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Local Government

The $55 Million Mistake and the Woman Who Made It

Mary Suhm was the Dallas city manager who got us into a lawsuit over drilling.
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Mary Suhm. Mary Suhm. That’s the name that should be top of mind tomorrow when the Dallas City Council votes on whether to float a $55 million bond to satisfy a judgment on a lawsuit that goes back to 2008. Mary Suhm.

The Morning News today published a story about the impending vote and the court case that led to it. Mary Suhm’s name was mentioned just once, almost in passing. To really understand this mess, you have to go back and read this 2013 Dallas Observer story written by Jim Schutze. Jim is retired now. But back then he was hounding the city manager. Here’s the headline of his story: “Mary Suhm Signed a Secret Side Deal to Push for Drilling on Parkland as She Told Council It Would Be Banned.” The short version is that we had an ordinance that made it illegal to drill for gas on parkland, but the city manager—that was Mary Suhm—took $19 million from a driller anyway and said she’d get the City Council to green light the project. Mary Suhm kept that deal secret for five years, until former Councilman Scott Griggs filed an open records request and brought it to light.

Here we are scrapping to put together a $1.1 billion bond package that won’t even come close to filling the city’s full slate of needs. Both the city employee pension fund and the pension fund for the cops and firefighters are in trouble, to the tune of billions of dollars. Our bills are stacking up. We already can’t pay them. And then along comes another $55 million that we’re on the hook for.

Mary Suhm did it.

Here are some more numbers involving Mary Suhm. When she retired in 2013, after working for the city for 35 years, she was making $305,000. Based on this formula from the Employees’ Retirement Fund, her pension today pays her $292,800 per year. Fair play to her. The formula is the formula, and she put in the work. But some of that work, as it turns out, sucked.

I texted and emailed Mary Suhm to get her thoughts on this matter. So far, I’ve yet to receive reply. If I do, I’ll update this post.

Update (1/25/24) I did a bit more digging on that pension. The IRS puts limits on defined benefit plans. That limit changes year to year. In 2014, the limit imposed on Mary Suhm’s benefit would have been $210,000.

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Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers

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Tim is the editor of D Magazine, where he has worked since 2001. He won a National Magazine Award in…
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