Richard Connor: Mayor, council need to clean up Cooke mess, tend to the city’s business

David Cooke

The twisted web being woven around the David Cooke conflict-of-interest fiasco and his relationship with the owners of Sundance Square, Ed and Sasha Bass, is spiraling out of control.

It’s messy and tawdry and exposing the weakness of city government in the face of a crisis. Mayor Mattie Parker and the city council are demonstrating lack of executive experience and perhaps youthful naivete, not to mention a glaring shortage of the toughness that former Mayor Betsy Price demonstrated time and time again.

The story is no longer just a social media-driven saga about petty, petulant, self-important behavior in and around Sundance Square. It’s now a story about a city government that is failing in its responsibility to enforce transparency, checks and balances, accountability, free speech and, oh yes, rules.

What was basically a story about a free ride on a fancy, private jet by City Manager Cooke and his wife Denise is now an expose that casts a shadow over City Hall and that some are using to cast aspersions even on renowned institutions such as the prestigious Sid Richardson Foundation and the highly successful entertainment venue, Dickies Arena.

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At the heart of much of the controversy is Sundance Management CEO Sasha Bass. Life for downtown tenants and merchants changed when, by virtue of marriage and not necessarily merit, she took over running Sundance.

Business experience and results are sketchy all the way around for the city and Sundance. Incredibly, Sasha Bass, new to town, has become a lightning rod for criticism and controversy. Her husband, Ed, had success raising money and establishing nonprofits for Bass Performance Hall and the initial startup of Dickies. Running nonprofits is far different than the world of profit and loss.

As Sundance has deteriorated, lost some tenants and embroiled others in fights about issues ranging from parking to lease renewals, Sasha Bass has become a joke, a target of anger, angst and dark humor all across the spectrum of social media.

By the way, anonymous “news tips” and verbal sniping by malcontents hiding behind vague social media tags such as Fort Worth Confidential and Lady Whistleworth deserve no respect or credibility, in my opinion. You folks are as mean, spiteful and petty as you accuse Sasha Bass of being. Put your name on your “commentary” or go to the sidelines and pout.

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Sasha Bass, who has rarely commented publicly about Sundance or the turmoil surrounding it, entered the fray over the Cooke flap with an emailed statement to the Fort Worth Star Telegram defending Cooke’s Labor Day trip to Aspen with the Basses as being business-related because he sits on the Visit Fort Worth board. Visit Fort Worth was a sponsor at the Aspen Jazz Festival. It invited its own group of business leaders to Aspen. Several flew there on American Airlines.

Last we heard, Sasha Bass was not a spokesperson for Visit Fort Worth.

While she was defending Cooke as being on a “business” trip, the city manger was sending a letter to city employees apologizing for his bad judgment in taking a “personal” trip and for “the appearance of a conflict of interest it created.”

Well, we ask, which was it? Who speaks for Cooke, Sasha Bass or Cooke? Who’s on first, you might ask, referencing the old baseball joke.

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Perhaps if Sundance had professional and accomplished business folks running its 37 square blocks it could pull itself out of the cauldron of controversy it has created.

Cooke was an excellent city manager. He is now a distraction to city business and progress. The mayor and city council did nothing but slap his hand with a “reprimand” and an order to recuse himself from city decisions involving Sundance Square. Tough penalty. They reduced his duties as city manager but did not reduce his $384,664per year salary.

So he gets to work less and get the same pay? Some reprimand.

At the least, what they should have done was order him to  calculate and report the value of any and all “gifts” he has accepted from Ed and Sasha Bass. Texas law requires “mayors, council members, and certain other executive city officers and agents” to disclose gifts that total more than $100 in a one-year period from “a person who has contracted with or is considering contracting with the city.”

We’ll leave it to the lawyers to decide whether a plane ride to Colorado is a “gift” under the law but as a matter of principle, transparency and public trust Cooke should be required to report anything of value he as received from the Basses. Visits and tickets to the Ed Bass suite at Dickies Arena? Cost of front row, courtside seats to Dallas Mavericks games? Any other trips or favors he has accepted in the course of his acknowledged friendship with Ed and Sasha Bass?

Once all that is on the record, the mayor and city council should reconvene and ask themselves if Cooke has the credibility to continue in his job.

As we have noted, Ed and Sasha Bass own Sundance Square and can do with it what they please. Unfortunately, it is part of downtown Fort Worth and at one time was downtown’s crown jewel. Now the once-admired development and its CEO are constantly mocked and criticized, turning all of the city into a farce and not-so-funny joke.

So, listen up Mayor Parker and city council members: End this charade of a controversy with Cooke and reposition city management. You are losing ground in the public eye. Confront Sundance and ask them to be good neighbors, or move on without them. You like to deal with members of famous families on commercial developments? Stick with the Hickmans in the Stockyards and the Edwards heirs in Clearfork.

Leave social media and Instagram to deal with Sasha Bass. She, too, and the controversy she engenders, are just distractions from the business of making sure that Fort Worth is and continues to be one of America’s great cities.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at