The Oak Cliff Stratford Deal: Anatomy of a ‘Trailer Vote’

Jason mentioned the oddball election in North Oak Cliff where exactly one voter cast a ballot, thereby giving the North Oak Cliff Municipal Management District the power to issue $97 million in bonds. Looks like Shelley Kofler had the story first. The interesting thing — besides the fact that only a single ballot was cast — was that the lone voter turns out to have a curious connection to the developer that will use those low-interest bonds to build infrastructure to support a $700 million project. Let’s dig a little deeper into what has happened here, and I’ll explain why I’m terribly disappointed in Austin Lee Vest, the lone voter.

The North Oak Cliff Municipal Management District is colloquially called a MUD (for municipal management district). MUDs are special districts generally established in rural areas to build roads and sewers and suchlike. There’s a MUD up in Denton County, for instance, called Shiney Hiney Ranch that was given the go-ahead in 2010 to issue $371 million in bonds. The idea is that no bank will loan money to build a road on vacant land where someone will eventually develop something. So you create a MUD, which is essentially an autonomous little government all to itself. The MUD holds a bond election. It gets cheap money. And it levies taxes to service those bonds. Clever, right? Not everyone digs it. You can read more here.

If you’re paying attention (all five of you who read this far), then you have a question: how the heck can a tiny government comprised of vacant land hold an election without any citizens living there to vote? Good question! What you need is a trailer vote. Literally, in some cases, a guy rolls a trailer onto the property, squats there awhile, registers to vote, and then gets er done. People actually hire themselves out to developers for this purpose. (Side note: I am now seeking such work. Developers, please contact me. Also, I need to borrow a trailer.)

That brings us to Austin Lee Vest, our North Oak Cliff Municipal Management District voter. Except Vest didn’t live in a trailer. He lived — excuse me. He registered to vote using the address 3223 Adbritain. DCAD says it’s an 1,800-square-foot ranch house with an attached garage. Not awesome. But not too shabby either, especially for a 24-year-old who is maybe just making his way in the world. A decent starter pad close enough to Bishop Arts that young Master Vest could ride his bike.

But. But! It turns out that Vest is the son of Ocie Vest, senior vice president of entitlements for Stratford Land, the developer doing the deal in North Oak Cliff. Kofler pointed this out. She also pointed out that “repeated visits to the house in the past week turned up nothing but barking dogs.” AND, the house is owned by a limited partnership called SLF III INCAP, whose address is on Sherry Lane. Guess who else has the same Sherry Lane address. You’re right! It’s Stratford Land. The call is coming from inside the house!

Here’s why I’m disappointed in Austin Lee Vest. It’s not because he has done anything illegal. His driver’s license lists the Adbritain address. About five weeks before the election, he used that address to register to vote. All by the letter of the law. But where’s the commitment? Vest almost certainly never laid his head to rest at 3223 Adbritain. He didn’t go to Home Depot and buy a new toilet flapper so he could keep the American Standard from running. He didn’t get up early on Saturday to watch soccer and idly wonder at halftime whether he should fix a sandwich at 3223 Adbritain. Because not only couldn’t Kofler find him at the house, but other public records tie Vest to an address in Southlake. Southlake! Southlake is no North Oak Cliff, friends. Not when you’re talking Westmoreland south of I-30. Those trailer folks, they live in a trailer. They earn the right to vote in a goofy election. What Vest did is like hiring a guy to camp in line for a week to buy the iPhone 6, then walk up five minutes before the doors open at the Apple Store and grab the goods.

It’s just. I don’t know. It doesn’t show respect for the game. When ol’ Ocie came up to his son and said, “I’m going to use you to issue bonds so we can put this $700 million deal together,” young Vest should have said, “Dad, I’m doing this the right way. Give me the keys. If I’m going to vote in the North Oak Cliff Municipal Management District election, then by gosh, I’m going to live there.”

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