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Dallas City Manager To Explain Controversial Gas Drilling Moves

BJ Austin

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm takes the hot seat Wednesday at City Hall.  The mayor has requested an explanation of the Trinity East Energy gas drilling lease, and the surprise plans to drill on city park land.

Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs says the Council and the Dallas Park Board have rejected gas drilling on park land.  Griggs says the City Manager later amended the drilling contract to include 22 acres of park land next to the Luna Vista Golf Course, formerly called the LB Houston course. He says that was not right, and calls it a “lapse in leadership.”

“This lease, the way it was changed, the way it was renegotiated should have been brought back to the City Council to consider whether or not this additional piece of property next to the golf course, the gun range and near the soccer complex should have been added; and whether or not we want to introduce gas drilling into our park system,” Griggs said.

City Manager Mary Suhm says the park land parcel had been in private hands, but was deeded back to the city in 2007. A lag in updating a real estate database kept it out of the original lease. Trinity East found the property during its subsequent title work. Suhm says the property was added to the drilling lease in 2008, with council discussion. About that same time, she signed a letter offering reasonable confidence that the city council would give Trinity East special permission to drill on the park parcel. The city attorney says Suhm acted within her authority.

Council member Delia Jasso is not completely convinced.

“I’m concerned," Jasso said.  "I want to hear more and then I’ll make a decision.”

Council member Vonceil Jones Hill says Suhm was doing her job.

“I have absolute confidence in City Manager Mary Suhm and in her 30 years of watching out for this city,” Hill responded.

Dallas Residents at Risk, an anti-drilling group, fears the city manager has opened the door to surface drilling on Dallas park land. The group is calling for an independent investigation to determine if the city manager exceeded her authority. 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.