UPDATE at 2:30: KERA’s BJ Austin spoke with Mayor Mike Rawlings about lawyer Tom Luce resigning as the mediator in the dispute between the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Museum Tower over the tower’s reflected glare. It was Mayor Rawlings who first asked Luce in April to step in.
Rawlings said the last straw came with public comments by board members of the Dallas Fire & Police Pension System, which owns the $200 million Museum Tower. As reported by the Dallas Morning News, they visited the Nasher and made comments dismissing a suggested “louver” solution to the Museum Tower’s reflected glare. There had been an agreed-upon public “quiet period” for the two sides’ negotiations, and the louver solution was still up for consideration.
“Tom’s got other things to do,” Rawlings said. “He was giving his time to the city of Dallas to try to make this work.” But “he’s smart enough to realize that you can’t dance with people when there’s a game of chicken going on.”
Ultimately, Rawlings made an appeal to the boards of both organizations to act like good neighbors and work out a solution for their own constituencies and for the city of Dallas as a whole — which has tax money riding on the success of the Arts District and in financial health of the Pension System.
“I’ll tell you this is a very important issue for the citizens of Dallas. Not only do we want our fire and our police to have great retirement benefits because that’s what we’ve paid for, but the citizens backstop all of this money. This is citizen money that we invested and we’re backstopping. And I think all the citizens want our Arts District to be one of the best in the world. And to do that we’ve got to make sure we work together as neighbors in that spirit I was speaking about.”
The full transcript follows:
Mike Rawlings on Luce resignation:
Rawlings: I don’t blame Tom. To be a facilitator and a mediator you have to have parties that are interested in maintaining confidences, putting options on the table that would work. It was a difficult situation. Tom worked very hard and I really appreciate his effort. He is a fabulous person and a great leader in Dallas.
Austin: Was this all precipitated by the public comments made about the louvered solution, would it work, would it not?
Rawlings: I think Tom has been working for some time to try to make sure people stayed at the table providing options, and that has been not what’s been happening lately. Yesterday was the straw that broke the camel’s back I think in Tom’s mind. And Tom’s got other things to do. He was giving his time to the city of Dallas to try to make this work.
It’s not about Tom. It’s really about our fire and our policemen to make sure that they are successful long term with their pension. That’s what I’m really concerned about – making sure that those investments are made wisely and get the types of returns they need.
Austin: So, how do we go forward?
Rawlings: Well, I think the [Pension] Board is thinking about that, how do they deal with a marketing issue they have at the Tower. How do they convince people that they care, and that they want this Arts District to succeed and they want to be a part of it. And that’s what Tom has been asking for some time.
We’ve got a great Nasher, it’s fabulous. And we’ve got a beautiful building in the Museum Tower that I want to be very successful. But to make it work, we’ve got to be neighbors. I guess it’s how do you want to treat your neighbor. That’s really the question. Do you treat your neighbor as yourself? And that’s the spirit that we need out here as we try to figure this out.
Austin: And that’s the spirit we don’t have here?
Rawlings: Obviously, if we had that spirit, Tom would still be here working on solutions. It’s not one solution that’s going to solve it. It’s a spirit of cooperation, openness and confidentiality. Nothing bad to say about the press, but you don’t negotiate in public. You negotiate in private, you work out solutions in private. When things are public, you don’t need a facilitator. Everybody probably things they know what’s best for them. So, everybody’s got to turn inward a little bit and decide what their strategy is going to be.
Austin: Will there be another facilitator?
Rawlings: I’ve said that I will look at any solution, facilitator or no facilitator, or any option to solve this problem there is. I think that that’s not my job right now.
As Mayor, we’ve got to depend on the leadership, the excellent leadership of the board of these two institutions. Not the CEO’s, okay, the boards have got to step up and say what’s the right thing to do for the city of Dallas, what’s the right thing to do for their constituents as they think through this. I’m sure they’ll do the right thing. It’s just a little more painful than I want it to be.
Austin: Does this put everything a step closer to a courtroom, a lawsuit do you think?
Rawlings: I don’t think the court is the place because both of these organizations could spend millions of dollars, go through the court process, and at the end the judge is gonna say work it out. And both of those organizations know that. This is a difficult situation, there’s no question. But what we have to do is find solutions outside that. And that’s what I think hopefully everybody’s going to want to do.
Austin: Do you think the city somehow helped to create this when the developer changed and wanted to go higher and nobody said wait a minute, what might that do?
Rawlings: I am not looking back on this. I am not trying to figure out who shot who in this thing. The truth of the matter is, there’s a lot of gray area in all of it. They key is how do we move forward to make sure the Nasher is the institution that we wanted and that the investments for our great fire and police are taken care of in the right way. We’ve got enough smart people and if we’ve got the right spirit we can get that done.
Austin: How is one named to the police and fire pension board, and do you anticipate looking at some changes, if that’s possible?
Rawlings: The fire elects theirs, the police elects their four representative and the city council elects the four representatives that we have. Each of those city council are there because they’ve been good city council and hopefully they’ll aid in solving this problem. We will have a new election coming up in May, so these things rotate.
Austin: This will probably be an issue in May?
Rawlings: I’ll tell you this is a very important issue for the citizens of Dallas. Not only do we want our fire and our police to have great retirement benefits because that’s what we’ve paid for, but the citizens backstop all of this money. This is citizen money that we invested and we’re backstopping. And I think all the citizens want our Arts District to be one of the best in the world. And to do that we’ve got to make sure we work together as neighbors in that spirit I was speaking about.
Austin: Have you talked to Tom?
Rawlings: Yes, I have. I talked to him last night. He’s disappointed. But he’s got other things to do. And he’s smart enough to realize that you can’t dance with people when there’s a game of chicken going on. All right? Let people go their sides, think about what they want to do and come back. I don’t blame him for this decision.
Austin: Are you or have you approached the board members to say let’s get in there?
Rawlings: I have had conversations with board members from the very beginning to make sure that they have a tremendous sense of urgency to get this done. I continue that speaking out to say let’s solve this problem. We’ve got to sell those units. I want to be the biggest advocate for selling those units. But we have to recognize that we have some issues in the neighborhood that need to be dealt with. And, we need to get all the solutions on the table, make sure we are giving them the full diligence to making sure some of those might work. Nothing should be taken off the table at any time until we’ve run that course.
Original post: The resignation is not exactly good news on the resolving-the-dispute front, the dispute over the reflected light from the Museum Tower that the Nasher Sculpture Center says is damaging its garden and its artworks. Luce was asked by Mayor Rawlings to help mediate the dispute, and now he says he can no longer fulfill that function.
The Dallas Morning News has put up the email that Luce sent to Dallas Police & Fire Pension System administrator Richard Tettamant, which has bankrolled the tower. Most revealingly, Luce’s resignation specifically accuses Tettamant of violating the “conditions and spirit under which I agreed to serve.”
Richard; recent events have made clear that the conditions and spirit under which I agreed to serve to help find a mutually beneficial solution for all parties are not being adhered to by you. This saddens me because I believe this is such an important issue for our City as a whole together with the financial future for our wonderful police and fireman. From the sideline I will be hoping this situation can be mutually resolved with your approach.
The pension system’s recent tour of the Nasher didn’t help, either [pay wall].
UPDATE at 12:20:
Richard Tettamant emailed this response to the News:
“We are sorry that Tom Luce felt that he was unable to continue as the go-between towards arriving at a collaborative, reasonable, practical solution to the reflection of the Museum Tower onto the Nasher Sculpture Garden and thank Mr. Luce for his service.”Unfortunately any belief by Tom that the quiet period he had negotiated was not adhered to is really a misinterpretation of the Museum Tower’s marketing and sales efforts and needs.
“The Museum Tower is singularly committed to being a valued, responsible good neighbor of the Nasher, and in that regard has been tireless in pursuing a reasonable scientific and engineering solutions to the issue. That process is close to narrowing the options to a few viable and practical solutions.“
And David Haemisegger, president of the Nasher’s board of trustees, released this response to us:
“On behalf of the people of Dallas, I am deeply concerned to learn that because of actions of the leadership of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System Tom Luce has determined that it is no longer viable to facilitate discussions to resolve the Museum Tower reflection issues. Tom has been invaluable in creating a process which led us to a point where we were engaged in detailed technical discussions of a solution that would address the reflection problems throughout the Arts District. For the past six months at the request of Mayor Rawlings Tom has worked diligently and tirelessly for the benefit of the people of Dallas and the members of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System to help find a solution to the reflection issue, following upon the six months the Nasher had already invested in working with Museum Tower. As always, the Nasher is committed to working with the leadership of the Pension System to find a resolution to the problem.”