Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the reddest part of the red state

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gary Johnson: A wolf in sheep's clothing

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are wedging their way into the 2016 presidential race by asserting they are viable alternatives to the major party candidates. While it is doubtful either of these outsiders can muster enough votes to overcome the big party machines, it seems Johnson’s use of social media to tout his qualifications makes him more visible.

But, Johnson has also been coy about all his positions, advancing mostly his Libertarian views on social issues to attract progressives or liberals in hopes of luring them away from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Those social issue positions include decriminalizing marijuana, ending the “war on drugs” and supporting gay marriage — all posited on social media. However, there are other issues with this election and the Seattle Times has outlined them here. And, in providing that information, the Times shows Johnson to be far more dangerous to progressives than he want them to know.


I know nothing about Stein, but I was a reporter in New Mexico when Johnson was governor and believe he did harm to that state by wielding a promiscuous veto pen. With that background, here are some conclusions I can can draw from the Times’ synopsis on the topics on which I feel sufficiently versed:

·Education — Johnson’s view “there is no role for the federal government in education” is dangerous and a national security threat. By cutting the Department of Education, he would fully open the door to the kind of idiocrasy we see from the Texas Board of Education. Spreading that anti-intellectual, anti-fact and anti-scientific cancer to those conservative state already saddled with his proportions of ignorant population won’t help the United States on the world stage. It is one of the ways that the corporatists support their takeover of the government. An educated and critically thinking electorate is the key to a viable republic.

·Climate — Johnson’s view that the climate is “probably” changing and humans are “probably” contributing to it is a grudging concession at best. He view that punishing polluters and not “intervening” in markets is a Romulan cloaking of his thrall with the energy industry. It also reflects a failure to understand the masters and puppeteers in thwarting the weaning off of fossil fuels.

·Economy — Johnson’s advocacy for a “free market” economy with limited regulation is again a corporatist tool to bring us back to the age of the Robber Barons. He so-called consumption tax, much like the New Mexico gross receipts tax, is regressive and favors the rich; and, his so-called prebate opens another whole can of worms about the definition of “necessities.” His economic view is simplistic and overlooks the wheels and levers of a vastly more complex economy than he can understand. Nowhere is this ignorance more evident in his position on health care.

·Health care — Johnson, like so many politicians on the right, either don’t understand basic health economics; or, if they do, choose to use language to pander to those too ignorant to understand the discipline. While he doesn’t define “fully privatized health care,” the implication is dismantling Medicare and Medicaid and giving the private insurance industry carte blanche to return to the 1940s and 1950s. Such a move would reinstate medical underwriting, leading to (literally) people dying. It would let the private insurers and BigPharma reap huge profits and the expense of those for whom we should have compassion.

In short, don't be fooled by his mild manner and charm. His views reflect a cruel ignorance and disdain for anyone who hasn’t already “got theirs.” His presidency would take us back to the 19th Century or worse.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Tee time and the 19th hole

Thursday, the ABC7 Amarillo investigative team reported on the high on the hog travel that former Amarillo Economic Development Corp. president Buzz David’s and Senior VP Brian Jennings enjoyed in their hob-knobbing at conferences, trade shows and client meetings all over the United States. But that wasn’t the whole story, tonight the team told viewers about playing at golf clubs and buy golf clubs.


The ABC7 Amarillo team looked at receipts and “chits” associated with David’s and Jennings’ accounts at Amarillo Country Club and Tascosa Golf Club, respectively.

One Amarillo Country Club bill from 2013 came to $7,000, with the explanation of dues and “local meals.” And some of those meals were fit for a king. One included wild boar ragu, bacon wrapped quail and top shelf drinks like Grey Goose vodka, Makers Mark, and a $19 glass — yes, a glass — of wine.

The ABC7 Amarillo team also found purchases for golf clubs, golf bags and clothing. They found few checks to reconcile that either David or Jennings reimbursed the AEDC for personal purchases. But for two golf clubs, a golf umbrella a pullover and cart bag, taxpayers teed up about $800. Interim CEO Doug Nelson postulated those purchases might have been bought and then used as gifts or donations as part of an event with local businesses. Nelson wasn’t more specific and the team found no documentation of the assertion.

Those memberships were, by the way, part of the executive compensation packages tacked onto David’s almost $300,000 deal with AEDC and Jennings’ $127,000 package.

Now, let’s be clear. Nothing in those receipts showed that David or Jennings did anything illegal. But, in the guise of recruiting businesses to Amarillo, they spent a lot of money going to conferences and making other trips for which the purpose wasn’t always clear. Further, as the ABC7 Amarillo team reported, for the time period it looked at, the AEDC brought in only two new businesses totaling 320 news jobs.

Granted, the AEDC retained and expanded other businesses, but even some of those moves were controversial. Some would say the role the AEDC played in moving the Coca-Cola facility out of downtown to make room for the ballpark wouldn’t pass legal muster under laws governing AEDC’s type of economic development charter. And, don’t forget, the community is awaiting the results, if any, of a federal grand jury investigation on the AEDC’s Commerce Building deal.

What is most important about this story for Amarillo’s taxpayers? The previous Amarillo City Commission and then Council — which approves the AEDC operating budget — failed in its fiduciary duty to properly oversee taxpayer money. So did the AEDC board. Both of those governing bodies let AEDC executives run amok and failed in their fiduciary duty to taxpayers. In fact, some of the expenditures make the infamous gang from Wallace Bajjali look like pikers. On June 9, the city’s Laura Storrs told The Amarillo Independent that the AEDC has had clean audits from the same firm that audits the city’s books.

And, finally, remember all the drama and bashing of the three new City Council members, especially in the Amarillo Globe-News? It’s clear the ABC7 Amarillo investigative report vindicates those members of the City Council who called for replacing the entire AEDC board a year ago.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

High on the hog, or traveling in style

Last night, Niccole Caan and Kendra Hall of the ABC7 Amarillo investigative team told viewers watching the 10 p.m. broadcast the reimbursements to former CEO Richard “Buzz” David, and current Senior VP of Business Development Brian Jennings for their miscellaneous expenses. On tonight’s Nightside, ABC7 Amarillo reported on how these top two executives traveled high on the hog, spending for top-of-the-line booze, lavish meals, swanky hotel rooms, golf outings and more.


The ABC7 Amarillo team flagged high-dollar items or receipts that were obviously for luxury or upscale facilities. Examples of those items include $931 of taxpayer dollars at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas with enough documentation to show an up-sell to a room with a view, cappuccinos in the lobby and a resort fee.




The most expensive meal the investigative team found was a reimbursement to Jennings on a date and at a restaurant the team couldn’t identify from the quality of the copy of the paperwork the reporters had requested under the Texas Inspection of Public Records Act. That $672 for seven guests was a true wine-and-dine, with orders of crab legs, filet mignon and 11 top-of-the-line alcoholic beverages.

672 by George Schwarz on Scribd

David’s $644 tab on June 12, 2014 at Paesanos Ristaurante, San Antonio, was a close second.

While several of the lodging receipts topped $1,000, the single largest amount was in April 2014 when Jennings was reimbursed more than $1,600 for hotel, clothing and golf at the famous golfing venue in North Carolina — Pinehurst 1895. David also has a similar receipt from Pinehurst for $879.




Thousands of taxpayer dollars reimbursed to David, and Jennings, were made on the basis of hand-written “receipts” and receipts with no backup or itemization.


Those hand-scribbled “receipts,” many on David’s business cards, AEDC notepaper or plain paper filled out in either David’s or Jennings’ handwriting, exceeded $1,000 from 2013 until now. The most expensive of these was David’s $140 note “a service charge.”

Although the ABC7 Amarillo team found a few documents that could be linked some expenses to conferences or trade shows, most lacked any link to a project or client. And, few receipts had itemization or even reflected the number of people attending the meals.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shirts, shoes and golfing news for Amarillo taxpayers

On ABC7 Amarillo’s investigative team members Niccole Caan and Kendra Hall found Amarillo Economic Development Corp. top executives living high on the taxpayers’ hog with extravagant expenditures for entertainment, meals, hotels and four-figure golf outings. But that’s not all.

On the ABC7 Amarillo Nightside broadcast earlier tonight, the team reported that, after going through thousands of pages of documents, it found personal clothing and more.


ABC7 Amarillo’s reporters found VP of Business Development Brian Jennings was repaid for $75 of golf shirts at Ross Rogers Golf Course; and he was reimbursed $124 for two dress shirts he bought at Dillard’s Jan. 24, 2014, returning one shirt for a $70 credit three days later.

Interim CEO Doug Nelson explained the AEDC staffers wear shirts with the organization’s logo to advance the AEDC “brand.” That answer was in relation to the shirts bought in Amarillo. But the ABC7 team found documentation of clothing on a Jennings receipt, but was part of a pricey trip the Pinehurst in North Carolina.

And this list went on. The ABC7 team also found receipts for golf equipment, such as golf clubs and a golf umbrella, but only a few checks from either David or Jennings paying the AEDC back. The receipts included wiper blades and car washes, which Nelson explained were for the vehicle the AEDC owns and uses for escorting visitors around the area.

And who are those visitors? That remains confidential, Nelson said. In reviewing the spending, however, there was no way to tie back any specific expense to a particular client or prospect.

And then there are the dollars here and there for bottled water, coffee and chewing gum backed up by hand-written receipts.


Nelson justified the expenses by acknowledging no written policies guide these expenditures. And, David approved his own expenditures and every moment of travel was “on the clock.”

But it’s not as though David and Jennings are paid slave wages. In 2015, David’s base salary was $241,000 with a $50,000 bonus. Jennings pulled down $117,000 with a $10,000 bonus.



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A little tax and a lot of money

As the ABC7 Amarillo investigative team reported earlier this evening, reporters looked at the Amarillo Economic Development Corp., it learned that every purchase in Amarillo subject to sales tax sends one-half penny to the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. And that adds up to a tidy sum. That sales tax also pays for the salaries, operations as well as travels and a pool of money for loans, buildings and other items, the projected operational budget for the fiscal year ending in September is almost $1.9 million, with almost 40 percent of that in salaries.


According to the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Managerial Report (see below) for the five months ending on Feb 29, 2016, the organization is sitting on $3.2 million in operating equity and $68 million in project equity.

The AEDC has this and other reports on its website; and, while this seems to be transparent, not that this public document states “Restricted to management only, notes are not presented.” But, notes are an integral part of financial documents.

The ABC7 Amarillo reporters learned that the AEDC is subject to the state sunshine laws because it is tax-supported and a contractor to carry out city functions. But, as a separate organization, it is not subject to the city’s rules for accountability for travel, reimbursement and other policies.

But, did the AEDC have its own policies? Yes and no.

“Well we do have policies, we just don’t have written policies” Interim CEO Doug Nelson told ABC7 Amarillo’s Niccole Caan.

And that, essentially, gives AEDC employees carte blanche for travel, hotel, meals, golf games, clothing and equipment, including former CEO Richard “Buzz” David the authority to approve his own travel. Officials with the city told ABC7 Amarillo that the AEDC has had “clean” audits with the same firm that audits the city’s books, so seemingly no red flags came up. It isn’t clear whether those warnings should have occurred.


According to the AEDC’s own website, where it has 2014 and 2015 annual reports, the organization brought in two new businesses for a total of 320 jobs; and, in the 26 years of existence, the AEDC claimed it attracted or relocated 34 businesses while expanding 138 more.



Monday, July 4, 2016

Stonewalling, and vindicating three councilors’ call for AEDC board resignations

As revealing as the documents are, it’s equally instructive how KVII undertook this investigation and how the AEDC reacted to it — stonewalling, resisting and evading. But. nothing the AEDC can or will do can erase the stench emanating from the paper trail of these two guys, who make six-figure salaries on the taxpayer dime, try to live like Donald Trump.


The first indication of the AEDC’s reaction was when the ABC7 team filed a public records request on April 5, 2016, for more recent expenditures. Based on the Texas public records law, the organization should have responded by April 21. That didn’t happen. The AEDC claimed it never saw the original request. It was sent regular mail. Because ABC7 didn’t send the letter registered mail, it was hard to prove the AEDC got it. Imagine however, if you will, a letter from a company wanting to investigate moving to Amarillo disappearing into the Twilight Zone. Don’t we expect an organization with highly paid leadership to have enough competence to check its mail, registered or not? Nevertheless, an email exchange on May 11 resulted in a negotiated request.

The AEDC’s resistance to ABC7 when beyond dragging feet on responses. Despite having sent questions ahead of time and setting a 3 p.m. May 10 appointment with Interim CEO Doug Nelson, when ABC7 team members arrived at the AEDC offices, Nelson was nowhere to be found. The reporters later learned he was holed up at the Underwood Law Firm. Subsequent repeated calls and emails were ignored. And, not one AEDC board member would talk to ABC7.

The AEDC stonewalling denied the ABC7 team and the public information about how the AEDC conducts oversight of its executives’ expenditures — acting as though it is nobody’s business how it spends (wait for it) taxpayer money. The arrogant leadership’s stonewalling also forfeited the organization multiple chances to tell its side of the story. The only two city councilors who would go on camera with ABC7 were Elisha Demerson and Brian Eades.

ABC7 also filed a public records request to see the AEDC employee handbook and travel and reimbursement policies. The response was to send the city of Amarillo’s employee handbook, with the email stating travel and reimbursement policies don’t exist. It’s clear to see the implications of a nonexistence of policies in the spending patterns.

Now, let’s be clear. Nothing in those receipts showed that Buzz David or Brian Jennings did anything illegal. But, in the guise of recruiting businesses to Amarillo, they spent a lot of money going to conferences and making other trips for which the purpose wasn’t always clear. If someone wants to know who the AEDC executives entertains for all this money, Nelson said that information is “confidential.” Further, as the ABC7 team reported, in the time period it looked at, the AEDC brought in only two new businesses totaling 320 news jobs. Granted, the AEDC claimed it retained and expanded other businesses, but even some of those moves were controversial. Some would say the role the AEDC played in moving the Coca-Cola facility out of downtown to make room for the ballpark wouldn’t pass legal muster under laws governing AEDC’s type of economic development charter. And, don’t forget, the community is awaiting the results of a federal grand jury investigation on the AEDC’s Commerce Building deal.

What is most important about this story for Amarillo’s taxpayers? The previous Amarillo City Commission and then Council — which approves the AEDC operating budget — failed in its fiduciary duty to properly oversee taxpayer money. So did the AEDC board. Both of those governing bodies let AEDC executives run amok and failed in their fiduciary duty to taxpayers. In fact, some of the expenditures make the infamous gang from Wallace Bajjali look like pikers. On June 9, Laura Storrs told The Amarillo Independent that the AEDC has had clean audits from the same firm that audits the city’s books.

And, finally, remember all the drama and bashing of the three new City Council member, especially in the Amarillo Globe-News? It’s clear the ABC7 Amarillo investigative report certainly vindicates those members of the City Council who called for replacing the entire AEDC board a year ago.


Stay tuned: ABC7 Amarillo investigates the AEDC

ABC7 Amarillo’s investigative team has done another great service to the community. On tonight’s Nightside at 10 p.m., investigative reporter Niccole Caan kicked off a week-long series on the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. The series caps a months-long investigation of this taxpayer-funded agency. That’s right. A five-day series. And, in TV promotion parlance, it’s something you’ll see only on ABC7 Amarillo.


What triggered this investigation? Several months ago, a confidential source gave the investigative team a box of more than 700 pages of AEDC receipts and other documents from 2013 and 2014. When the ABC7 reporters Caan and Kendra Hall, who also worked hard on this series, got 960 pages of records from the AEDC May 24, they confirmed the first set was genuine by matching a large number of receipts and the handwriting. That satisfied the team of the authenticity of the confidentially supplied documents. In all, the reporters reviewed 1,660 of pages of documents, with most of the pages having copies of several receipts.

Tonight, the station reported on the Amarillo Economic Development Corp.’s stonewalling, trying to avoid being accountable for taxpayer money, 99.6 percent of which comes from the taxpayers. And it will show that precious little oversight exists for how the agency spends taxpayer dollars. Later in the week, ABC7 Amarillo’s investigative team will give viewers a detailed look at travel expenses, hotel costs, food items and some unusual expenses.

It’s no exaggeration that these numbers will make your head spin.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

ABC7 Amarillo kicks off a five-day series investigating the AEDC

If you caught ABC7 Amarillo’s news at 6 p.m. and Nightside at 10 p.m., you heard the “tease” for an extraordinary five-day series investigating the free-wheeling spending by staffers at the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Why use the word “extraordinary?” When was the last time a local commercial Amarillo TV station ran this kind of story over an entire work week?

The ABC7 Amarillo team went through almost 1,000 pages on which were copied thousands of receipts from taxis, hotels, airfare and meals. The team also looked at the receipts and spending reports from two country club memberships. Those findings will be bolstered with posts to abc7amarillo.com

By now, anyone who has surfed the Web knows that words like “jaw dropping,” “you won’t believe …,” “bombshell,” “shocking” and so on are click bait. But, in this case, those words apply to the ABC7 Amarillo team’s finding about AEDC spending.

Tune in to ABC7 Amarillo for the 10 p.m. Nightside news cast starting Monday to learn how our tax dollars are used.