So about that fracking fight in Dallas … Things just got real.
This morning a letter surfaced revealing a secret deal between Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and natural gas producer Trinity East. In the letter, Suhm essentially agrees to help Trinity drill on city parkland, writing that her staff was “reasonably confident” that the company would get permission to drill. Around the same time, however, Suhm was telling Dallas City Council that Trinity wouldn’t be allowed to do so. The letter is dated August 15, 2008—two months after the park board had prohibited drilling in city parks and five days before the City Council passed a resolution banning the same thing.
The side-deal, first reported by the Dallas Observer, comes as a shock to many in Dallas. Many had assumed that the main issues were out in the open—whether City Council would revise the drilling ordinance to allow drilling on parkland, whether Trinity would eventually be granted a permit. Suhm’s private dealings with Trinity complicate the debate over the possibility of fracking in Dallas.
“I think Mary Suhm absolutely and completely overstepped her role and responsibility in circumventing the Council because the side agreement with Trinity East was never brought before the Council,” Council Member Angela Hunt told the Texas Observer. “It’s frustrating to me that Mary Suhm would tell the council repeatedly there won’t be drilling on parkland while she knows that she’s drafting a side agreement which says just the opposite.”
Hunt, who is an attorney, asked the city manager’s office for documents relating to Trinity’s lease on Monday. She says a Dallas Observer Q&A with a Trinity executive had tipped her off as to some “promises made by city staff” and she wanted to look at the legal documents herself before the City Plan Commission took the permits up again Thursday afternoon. (In the hubbub over the side-deal, the commission delayed a decision until March 21.)
Suhm told the Dallas Morning News today that she had done nothing untoward.
“To characterize the sequence of events related to the gas drilling lease agreements as a ‘back room deal’ is inflammatory and inaccurate,” Suhm wrote in an e-mail this afternoon. “The letter is NOT a deal between staff and Trinity East Energy, LLC. In fact, the City Manager could not make such a ‘deal’—that is not the City Manager’s authority.”
She went on, “The letter simply states that staff would follow normal procedure in bringing a policy issue forward to the City Council regardless of staff’s recommendations for the Council to consider. The letter further states that Trinity understands that the letter is not a binding agreement, but is merely a good faith representation of discussions.”
Hunt agrees that Suhm had no authority to make that agreement or to bind the council in any way.
“Trinity East has really smart representatives and they would have everyone believe that this is the smoking gun that grants them their permits,” Hunt says. “They are legally absolutely mistaken on that.”
Rather, she says, it’s a smoking gun that proves Suhm misrepresented the facts to the Council and brokered a deal to bolster the city budget—she included the $19 million from Trinity’s lease in the city budget before the lease had even been signed.
There should be consequences for Suhm, Hunt says, because she kept this deal not only from the public, but from city government as well.
Jim Schermbeck of North Dallas environmental group Downwinders at Risk spares no words. “They should fire Mary Suhm’s ass,” he says. “If we could take down both gas leases and her at the same time that would make my year.”