Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
Dallas City Council members clashed Wednesday during a rare public review of the City Manager's performance after questions surfaced about her handling of a gas drilling lease approved years ago.
Dallas City Council members clashed Wednesday during a rare public review of the city manager's performance after questions surfaced about her handling of gas drilling lease approved years ago.
Mayor Mike Rawlings called for the unusual public briefing prepared by City Manager Mary Suhm and City Attorney Tom Perkins over the last several weeks.
Councilwoman Angela Hunt and Councilman Scott Griggs attacked Suhm over the inclusion of 22 acres of parkland in the lease that was excluded from initial information.
"And that's what I find most troubling about this," he said. "It's important for the public to have the information."
Hunt called for an independent investigation and accused Suhm of lying.
"Month after month, you told this council there was not going to be drilling on parkland, and you knew there was going to be," she said. "You knew you were going to make every effort to make that happen. And that is dishonest, and I am disappointed in you. I'm disappointed in your professionalism and how you represented the facts to council because you didn't tell us everything and you hid things purposefully."
Suhm said that, looking back, she might have handled some things differently. But the City Council told her to find new revenue back in 2007 when the city was facing a serious budget shortfall, and that's what she was doing.
"We made decisions to move through those negotiations. They changed as we moved along. We tried to respect what Council was trying to accomplish from all directions and that is the lease we ended up with," Suhm said.
At the briefing, Suhm played an audio recording of a 2008 City Council briefing during which the additional 22-acre tract was discussed.
The City Council approved an amended lease in 2011 including that extra city land.
The firm Trinity East paid the city $19 million for the lease but has yet to be issued actual drilling permits.
After the attacks Wednesday, other council members rallied to Suhm's defense and attacked Griggs and Hunt.
"This is good for grandstanding and headlining, but it is not good for the governance of our city," Councilwoman Vonciel Hill said.
Councilman Dwaine Caraway said the 22 acres in question are not useful as a park site and early resistance to drilling on all parkland might now be unwise.
"This is not where we're going to build a gold course or build a garage," he said. "This is something that's very challenging to get to and so we have to re-evaluate."
Caraway said Suhm was doing what the majority of the City Council expected of her.
"I look at you as having the greatest integrity, and you've done nothing but stood up for what is right for Dallas, Texas," he said.
Perkins said Suhm acted properly in the situation.
"We have concluded after our review that the city manager did not exceed her authority," he said.
At the end of the three-hour discussion, Rawlings concluded that the process should have been clearer and defended the review but cautioned members about personal attacks.
"I think we as leaders must walk that line carefully to always push for transparency but be careful when we attack someone's character," he said.
The potential harm from gas drilling has produced tremendous opposition in Dallas, even as other nearby areas reap big money from gas producing wells on public land.
"This is a life-saver," Councilman Tennell Atkins said. "This is new revenue. Fort Worth is talking about drilling thousands of wells. How much revenue can we get?"
Trinity East's drilling permit applications are currently pending and will come before the City Council soon.
The company has threatened to sue if it is not permitted to drill gas wells on the city land it has leased.
Wednesday's discussion suggests a majority of the City Council is ready to cash in.
Also Wednesday, the City Council approved plans to allow a private developer to renovate the Dallas Farmers Market with new stores, restaurants and apartments.
A plan to greatly expand Dallas recycling to rental homes and businesses was also approved with support from environmental groups.