Legendary businessman J. Paul Getty once said that he didn't believe in contracts. According to his reasoning, if you're dealing with a crook it doesn't help and if you are dealing with someone honest you don't need one.
This is how pastor Dwight McKissic of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, is feeling these days. He's going up against the second-most-valuable NFL franchise, and what is happening tells us something about sports, business and government in America today.
McKissic thought he had a deal with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones regarding the contracting that would go to his community in building a new football stadium in Arlington for the team. The idea was that part of the pitch to gain community support for the tax initiative financing the stadium was that a good chunk of the contracting for building the facility would go to minorities. They comprise 40 percent of Arlington's population.
The initiative passed, but, according to McKissic, Jones is not holding up his end of the bargain. The Cowboys signed a fair-share agreement before the vote committing to direct 25 percent of the contracting to minorities. However, according to the pastor, to date only one contract has been directed to a local black firm.
Furthermore, says McKissic, who represents the Arlington Citizens for Community and Economic Empowerment, the spirit of the agreement has been violated. The group presented Jones a written list of terms, which included the Cowboys picking an Arlington-based black firm to joint venture with the general contractor. Jones wrote back that he will "... meet or exceed your expectations..." This hasn't happened.
The Cowboys say that no promise was made. Now, the Arlington City Council will seek a legal opinion on the nature of the commitment.
Such package deals are not unusual in these stadium-location schemes. The sports franchise pitches its business deal as a quasi-public-works enterprise. In exchange for the great privilege of having a local team, the community agrees to foot a good portion of the bill in the way of relocating displaced homes and businesses and subsidizing a major portion of the costs.
Why communities agree to these deals remains a mystery to me. They are driven by a recipe of public spiritedness and perceived economic benefit, fueled by super-salesmen like Jones. Citizens agree to smoke-and-mirrors arrangements that blur the line between public works and private business.