DALLAS (AP) — A new Dallas equestrian park receiving $12 million in taxpayer funds will be managed by a man who was once accused of inadequately caring for horses on his nonprofit group's ranch.
The Dallas City Council last year awarded the contract to operate the Texas Horse Park to River Ranch Educational Charities, a nonprofit run by Harris Wayne Kirk, the Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.
During contract negotiations to run the park, which is part of the city's Trinity River revitalization efforts, River Ranch representatives didn't disclose a 2011 animal cruelty complaint against Kirk. City staff also never found the matter in court records because they were focused primarily on the charity's financial aspects, assistant city manager Jill Jordan told council members in October.
Responding to the complaint, a city animal control officer wrote that most animals at Storybrook Ranch in McKinney were underweight and without hay or pasture grass. Prosecutors told the newspaper they ultimately determined they couldn't prove a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to livestock animals.
In an interview with the newspaper, Kirk blamed disgruntled employees for the cruelty complaint and touted his years of caring for and rescuing horses. He also disputed a separate 2011 report from King County Sheriff Gilbert Elliot that alleged more than 40 starving elk at a ranch in West Texas where King oversees operations.
Elliot wrote that he told Kirk about a shortage of food and water at the ranch, but Kirk said he was never contacted by the sheriff's department.
"I've had a target on my back because of the Texas Horse Park," Kirk told the newspaper. "A lot of people would like to have" the opportunity there.
Tambi Arnold, a teacher and former volunteer at Kirk's charity ranch, wrote a letter supporting Kirk to Dallas city officials in which she said Kirk "has always nurtured trail horses" and said farm animals were taken care of daily.
Kirk, 59, is no stranger to big ventures and disputes, according to documents and interviews by the newspaper. He was formerly vice president of Reef Securities in Richardson but was fired in September for "actions inconsistent with corporate policy and management," according to a Reef disclosure to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The company accused Kirk of providing inaccurate information about his outside business activities. Kirk said he was planning to quit anyway to run the horse park and was given an ultimatum to end those activities.
The newspaper also reported that Kirk and others were accused in two lawsuits of fraud involving oil and gas investments through Reef. Kirk settled with the plaintiffs in November. He said no money changed hands.