Man, this is a weird deal. I don’t fully understand it, but I’ll break it down as best I’m able.
Last week, the website Candy’s Dirt posted a story about Reverchon Park in which Jon Anderson (who has contributed in the past to FrontBurner) laid out an argument for why there has always been plenty of money to fix up the ball field at Reverchon, so the “city’s poormouth cries in regards to Reverchon — and any number of other facilities — appear to be of the crocodile variety.” Without linking to any documents or citing any sources, Anderson said that Reverchon was sitting on $527,061 from the 2006 bond package. Further, Anderson, citing IRS 990 forms without links, said that in a two-year period, the nonprofit Friends of Reverchon Park had given $187,250 to another nonprofit, the Trinity Nature Conservancy. He wanted to know why that money was spent on the Trinity and not Reverchon. But he didn’t appear to pose that question to anyone who might know the answer.
As someone who has written in support of the Reverchon Park deal, I read the foregoing and went, “Huh? How does any of that make sense?” OK, here’s what I know, what I think I know, what I know I don’t know, and what I think:
First, try to figure out where we stand on that 2006 bond. Go ahead. I dare you. I thought this right here was a full accounting of where we stood on the accounting of the $1.35 billion in authorized bonds, at least as of 2013. As I read that document, all the money earmarked for Reverchon has been spent. Hang on, though. Here’s a Park Board briefing from 2016 that indicates there was indeed $500,000 from the 2006 bond still unspent.
I asked John Jenkins, the interim Park Department director, to explain this to me. A manager in his office promptly emailed that $331,977.91 remains from the 2006 bond. That’s all I can tell you about that. Anderson missed by $195,083.09. But his point is still taken. There is money. That money hasn’t been spent. It could be earmarked for the Reverchon Rec Center but maybe not. I don’t know. Anderson doesn’t know. The woman in the Park Department didn’t explain.
Now on to the more interesting part, to my mind (and I’ll explain in a minute why I think $331,977.91 in unspent money isn’t terribly interesting). Anderson pointed out that Friends of Reverchon Park had given the Trinity Nature Conservancy $97,250 in 2015, constituting all of TNC’s revenue, and $90,000 of their $110,000 in revenue the following year. (NB: Trinity Nature Conservancy is not to be confused with the much larger Trinity Park Conservancy, recipient of the Simmons family’s largesse.)
Why would one nonprofit give another nonprofit a bunch of money — especially when the giver was giving away essentially all of its revenue for two years running? What are the connections between those two nonprofits? And, finally, what the hell?
Here are the documents that Anderson didn’t link to, for whatever reason. A 990 is the form that nonprofits file every year that shows who runs the joint, how much money they’ve collected, and where they’ve spent it. If you look at the 990s for Friends of Reverchon Park and the Trinity Nature Conservancy for 2016, you’ll notice that the name Steve Smith appears on both. That year he was one of three directors for Trinity and a vice president of Reverchon. Trinity listed three responsible folks on its 900, and Reverchon listed four. These are small nonprofits.
Steve Smith is a rich guy who seems to have good intentions but doesn’t understand that he can’t go into the Trinity Forest and, without permission, cut down trees on public land. Also, he wrote a misleading DMN op-ed that led the nation to think Dallas has pretty much already built the nation’s largest urban park (not true). Here’s what we’ve written on Smith.
I sent Smith an email and asked him to explain why Reverchon was funneling money to Trinity. His response:
I’d prefer to not be part of the Reverchon ball field story. It is sad to me that something that would cause so much good for so many people is being made into something bad. If you are going to a story on the ball field, I believe the real story is the small number of people who are putting their personal interest ahead of that of all the kids and others who would be helped by the ball field. Very sad.
My response to his response:
With all due respect, you may wish not to be a part of the story, but that doesn’t much matter if you serve on the boards of Friends of Reverchon Park and Trinity Nature Conservancy and were the impetus for transferring funds from one group to the other. … I’ve looked over these 990s. This really doesn’t make sense to me. We need to talk.
His response to my response:
I’m not your guy. I don’t even know what a 990 is. I know you need to build a story and I suggest you talk with the Scottish Rite Hospital, whose kids are going to be deprived of a magnificent play area if the ball field project falls through. They are the real victims here.
Like I said, this is interesting. Here’s a guy who occupies important positions on at least two nonprofits, one of which is giving all its money to the other. And he says he doesn’t know what a 990 is. This is a problem. Someone needs to pull Smith aside and explain to him what a 990 is. They are IRS filings with his name on them.
That brings me to Chayce Wilson, a guy who runs a home remodeling outfit and who served as a director of the Trinity nonprofit, along with Smith. I asked him about the relationship between Trinity and Reverchon. His response:
I was temporarily on the board of the Trinity Nature Conservancy a couple of years ago, largely at the request of the founder, Steve Smith. I worked for Steve in another capacity and he asked me to join in order to help get the conservancy off the ground.
My response to his response:
You may not be familiar with current operations, but surely, as a director in 2016, you know something about the $90,000 from Friends of Reverchon that you received. That’s a lot of money, especially for an organization that reported net assets of $889 the following year. Why was an unrelated nonprofit (save for Steve Smith’s involvement) funneling money to TNC?
That was yesterday. Wilson has yet to respond to my question. I asked someone else about this deal. Her name is Lori Ashmore Peters. She’s a lawyer and was the president of Friends of Reverchon Park in 2016. I called her at her law office, left a voicemail, and I emailed her. My email:
I’m trying to understand why Friends of Reverchon has given so much money to the Trinity Nature Conservancy over the years. As the president of Friends of Reverchon, surely you’re the one who can explain this. When is a good time to call you?
Again, that was yesterday. I’ve yet to get a response. I’ve also emailed a fellow named Leo Priolo Jr., an accountant who served as the treasurer for Reverchon during the years in question. If I hear back from any of these folks, I’ll update this post.
And, again, I find this really interesting. Because it looks to an outside observer like there are officers of two unrelated nonprofits (in terms of their missions) that are funneling money from one to the other, and it seems those officers don’t want to talk about the funneling, and that’s interesting. And curious.
BUT. Who really cares? Concerning the nonprofit angle of Anderson’s story on Candy’s Dirt, we’re talking small change, in the grand scheme. And the leftover bond money? Whatever. Three hundred grand isn’t real scratch. I’m sure you could redo the bleachers at the Reverchon baseball field for that, but the bleachers aren’t the point.
Think about Reverchon in the context of Fair Park. Repairing the buildings at Fair Park isn’t the point. Or it’s not all the point. The big deal, the real fix that will serve Dallas and its citizens, is finding a smart, creative operator to assume control of an underused asset and run an amenity the way City Hall can’t. The Dallas Zoo = private operator. Fair Park = private operator.
And Reverchon Park? There are those who live in the neighborhood around it who don’t see it as equal.