Irving mayor-elect calls for campaign contribution reforms

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on June 20, 2011 at 5:55 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 20 at 8:40 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

IRVING — Irving Mayor-elect Beth Van Duyne is calling for a city ethics overhaul based on her recent campaign experience.

Her opponent, outgoing Mayor Herb Gears, raised a half-million dollars from a current city contractor, and she says that should be an obvious ethics violation.

Gears raised five times the money of his runoff opponent in Saturday's election, and he still lost.

Van Duyne says that's because Irving voters were disgusted by Gears receiving two-thirds of his campaign money from a city contractor through contributions she says need to be outlawed.

But Gears made no bones about it.

He openly and legally accepted more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from Billy Bob Barnett, the developer with the city contract to build the planned $250 million Las Colinas Entertainment Center.

But last year, News 8 aired a series of investigative reports into the viability of the concert hall and restaurant venue, and raised questions about whether millions of city dollars were overspent.

Van Duyne, a former Irving City Council member, made the entertainment center the cornerstone of her successful campaign for mayor.

"It was obvious," she said. "I voted against this project time and time again because it did not pass the smell test."

She says the yet-to-be built project became a lightning rod issue in her race when it was apparent that Mayor Gears was getting most of his campaign money from Barnett.

"This developer is hard core willing to buy the mayor's vote," Van Duyne said.

Now that the election is over, Van Duyne says one of her priorities will be to push for a new ethics policy — much like the City of Dallas — that would outlaw political contributions from contractors who have business before the Council.

"You don't accept money from people who are accepting city dollars or who you are going to have a vote to accept city dollars,” said Van Duyne.  “You don't take money from them."

Irving's new mayor says she will also call for a more careful review of the entire entertainment center project.

She says this doesn't mean she's not in favor of moving forward with the project; she just doesn't believe it is feasible or sustainable.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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