people learn about what's really going on here, the better motivated they'll be to fix this mess on November 6.

written by Sharon Boyd , September 28, 2007

Sam, you're certainly living up to the DallasObserer Best Of award. This is an incredible report.

Donna Halstead, a paid lobbyist by the Dallas Citizens Council, has booked Dugger at several Republican Women's Clubs as an "unbiased" presenter - just the facts. Baloney!

Dugger is as unbiased as was Victoria Loe Hicks at the Oak Cliff debate.

You have to feel sorry for Dugger in a way. If she refuses to violate the City's Ethics Code prohibiting an employee from campaigning for either side, she gets fired. Now that she has violated the Ethics Code, she is exposed to legal action against her.

Angela Hunt is handling all this pressure and personal attacks very well.

written by Oak Cliffer , September 28, 2007

Stimson and the Oak Cliff Chamber purposely tried to exclude Angela Hunt from the engagement you referred to in your story. The rhetoric that the OC Chamber has been spewing is that OC's new development is attributable to the TRP.

"And to top it off, they time this just as Oak Cliff is seeing the economic impact in terms of new development, jobs and tax base. All related to the Trinity River Project.

The bottom line is that the Trinity Balanced Plan was approved by voters eight years ago and another election will stall those efforts."

This is horse crap. The developments in Oak Cliff (the new UNT campus, Bishop Arts revitalization, the Westmoreland/Illinois Development, the Fort Worth Av plan) have NOTHING to do with a bloated poorly executed public works project. They have everything to do with DART, downtown revitalization and the desire to move back to urban centers. Stimson and Veletta are off in their own little world on this TRP nonsense.

written by yeah right , September 28, 2007

re: Oak Cliffer

Plus, the OCC is wrong. Miller campaigned for PRE-katrina standards. Not sure if she got them.

Sam - start looking into JPI. They have at least 20 acres near the callatrava bridge.

written by yeah right , September 28, 2007

i keep hearing about the vote no people...but where are their regular people that will actually vote no on this thing? do they have any?it's always big wigs and Ceo's

written by Concerned Citizen , September 28, 2007

Sam, please check into the 501.c.3 status of the Trinity Commons Foundation. When I checked the IRS website that listed all of the 501.c.3 organizations in Dallas, Texas, Trinity Commons Foundation is not on the list -- yet, they claim to be a 501.c.3 organization on their website. Ummmmm....

written by Concerned Citizen , September 28, 2007

Someone needs to file an ethics complaint against Duggar. Any takers?

written by Sam Merten , September 28, 2007

Concerned Citizen:

I’m way ahead of you on that one. I checked their status directly with the IRS months ago and they are up-to-date. Their official name for tax purposes is “Trinity River Commission Foundation, Inc.”

written by Mary Warren , September 29, 2007

After attending some of the community forums on the Trinity Project vote, my best guess is that the elite and powerful are actually focused on profiting from a new role for Industrial Blvd. The vote-no gang talks about the mixed-use development that would only be possible on Industrial and how that would be ruined if it became the toll road. They want to be the ones to buy land from pawn shops, bond companies, and liquor stores - it will be relatively cheap for downtown investments.

Sam, could you please explain to me why they are so hell-bent on putting up a toll road as part of the project? Who is making money on that and how? Is it simply more momentum for privatizing all Texas roads as Rick Perry and TxDOT are advocating?

written by Disappointed in City Hall , September 30, 2007

Personally, I think City Hall is terrified that a grassroots effort just might undermine their "sense of security" in all that they do. Would that not open the door for other concerned citizens' groups to object to their abysmal failure to respond to the needs and desires of the residents?

I say "Go Angela!" She seems to be the only one at City Hall who listens to us and responds in kind - and she has NO vested personal interest, unlike many (might that be most?) of the others.

written by Joe Dawg , September 30, 2007

Yeah, but is the Trinity Commons Foundation a 501.c4 which allows them to take part in political debates? Are they up-to-date on this status Sam? This is the real question?

written by james Northrup , October 01, 2007

When they present the NTTA video, they need to show it when the river is at flood - so the audience knows how much higher the levees will have to be on the Oak Cliff side to make up for the flood water displaced to protect the tollroad.
Such a rendering would make a very telling cross section - catfish swimming in the flooded river at the same elevation as cars on the adjacent road.
When the river plain floods, the only place to pump storm water from the tollroad will be over the top of the levees - into Oak Cliff, etc.

written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , October 02, 2007

The main reasons I supported "Strong Mayor" form of Government was because after years of being in and around city hall, I knew the City Manager and staff were more political then the Council members. I wanted someone elected by the people to have some power. This recent story about city staff does not surprise me at all, it happens every day in the week. Big business has instant access to the Managers office. The land all along Industrial is being rezoned for new development. The proposed zoning change was design by City staff along the Trinity, when a property owner applies for zoning change it now goes to the Trinity office for approval or denial before the Plan Commission considers the request. Most property owners do not know their new designation Trinity River Development District. This is a political campaign issue and City staff should not be involved.

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