Irving City Council member seeks review of procedures after Cowboys practice facility collapse


by By BRANDON FORMBY and BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 11:10 AM

Irving City Council member Beth Van Duyne on Monday called for an internal investigation of the city's planning and inspections processes in the wake of the Dallas Cowboys practice facility collapse.

Van Duyne's request is the first time since the May 2 collapse that an Irving city official has publicly asked for a formal review of the city's procedures, some of which were questioned after state officials said Irving had not kept key records as required by law.

"It seems like we've been in a state of wait and see to see legally what ground we are on," Van Duyne said. "Nobody wants to come out and make any kind of statements at this point. But I have a lot of questions."

City officials have said they have no record of the engineer who signed off on the project's design. The city no longer has detailed building plans on file from when the team built the structure in 2003.

Officials with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission have said such documents should be kept for the life of a structure. Irving officials said they believe that the law only applies to building permits and certificates of occupancy.

It was unclear what, if anything, has been done to reconcile the city and the state's divergent assessments of the law.

"You say 'the state,' but I've not heard from the state, and I don't know who the state is," said Irving Mayor Herbert Gears.

The Texas Board of Professional Engineers continues to investigate Irving's handling of the matter, spokesman Lance Kinney said Monday.

The city also never inspected a 2008 re-roofing project on the high-profile building after the Cowboys obtained a permit to replace it. City officials have said it was the team's responsibility to tell them the work had been completed.

Irving officials declined several times to discuss the city's general planning and document retention policies earlier this year, but answered some questions after a review of documents on randomly selected properties found no uniformity in what the city keeps on file.

But city officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether any new policies for retention would be put in place.

City officials did say they would begin requiring planning documents to be submitted electronically.

Gears said city staffers have thoroughly reviewed their processes since the collapse.

"They have done their best to give all information," he said. "If we're not required to keep the type of detailed data that helps you, that's not something I can deal with."

Van Duyne requested the review after The Dallas Morning News obtained engineering documents that raised new questions about structural changes to the facility's roof. State officials said such work would require building permits, but there are no records of permits for such work with the city.

Cowboys officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The 85-foot-tall practice facility collapsed May 2 when about 70 players, coaches, team support personnel and members of the media were inside. The collapse permanently paralyzed scouting assistant Rich Behm and injured 11 others.

Since then, city officials have said they have no intention of investigating what work the Cowboys had done on the structure even though the team apparently added structural reinforcements to the roof in 2008 without notifying the city. The newly obtained documents show that engineers were designing reinforcements for the roof as early as August 2007.

A building permit the Cowboys obtained in May 2008 disclosed none of those plans. It said that they'd merely be replacing the tent-like structure's fabric.

"The only thing we could do is issue them a ticket for not having pulled a building permit," said Brenda McDonald, the city's real estate and development director. "There's nothing for us to go back and inspect. There's no health and safety issue at this time that we could go back and remedy."

It was unclear Monday what would come of Van Duyne's request. City attorney Charles Anderson and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez did not respond to requests for comment.

"City staff is not directed by single council members so I'm not sure how they'll respond to her," Gears said.

Gears also said Van Duyne had never previously indicated any desire for the city's document retention policies to be looked into.

"If she's taking the opportunity to grandstand in front of the press, there's nothing I can do about that," Gears said. "She's never had a concern before, until you started calling and asking about it."

Van Duyne said her intentions are not politically motivated.

"Herb and the rest of the City Council have ignored this issue for the last six weeks," Van Duyne said. "It became apparent to me that further information was not forthcoming. That is what prompted my request for information."