Dallas will audit 'happy trails' contract

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 10:39 PM

Updated Thursday, May 12 at 11:57 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — A News 8 investigation into a Dallas Park and Recreation Department contract has prompted calls for an internal investigation.

At issue: How the firm that produced a new trail safety campaign got the contract and their powerful connection at Dallas City Hall.

The Park Department's  new "Happy Trails" safety campaign is not in question; it's how the marketing firm Jake:Ferguson got the contract that has Mayor Dwaine Caraway upset.

"I think that it is in our best interest that we take a deeper look into it," Caraway said. "I've asked for and think it should be a full investigation."

City rules require professional services contracts worth more than $25,000 to be opened to competition.

News 8 uncovered internal e-mails in which Park Department staffers apparently try to coach agency owner Jake Schroepfer on how to structure his contract with the city "to be less than $25,000."

What's more, staff suggests Schroepfer make his bid "a few hundred dollars less so it does not look like we are being sneaky."

The final contract was $24,500.

One purchasing department official who reviewed the contract later expressed "concern over potential scrutiny if someone asks who produced the campaign and how they were selected."

And how were they selected?

Schroepfer admits he's a long-time friend of former Park Board president and current Dallas mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings.

"I've known Mike since 1987, I've worked with him," Schroepfer said. "He's a good friend of mine."

Yet Rawlings said his only influence was to recommend three marketing firms — the Tracy Locke Agency, The Richards Group and  Jake:Ferguson.

Jake:Ferguson, Schroepfer's firm, got the contract. News 8 has learned the two other firms were never contacted.

It's now up to the City Auditor to determine if the "Happy Trails" campaign contract has a happy ending.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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