Jim Oberwetter Slams Dallas for No-Bid Contract at Love Field

Boy, the Dallas Regional Chamber got itself a real firebrand when it elected as its president Jim Oberwetter. In the June newsletter from the Chamber, he has written a letter that should stir things up at City Hall. It begins:

There once was a New York City mayor named George Washington Plunkitt who ran a political machine known as Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was so powerful and corrupt that its excesses lead to political reform that swept the country free of such “machines” except in a few remaining cities.

In the 1920s, when Dallas was faced with similar problems, the citizens stepped forward with reforms to rid the city of public officials whose actions stood in the way of progress. Since that time, the city and its officials, for the most part, have remained true to those reforms.

Lately there has been some backsliding — not good for Dallas, its people or its businesses.

Oberwetter is talking about the no-bid contract that city staff wants to give State Rep. Helen Giddings. Jump to read Oberwetter’s entire letter.


City Stones and the Public Trust

There once was a New York City mayor named George Washington Plunkitt who ran a political machine known as Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was so powerful and corrupt that its excesses lead to political reform that swept the country free of such “machines” except in a few remaining cities.

In the 1920s, when Dallas was faced with similar problems, the citizens stepped forward with reforms to rid the city of public officials whose actions stood in the way of progress. Since that time, the city and its officials, for the most part, have remained true to those reforms.

Lately there has been some backsliding — not good for Dallas, its people or its businesses. Thankfully we have a great Mayor, Tom Leppert, leading an informed City Council to pass new ethics reforms. “We don’t need a replay of the old days,” this reform says, “let’s keep the City clean.”

Mayor Plunkitt was famous for his raw, unvarnished and warped view of government. “Nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the distinction in the world between the two,” he once told a reporter who wrote a book quoting him on his beliefs. But in the end there really is not a distinction, as we shall soon see.

For example, Mayor Plunkitt described what he called “honest graft.” Suppose the city “is repavin’ a street and has several hundred thousand old granite blocks to sell. I am on hand to buy, and I know just what they are worth.”

Plunkitt said he had a sort of monopoly on this business for a while, but a newspaper once had some men bid against him. Before the bid he approached the men and asked how many stones they wanted. He said to them “let me bid for the lot, and I’ll give each of you all you want for nothin.”

The bidding began and the auctioneer yelled “How much am I bid for these 250,000 fine pavin’ stones?”

“Two dollars and fifty cents,” Plunkitt called out.

“Oh, that’s a joke give me a real bid,” the auctioneer screamed. The $2.50 bid stood as the others stayed silent. Plunkitt won and gave the others their share for free.

Plunkitt called this “honest graft.” How so? You see, he said, the city got its money. “The books are always right. The money in the city treasury is all right. Everything is all right,” Plunkitt said.

Except it was not all right. The process of transparent, open bidding was eviscerated. The city auctioneer clearly knew the value of the stones was much greater. The city’s “pavin’ stones,” which should have brought needed money to the city treasury and relief to taxpayers, brought only a paltry $2.50.

Plunkitt’s gain was the public’s loss.

So, what’s the moral to this story? Trust in our elected officials comes about when they protect the interests of all citizens of the City through processes that are transparent, that are best practices. Mayor Leppert is right in calling for a change in bidding processes for certain city contracts at Love Field so that the city and all its citizens come out as far ahead as possible.

This is not, I repeat not, about the integrity of those who have contracts that is in question. They are respected citizens of our community. Indeed they have improved vendor services at Love Field over the years. This is about the process going forward. What is at issue is how the City, its residents and taxpayers all gain the greatest value from the “pavin stones” which they own in the coming years. The public trust is what is at stake.

George Washington Plunkitt is long gone. He never visited Dallas. Neither should his ghost.

For current information on the Love Field issue click here. For a hugely entertaining, if warped short read, George Washington Plunkitt of Tammany Hall is still in print or available in full on the web.

Sincerely,

Amb. James C. Oberwetter
President
Dallas Regional Chamber

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