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THE CITY Does Ray Hunt Own City Hall?

Or has one of Dallas’ best reporters gone absolutely nuts?
By Steve Bartlett |

It was July 12, 1995. There I was, more than a month into my life after politics,bap-pily making plastic parts in my factory on Stemmons Freeway, trying my best to forget about the daily nightmares of Dallas City Hall. Then came three phone calls from three different friends. Have you seen the new Laura Miller piece? You’ve got to answer her. People are believing it!

“I didn’t read her or the Dallas Observer while I was mayor. Why on earth would I want to start now?”

“Because she’s talking about lies and coverups at City Hall when you were in charge.”

What else was new? The next morning I headed over to Kel’s for my morning cup of hot coffee, picked up an Observer along the way, and settled back to read the story headlined “Lies on Tape.”

And, when I finished it, all I could think was: “Good thing the Observer is in tabloid form, because the headline for this one might as well be ’Long Lost Sister Gives Birth to Three-Headed Calf.’” Here’s a writer, a very good one I should add, who spins these wild tales, which, when taken separately, hint at some widespread conspiracy, but, when taken as a whole, make no sense.

Let’s see if I can get all this straight: For at least a year now Laura Miller has been claiming that City Hall caters to the whims and the wills of a small cartel of Dallas downtown businessmen. A committee, which includes some of these very same business leaders, looks into the feasibility of building a new downtown sports arena. The city, just to make sure that the interests of all its citizens are served and not just the whims and wills of downtown business leaders, appoints a separate committee to look into the same subject independently. Laura Miller then “exposes” this second committee.

It’s tempting to say that now that I’m out of office, the three-headed calf stories of Laura Miller are no longer my concern. But I think of those three telephone calls, the passion of those callers, and I realize an entire myth has been created around Laura Miller. The myth has very little to do with what she says in her articles, and everything to do with what she implies and what people walk away from the stories believing.

So I decided to collect, categorize, describe, and debunk as many Miller Myths as I could find. Yes, that meant reading the entire 18-month collection of The Miller Conspiracies. Here are the major myths, followed by the reality.

Miller Myth #1

Ray Hunt controls Dallas-from every city election to every decision made at City Hall-and everyone he meets is automatically under his control.

REALITY: It that were true, we’d already have a new arena. Ray Hunt is a businessman who, in 1972, built a hotel in downtown Dallas. He pays taxes on that hotel. He owns small parcels of land elsewhere in Dallas, on which he also pays taxes. But mainly Ray Hunt owns oil fields in Yemen, Louisiana, and presumably, elsewhere.

He is a graduate of SMU and is a man who is passionate about the city he calls home and the school from which he graduated. He has provided for $25 million in scholarships at SMU. When the university was rocked with scandal, he spearheaded the drive that led to the hiring of Dr. A, Kenneth Pye as the school’s president, the act which turned SMU around. And once Pye accepted the position, Ray Hunt quickly bowed out of the picture.

He agreed to renovate and operate Union Station, thus saving that historic landmark from the wrecking ball. He has encouraged business associates to help DISD, the Science Place, Central Expressway, and the Convention Bureau.

Yes, he contributes to political causes-but he doesn’t give as much as financial heavyweights like Louis Beecherl, Peter O’Donnell, or Jess Hay, and we never hear charges about how these people “control” Dallas.

The fact is simply this: Dallas would be better off if Ray Hunt got more involved in development and civic affairs. I suspect, however, he’s tired of the abuse.

Miller Myth #2

A new downtown sports arena will cost taxpayers money that should go to police and fire inspection, renovating Fair Park, building new parks and libraries, and perhaps even putting something under the pillow for the tooth fairy.

REALITY: Every proposal for a new sports arena requires that the cost of its construction be paid by its users-the owners of the teams that call it home, the fans, those who lease luxury suites, season ticket holders, and the convention center. The current stalemate is due to the fact that no proposed plan covers all the costs. The city wants the teams to cover this gap, the teams want the city to make up the difference. But no one has even hinted at paying for the arena out of the general tax fund.

The cost for building a new arena is estimated at $140 million, a figure that may vary a little one way or another depending on exactly where it is built and how many luxury suites it contains. Laura Miller inflates this cost by 200 percent by including the next 20 years of interest and operating costs, which is misleading because she doesn’t factor into tbisequation the 20 years of revenue the arena will generate. That’s like saying if you spend x for housing, x for food, and x for clothing annually, you will get xxx further in debt each year. However, since you have to factor in your income of xxx,xxx per year, you’re actually making a nice profit.

Miller also makes a big deal out of the debt service on Reunion Arena, as if taxpayers will pay for that as well. Those costs are paid from revenue generated by the Dallas Convention Center, of which Reunion Arena is a part. And that happens with or without a new arena.

A new arena will strengthen the tax base of the city in which it is located. The suburbs know this and that is why they are desper ately vying for the arena. Send our arena to Arlington, and our tax base shrinks dramat ically, costing us a small fortune in lost tax revenue.

The fact is simply this: We need the arena to help provide the tax revenue to pay for increased police and fire protection, Fair Park renovation, parks, libraries, and all those other things Laura Miller says, and we all agree, our city needs.

Miller Myth #3

The city should remodel Reunion Arena instead of building a new one.

REALITY: Reunion Arena is obsolete. It was the last arena constructed in the United States without luxury suites. Concession areas are so crowded, fans often give up trying to spend money. Concession revenue per capita at Reunion Arena is among the lowest in the country and fan inconvenience is among the highest.

A new state-of-the-art arena with 5,000 more premium seats in the lower bowl than Reunion contains, luxury suites, and additional concourses is not elitist. These enhancements generate revenue for the city.

Yes, Reunion could be remodeled to add a few low-budget, low-revenue luxury suites (ever see Candlestick Park?). But the revenue generated by these enhancements wouldn’t even cover the cost of the renovation, let alone generate any additional revenue. And no renovation plan proposed-and we studied each and every one of them-would add the necessary luxury suites, 5,000 lower level seats, or the four concourses needed to accommodate fans and concessionaires.

The fact is simply this: A new arena will pay for itself, no remodeling plan will-and worse, a remodeled Reunion would be an empty Reunion because the Mavericks and the Stars would be playing somewhere else.

Miller Myth #4

The arena negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors in secret meetings without any input from a public that is adamantly opposed to building a new arena.

REALITY: In all my years in public office, I can’t pinpoint a discussion that’s been more open for public scrutiny than the arena debates and discussions. The fact that Laura Miller herself has been able to document so minutely every detail of the debate proves the point. All meetings of the city council and its committees are announced and posted under the Texas Open Meetings Law. And, when the council is allowed, by law, to meet in executive session, that session and the reasons for it are also part of the council’s posted agenda, as required by the Texas Open Meetings Law.

And, when the council meets to discuss real estate prices or negotiating strategies, as provided by law and required by common sense, that session and the reasons for it are publicly posted for all the world to know.

At one point, even a federal judge got caught up in the Miller Myths and ruled that the council was not allowed to appoint a committee under some as yet undisclosed federal law. Think about the logic for a moment: every city council in the universe appoints committees, those committees can meet just like the full council, and councils or committees of councils can and do meet to discuss construction of facilities like an arena. I would venture to guess that neither Texas Stadium nor The Ballpark in Arlington was built without council meetings, in both open and executive session.

As far as public opinion goes: Eighty-three percent of the respondents to a Dallas Morning News poll agreed with the city council’s position that the city should do everything in its power to keep the Mavericks and Stars playing home games in downtown Dallas as long as tax money was not used.

In the last mayoral election, candidate Ron Kirk was the strongest advocate for a new arena and candidate Domingo Garcia was the strongest and most vocal opponent. Ron Kirk received 62 percent of the vote cast, Garcia 11 percent.

The fact is simply this: The Dallas City Council is acting in a manner that is absolutely consistent with the wishes of the voters who elected them.

The fact is simply this: A new arena will attract 2 million visitors to Dallas every year and will generate $200 million in economic benefits per year.

And the fact is simply this: That new arena is going to be built somewhere. Some city is going to reap all those benefits. I fought as mayor and will continue to fight for that city to be Dallas and for the beneficiaries to be the citi2ens of Dallas.

During the 18 months that the Miller Myths were being constructed, I often wanted to say: “This is a joke, right? You’re kidding, aren’t you? Is this a black-humor satire like something out of Catch 22?” So let me come right out and assure you that the following is a joke. Satire. No relation to reality. It shows that, if anything, Laura Miller didn’t go nearly far enough.


The ex-mayor, one of Ray Hunt’s chief minions, reveals the bizarre 25-year-old conspiracy to give Hunt absolute power over Dallas.

AT THE END OF MY TERM AS MAYOR, THE topic on everyone’s lips, the question on top of everyone’s mind, after, of course, will the Cowboys win the Super Bowl next year and what’s for dinner, honey, concerned this whole matter of Ray Hunt and the Reunion Arena deal. Now at last I will directly answer the biggest questions about this whole affair.

In 1968, twelve years before Reunion was built, Jim Oberwetter, who would later become one of Ray Hunt’s chief lieutenants, and I were college roommates at 3911 Duval in Austin, Texas. One night Oberwetter and I sat around a kitchen table and dreamed up a vast interlocking semi-global conspiracy that would, over the next two decades, create Reunion Arena, land an NBA team for Dallas, force Don Carter to wear big cowboy hats, get Norm Green to bring the Minnesota North Stars to town and make them the Dallas Stars, and thus set into motion the whole byzantine process which would, naturally, lead to the construction of an entirely new arena in some location or other that would make Ray Hunt even richer than he is.

I admit my part in the Austin-spawned 1968 plot to feather Ray Hunt’s nest, even though I didn’t know Ray Hunt at the time…

Or did I? Ray Hunt was alleged to have visited Austin on at least one occasion ( I think for a UT-SMU football game) at or around the same time our fiendish plot was being hatched across the alleged kitchen table.

Coincidence? I think not!

Of course, there’s more. It’s time to admit the roles that Hunt’s other key lieutenants have played in bringing him absolute control of everything that happens in Dallas, Texas. For example:

●Walt Humann, president of a Hunt real estate partnership, shaped the decision on expanding North Central Expressway, assured the creation of DART (both of which carry people to the arena), and added an extra “n” to his last name just to fool everybody.

●John Scovell, president and CEO of Hunt’s Woodbine Development, helped raise money for Dallas public schools and was fully aware chat many of the kids educated in those schools would someday become tax-paying Dallas citizens whose bard-earned tax dollars might somehow be wasted on wild, irresponsible schemes that would somehow put even more money into Ray Hunt’s bank account.

●The aforementioned Oberwetter-that same Oberwetter who helped hatch the 1968 Austin Kitchen Table Conspiracy, that same Oberwetter who became Ray Hunt’s vice president-is a force in Republican politics. The plot thickens when you consider that I was serving as a Republican congressman during the very time Ray Hunt was rumored to have visited Washington, D.C., in the 1980s. And what about this: In the same year I announced I wouldn’t run again for mayor, George W, Bush defeated Ann Richards for governor, and Ray Hunt was known to have attended, at least once, a baseball game at a nearby stadium featuring a team owned by that same George W. Bush. In fact, rumor has it that Bush and Hunt were actually in that same stadium at the same time.

Coincidence? I think not.

Finally, I can’t close without touching on one of the most deeply buried parts of the Austin-spawned 1968 plot that delivered Dallas to Ray Hunt. I’m talking, of course, about the names. Not even the tireless and eagle-eyed Laura Miller ever made the connection with the names.

Think about it:

●John Ware. The city manage

●Jan Hart. The former city manage

●Dan Paul. The audito

●Louise Elam. The architect we tried to blame for everythin

●Trammell Crow. Another rich guy who owns lots of lan

●Ray Hunt. The multimillionaire at the center of the we

●And finally, Ron Kirk. The new mayor.

And what do they all have in common?

You know, I think I’ll let Laura Miller figure that one out.