An open records request has revealed a major marketing corporation as being the link between vendors and local governments involved in a “use less water” ad campaign—funded by North Texas taxpayers—that’s been covered up by the Tarrant Regional Water District. Documents show this corporation submitted a bid for $120,000, but TRWD has blocked attempts to reveal how much taxpayers paid the companies involved.
In July of last year, Texas Scorecard discovered a water conservation marketing campaign between TRWD, the City of Dallas, and the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). The five-year campaign is costing taxpayers a pricey $3.3 million, all just to tell them to “use less water.”
The campaign is structured so that Dallas and NTMWD pay TRWD, and TRWD pays the businesses contracted for the marketing campaign. That means all taxpayer dollars for the marketing campaign flow through TRWD.
To try to determine which businesses were benefitting from this, Texas Scorecard submitted an open records request in July 2019 to TRWD requesting “all contracts” related to the campaign. They appealed to the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and due to the Texas Supreme Court’s Boeing decision from several years ago, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has, for the time being, allowed the contracts to remain hidden from taxpayers. Legislation passed earlier this year eliminates this exemption and went into effect on January 1, 2020.
Despite this, in TRWD’s appeal, they did name two of the companies benefitting from the campaign: Charlie Uniform Tango—a production company that proudly displays communist imagery in its office—and RO Two Media, a “marketing and media” company with offices in both Venezuela and Colombia. Both companies clammed up when asked about the $3.3 million taxpayer-funded campaign.
Texas Scorecard tried visiting RO Two Media at their listed address but instead found Richards/Lerma, a marketing firm focused on the Hispanic market; the firm appears to be a subsidiary of marketing giant The Richards Group.
Last month, we submitted an open records request to TRWD asking for the Request for Proposals (RFPs) for the ad campaign. RFPs are price proposals that vendors submit to governments for a certain task or service.
TRWD and Charlie Uniform Tango’s lawyers replied and revealed Richards Partners, a subsidiary of The Richards Group, as the link connecting the water district with these companies.
TRWD’s lawyers sent us a copy of the RFP from Richards Partners, detailing the size, scope, and budget for the ad campaign. The RFP calls for one television ad, one radio ad, two social media videos, and 10 stock images—all at a budget of $120,000.
It also shows a website, www.waterisawesome.com, as part of the campaign.
Charlie Uniform Tango’s lawyers sent us a redacted copy of the production budget, likely for the television and social media ads. All the costs are redacted, but it does list Richards Partners as the “agency” and “client” for the production. This raises the question of whether or not Richards is the primary vendor to TRWD and if RO Two Media and Charlie Uniform Tango are subcontractors working directly for Richards.
None of these documents reveal how much the taxpayers of Dallas, NTMWD, and TRWD have paid to these companies, and TRWD has previously fought attempts by Texas Scorecard to uncover that information. While they did provide the Richards Partners RFP, both TRWD and the Trinity River Vision Authority appealed to Attorney General Ken Paxton to withhold other information because releasing it will “put the [TRWD] at a disadvantage from obtaining the most competitive bids from consultants [redacted].” Charlie Uniform Tango also objects to the information being released.
This is not the only questionable situation involving TRWD and TRVA’s handling of taxpayer dollars. Both are among the infamous stakeholders in the 16-year, $1.7 billion redevelopment boondoggle known as Panther Island, which the water district is keeping afloat by adding more debt onto the backs of local taxpayers.
Taxpayers deserve a full financial audit to know where their money is going. Those interested may contact the board members of TRWD and NTMWD, as well as the Dallas City Council.