Channel 8’s Brett Shipp recently aired a television news report questioning whether the City of Dallas and several Parks Department employees acted inappropriately in awarding a no-bid contract to a design firm that recently launched the “Happy Trails” publicity initiative to help make the Katy Trail more safe.

The $80,000 (overall) expenditure of privately donated funds came after a bicyclist accidentally ran over and killed a jogger on the Katy Trail. The City effort is designed to promote safety on the trails, and the initiative generally was met with favorable comments when launched last week.
Shipp’s report doesn’t have anything to do with the “Happy Trails” idea or execution. Instead, he produces a number of internal City emails that seem — and I emphasize the word “seem” — to call into question whether the City should have required a bid process for the job instead of handing a no-bid contract to a design firm hired by the Parks Department to come up with the campaign.

Shipp’s point, which is pretty clearly made in the five-minute report, is that the City can’t award a contract for more than $25,000 without bidding the job out — but that Shipp believes that’s what happened here. In fact, Shipp produces a city employee’s emails during the report that give the appearance of coaching the design firm and several subcontractors about ways to structure their contract and bid amounts to avoid scrutiny.

The last minute or so of the report question whether mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings helped steer the contract to the design firm, headed by a guy who describes himself as a friend of Rawlings’ and who donated to Rawlings’ mayoral campaign. There’s no smoking gun presented in terms of making Rawlings look unethical, but it does raise a question or two about how he operated in this deal.

Rudy Bush with the DMN talked with Rawlings at length about the issue following Shipp’s report; Rawlings clearly states there’s no issue here and, in fact, Rawlings seems to indicate that the way the project was handled is the type of public-private partnership the City needs to pursue more diligently in the future.

And if you haven’t already voted yet and aren’t sure who to support, check out our video interviews with Rawlings, Ron Natinsky and David Kunkle. The unedited videos offer a good feel for how the candidates communicate and what they have to say about city issues in their own words.