Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
For fifteen years, the City of Irving has contracted with David Dean of Dean International to serve as a consultant in developing its transportation policies; five years ago his firm was engaged to also take on responsibility for water policy development.
As the City seeks areas where the budget can be trimmed, the contract with Dean has come under scrutiny. For purposes of brevity, this story concentrates on the transportation efforts undertaken by Dean International. It is based on a presentation Dean made before one group of citizens on Oct. 11.
Dean told a gathering at Irving’s Community Bible Church that he was prepared to stack his results up against any criticism.
“Transportation is a top issue for all cities,” said Dean. “And Irving, with 40 percent of D/FW airport in its boundaries, is ground zero.
“Nearly two million vehicles travel your streets each day. So 15 years ago the City of Irving embarked on a pretty aggressive plan to address this situation.
“I think the accomplishments the city has made in that time have been nothing short of spectacular.”
The four major development projects under his charge: highways 183, 161, I-35 and the DART Orange Line - have totaled collectively $8.5 billion worth of surface transportation, Dean told his audience.
“These are projects that are largely NOT being paid for by Irving residents. They’re being paid for by county, regional, state and Federal funds that Irving has attracted to the area to accomplish these results. So, [the] professional services agreement between the City and Dean International involves those.”
As Dean described the growth of projects under his stewardship, he underscored that Irving has gained a national and international reputation through some of his interventions. In particular, the City’s annual Transportation Summit, now in its 15th year, has brought policymakers and the business community together in a way that no one could have predicted.
“It was less than four or five months after our contract started,” said Dean. “It wasn’t anywhere in our scope of work. But we quickly determined it would be better to do it in Irving than to go to Dallas, so Irving jumped on it. It wasn’t supposed to be anything annual.
“But something magical happened there. We accomplished a lot and developed a lot of good relationships. Afterwards everybody kept saying, ‘that was great – when are we doing it again?’ So we kept growing it.
“It’s become a very effective tool for Irving to articulate its transportation needs.”
It became a chip in Dean’s consulting services contract. While he was initially engaged to oversee the four major transportation projects, with reimbursement set at $480,000 per year, he agreed to a modification as suggested by then-Councilman Joe Philipp. The annual contract dropped from $480,000 to $240,000 and management of the summit was added with the understanding that underwriters would be recruited – by Dean – to offset costs. The City would take the first $235,000 raised through these efforts, and Dean was incentivized: the next $245,000 he raised was his.
As the summit grew, an additional $90,000 per year was added to help cover costs, and Dean’s contract was amended from $240,000 per year to $360,000 per year – where it stands now.
“Now, we are required to incur expenses for the City of Irving in furtherance of this,” said Dean. “We don’t make money on those expenses. Our policy is simply to ask for reimbursement of what our costs are.
“The other day, someone described it as we’re loaning money to the City. We’re incurring costs for their activities, and then they reimburse us for it.
“Someone could say, ‘look at what we paid Dean International’. Well, what does that mean? Reimbursing expenses? This $360,000 is the only money we make.”
He then turned to a chart which he said documented funding he’d secured for Irving’s four major transportation projects since 1997 - $2.5 billion in funding.
”You’ve got these projects in the queue, so to speak,” he told the group, ticking off the preparation steps he’d completed. “The locally-preferred alternatives have been identified. The community-preferred alternatives. The technical alternatives. We’ve been able to position the projects in the eyes of all the funders to be needed and meritorious, the environmental clearances have been secured, all the design work has been finished, so these projects are ready to go and they’ve been issued a ‘FONSI’ – ‘Finding of no significant impact’.
“If this were TV, we’d win an Emmy.”
Dean has been working with Ramiro Lopez, Director of Intergovernmental Services for the City, to finalize proposed changes to his contract, which has expired. He provided documents showing that most of his services would continue as they had in the past, but that in some cases, new responsibilities were to be added such as consulting on the City’s strategic plans. He would receive no increase in fees, Dean said, despite the added responsibilities. And according to Dean, the City has proposed yet another modification: changing to a two-year primary contract with yearlong options thereafter.
“It’s a five year contract, and they’ve locked in 1997 prices,” said Dean.
“There are people who want an RFP – a request for proposal,” Dean alleged. “Well, it’s illegal under Texas law to bid a professional services contract. This is highly specialized from a policy standpoint and very technical. A lot of it is based on knowledge of the subject matter and expertise, but also relationships, and knowledge of administrative, regulatory and political processes.
“It’s subjective. So how do you evaluate it? How about based on performance? We’ve had the good pleasure and the opportunity to deliver a high performance.”
The Irving City Council has taken the proposed changes to Dean’s contract under consideration.