Thursday, May 21, 2020

#TXLEGE: Royce West a Textbook Example of Petty Legislative Enrichment

"Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord,
But a just weight is His delight."
Proverbs 11:1

There was a story a few months back that we meant to highlight.  Not so much because of it's own merits, but because it was a great vignette into how the lege operates.  Unfortunately, we didn't have time.  Well, now it looks like the same player is back on a different story.
Next week, Dallas’ city council will vote on a special development deal for the son of a Democrat U.S. Senate candidate and state senator. City staff keeping elected officials in the dark, as well as questions about the developer’s competency, were among the issues raised during a meeting on Monday—further heightening similarities with Fort Worth’s Panther Island boondoggle.

Interstate 345, located in southeast Dallas in the Deep Ellum district, is a stretch of highway constructed in 1973 that has been blamed for the decades-long economic downturn of the area.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owns the land but has leased it to the City of Dallas with an agreement that they can use it to build parking lots. As previously reported, there are two proposals for the future of I-345; one calls for tearing it down to allow for new economic development, and the other calls for Roddrick West—son of Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate and Texas State Sen. Royce West (DeSoto)—to build soccer fields beneath it. Texas Scorecard received the plans for the fields as part of a response to an open records request sent to TxDOT.

On Monday, the City of Dallas’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed amending the agreement with TxDOT to allow West’s soccer fields to be built, whereby the city would surrender control of the area to TxDOT. West told the committee he could have the project up and running in three to four months, and the fields won’t be full size and will be for recreation only—despite the claims of one state bureaucrat who talked about the World Cup coming to Dallas.

Emails secured by Texas Scorecard reveal that, in an attempt to push through the agreement, a swap has been proposed where TxDOT will not stand in the way of Dallas redeveloping Carpenter Park. Critics say tying the soccer field with other deals is a classic tactic used to make projects harder to oppose. When asked at Monday’s meeting why development for Carpenter Park has been put together with West’s soccer field, Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry replied, “For the benefit of consolidating everything.” He also said council could separate the projects if they wished.

“We strongly support moving forward with additional parking,” said Matt Tranchin, president of Coalition for a New Dallas, which supports tearing down I-345. He also said West should not have the contract awarded to him without first having to compete against other bidders. “Let’s have Roddrick compete with world-class institutions.”

“How did you get this contract?” District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon asked.

“There’s no open bid,” West replied. “I can’t speak to [TxDOT’s] process.”

“We polled and talked to a hundred different stakeholders involved,” said Jon Hetzel, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, which has continuously opposed West’s soccer fields. “Nowhere on that strategic plan did people bring up that we don’t have enough soccer facilities … in the neighborhood.”
On its own, this may or may not be a big deal. It certainly looks shady. But, if this is a one off deal, who knows.

However, as this Texas Tribune story from last year (which we had meant to discuss at the time) makes clear, this isn't a one off deal:
For years, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) has raked in millions in legal fees representing governmental entities such as the Dallas and Houston independent school districts, metropolitan transportation agencies and major Texas cities, sparking criticism that he is using his influence as a state lawmaker to score business deals average citizens can’t get.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for voters to quantify the number of governmental contracting deals or estimate how much he’s personally making from his private business interests.

But because he’s running for the U.S. Senate, a federal office that requires far more robust disclosure than the state of Texas, the Dallas Democrat is finally pulling back the curtain on his considerable wealth. A recently implemented tweak to state ethics rules also requires him to provide more detail than ever about his government contracts.

In a U.S. Senate campaign disclosure filed last month, which includes all of 2018 and this year through mid-August, West reported that he made over $1 million in earned income, and that he’ll be eligible to draw a state pension exceeding $80,000 a year — or more, depending on when he retires.


West lists contracts between his law firm and seven public entities: the public school districts of Houston, Dallas and Crowley; the cities of Houston and Fort Worth; Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority; and the Sunbelt Freshwater Supply District in Houston.

He also reports serving, via his law firm, as bond counsel for multiple governmental entities, including Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas County Community College, the North Texas Tollway Authority and several school districts and cities.
There you have it.

Like we said, we had actually intended to discuss this story months ago.  Royce West is a great example of the various ways legislators (in either party) can skim off the top.  A little bit here, and a little bit there, and all of a sudden you're talking real money.

And that's before your family members get in on the scam.

To be fair, Royce West is hardly the only legislator who does this.  Royce West is just the guy who chose to run for office at the Federal level (thus triggering more robust disclosure).  But lots of legislators do similar things.

Bottom Line: If you want to understand why things in the lege are the way that they are, Royce West (and family's) personal finances are a good place to start.

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