NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS — Concerns are being raised about the new trail safety campaign unveiled by the City of Dallas a few days ago.
The questions are not about the message, but about the methods used to award the contract to a friend of a powerful city figure and mayoral candidate.
The trail safety campaign was one born out of tragedy when a jogger was accidentally killed by a bicyclist last October.
While the merits of the campaign are not in question, at least one high-ranking city official has raised concerns about how the contract was awarded.
Dallas' "Happy Trails" safety campaign was unveiled last week to rave reviews and gratitude to ad agency executive Jake Schroepfer. Schroepfer says his company, Jake:Ferguson, prepared a marketing campaign valued at $220,000 for about $81,000 — a fraction of the actual cost.
But internal e-mail messages obtained by News 8 raise questions not only about how Schroepfer got the contract, but why no other company was given a shot at it.
City purchasing rules require professional service contracts worth more than $25,000 to be opened to competition.
Schroepfer, in fact, told city officials the "project costs would exceed $25,000."
But instead of opening the project to competition, Park and Recreation Department staff appear to have directed Schroepfer on how to avoid the $25,000 threshold.
In one message, a city official tells Schroepfer, "the first contract will be directly with Jake:Ferguson and should be less than $25,000."
The staff member further recommends making the bid "a few hundred dollars less, so it does not look like we are being sneaky..."
The sub-contractors were also told "not to exceed" certain amounts and "change their contract lengths" from "12 perhaps to 5 months."
State law prohibits shortening contract lengths to avoid the bid process.
Jake Schroepfer told News 8 there were no attempts on his part to avoid the bidding process. "I'm not involved in the bidding process," he said. "I didn't do anything to sidestep the bidding process."
Park and Recreation Department Director Paul Dyer, who was in charge of the trail safety campaign, said the contracts were awarded properly, and that no one has raised any concerns.
We then showed Dyer a memo from Mike Frosch, Acting Director of Business Development and Purchasing Services, who says in a memo to Dyer, "my only concern now is the potential scrutiny if someone asks who produced the campaign and how they were selected."
Frosch goes on express the "potential negative of selecting one company when others would be willing to provide similar pro bono if requested."
So why would Park Department officials run the risk of raising concerns?
And who selected the Jake:Ferguson firm?
We asked mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings who was Park Board President at the time. Rawlings said he recommended Jake:Ferguson along with two other agencies.
"I thought that they were in the comparable talent of Tracy Locke and The Richards Group," Rawlings said. "I think those three would be good selections."
But representatives at the Tracy Locke agency and at The Richards Group told News 8 they were never invited to submit a proposal.
What's more, in an October 15, 2010 e-mail, Dyer asks Rawlings: "Mike, what are your thoughts on engaging the Richards Group or any other agency for the campaign?"
Rawlings' response: "I am luke warm on The Richards Group. We should discuss."
Two weeks later, Dyer awarded the trail safety campaign to Schroepfer, who said he is a long-time friend of Rawlings.
"I've known Mike since 1987," Schroepfer said. "I've worked with him. He's a good friend of mine."
Schroepfer is now working on Rawlings' mayoral campaign, receiving more than $18,000 this year.
Two weeks ago, Rawlings was critical of Dallas City Council members for weakening the ethics code.
"That's just wrong", Rawlings said. "The taxpayers and families of Dallas deserve a Mayor who is always on the side of stronger ethics."