The State Fair of Texas is used to not having to pay for things it is supposed to. Last year, a city audit discovered that the State Fair hadn’t historically contributed the excess revenues it was obligated by its contract to re-invest in Fair Park, and the funds it did give to the city typically went to improve facilities used by the fair. Amidst criticism, the State Fair responded this year by giving the city $6 million for park upkeep.
Now it has come to light that the State Fair has not been paying enough for the security it receives from off-duty Dallas police officers. The estimated cost of the extra security is around $1 million. The State Fair has been paying the city roughly half that for the service. Not anymore. A Dallas City Council committee advanced a resolution yesterday that will hold the State Fair accountable for the full $1 million bill. The council is expected to approve the resolution tomorrow.
Here’s what jumps out to me about this story. When the State Fair was questioned about the shortfall, its spokesperson simply explained that they only paid $550,000 for the off-duty officers because no one ever asked them to pay anything more than that.
“We always paid what they asked,” the spokesperson said, according to the DMN.
Which pretty sums up all of the problems with Fair Park. Yes, the State Fair is a big, giant behemoth with questionable accounting practices and operational practices that have chased out most of the other organizations that once called Fair Park home. Yes, the State Fair’s operations and calendar all but ensure that, when the fair is not on, Fair Park can only function as a temporary staging ground for large-scale events. Yes, the State Fair of Texas has historically practiced a policy of walling itself off from the surrounding neighborhoods, including seizing properties to create massive parking lot moats and purchasing homes and lots within those neighborhoods and allowing them to contribute to the continued blight of those neighborhoods.
But has anyone at the city ever asked the State Fair to do anything but operate in this manner? Until recently, the answer is no. Until recently, it was accepted Dallas dogma that the establishment that ran City Hall also ran the State Fair, and one existed to serve the other. That’s why these recent efforts to get the State Fair to pay its, er, fair share are much more than mere housekeeping matters. They are fissures created by deeper rumblings of a cultural sea change — in City Hall, and within the city of Dallas at large. New ideas, new priorities. It’s what Dallas needs. And in Dallas, radical change can sometimes look as banal as asking the State Fair to pay its bills.