Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Refreshing Our Memory on Wallace Bajjali

On Nov. 16, 2010, the Amarillo City Council, then called Commission, was to vote on a master development contract with Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, LLC. The Amarillo Independent had posted an investigative story on Wallace Bajjali to the Independent website and distributed a copy of that story to commissioners. Here is the commission’s 15-minute discussion on Nov. 16.

This followed by a week an hour log discussion by David Wallace to the then- City Commission, which can be accessed here.
An extensive interview by The Amarillo Independent in early December 2010 can be found in two parts, here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
The story would also be published in the Nov. 18 edition of the Independent. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Court to Wallace Bajjali: Pay Up!

By Sarah Okeson
For The Amarillo Independent

The founders of an embattled development firm that left Joplin, Mo., and Amarillo, Texas, in the lurch after promising to help both cities with revitalization plans were sued Thursday in federal court in Texas.
Abandoned Wallace Bajjali office in Joplin, Mo. - Sarah Okeson/For the Independent
The lawsuit, filed in Houston, names David Wallace and Costa Bajjali. Both resigned recently from the firm they founded, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners.
The lawsuit says the two men owe $1.5 million they had agreed to pay in a previous federal lawsuit that involved allegations of a Ponzi scheme. That lawsuit didn’t involve any admission of wrongdoing.
The payments in the previous lawsuit were due Dec. 31, 2014. That case was brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The lawsuit Thursday was filed by Thomas Taylor III who was the receiver in connection with the earlier federal court case.

Taylor didn’t respond to an email sent earlier this week before the most recent lawsuit was filed.
Joplin officials learned Monday that both men have stepped down from the firm. Some officials in Amarillo admitted they knew of the development firm’s problems for quite sometime, although the exact timeline isn’t clear. The men’s resignations came just days after the Dec. 31 deadline in the federal lawsuit.
A spokeswoman for Joplin did not immediately respond to an email asking for a reaction to the latest federal lawsuit involving Wallace and Bajjali.
In Joplin, the office of Wallace Bajjali in a historic downtown building has been vacated and company telephones there and in the firm’s Sugar Land, Texas office have been disconnected.
Joplin officials have said that they paid Wallace Bajjali about $1.68 million to help the city redevelop after the May 2011 tornado that devastated the city. Amarillo has paid Wallace Bajjali almost $1 million to help it with downtown development. Those expenditures don’t include public money for infrastructure and property acquisition to support plans pushed by Wallace Bajjali and Downtown Amarillo Inc.
The lawsuit filed by Taylor also names two funds connected with Wallace and Bajjali.

A spokesman for the Missouri state auditor has said that the auditor is examining the relationship between Joplin and Wallace Bajjali.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wallace Bajjali audit target in Joplin - Special council meeting there tonight - UPDATE

By Sarah Okeson
For The Amarillo Independent

The state auditor for Missouri is examining the relationship between Joplin, the Missouri city devastated by a 2011 tornado, and Wallace Bajjali Development Partners,  the firm both Joplin and Amarillo have turned to as master developer. Contracts between the Sugar Land, Texas-based firm and each city came despite the firm’s history of legal problems.
“I can confirm that we are conducting an audit of the city of Joplin and that we have looked at the relationship between the city and Wallace Bajjali,” Spence Jackson, a spokesman for the Missouri state auditor said in an email to The Amarillo Independent.

Jackson would not comment on whether the auditor has subpoenaed anyone from Wallace Bajjali in its investigation.
Joplin hired the firm to help redevelop the city after the May 22, 2011 tornado, but the company moved out of the space it had leased in a historic downtown Joplin building about a week ago, according to a property manager.
“They had told us a few months before that they were going to be moving closer to the project site,” said Ginger Sweet, the project manager.
She would not comment on whether the firm owed back rent. The phone in the company’s main office in Sugar Land, Texas, has been disconnected. Company officials did not respond to a message left on their website.
The Joplin City Council has scheduled a special meeting for 5:45 p.m. Monday to talk about legal action or litigation.
Lynn Onstot, a spokeswoman for Joplin, said she expected the City Council will talk about Wallace Bajjali. “I’m sure there will be options discussed,” Onstot said. “I’m not sure if a decision will be made.”
Joplin Mayor Mike Seibert would not comment to the Independent about Wallace Bajjali.
“The city does not have legal confirmation of the status of WB,” he emailed the Independent this morning.
Wallace Bajjali and three of its limited partnerships were ordered to pay $1.2 million in 2012 to settle a federal case brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Wallace Bajjali didn’t admit to any wrongdoing in the case.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Has Wallace Bajjali abandoned Joplin?

The Amarillo Independent has learned that Wallace Bajjali Development Partners may have abandoned its role as master developer in Joplin, Mo., according to the Turner Report and the Joplin Globe.

The newspaper in Joplin posted late Friday night that the Sugar Land-based development firm “is no longer operating out of office space” in that city and has left no forwarding address. The story also noted that the firm’s phone “does not connect.” The Amarillo Independent has independently confirmed the main number doesn’t ring, but the fax number answers with a carrier.

The city of Amarillo contracted with Wallace Bajjali to serve as master developer for downtown revitalization in 2011 after the Independent warned of the firm's checkered past.

The Amarillo Independent is investigating further.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red LIghts Redux - It's About the Money

There is a long-standing rule in journalism: Follow the money. In this case, the Dallas Morning News notes that the Denton Record-Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported problems with red light cameras in several cities, including findings from Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute. The bottom-line is that these Orwellian enforcement tools don’t necessarily make roads safer. They change the type of accidents and make cities richer.

In other words, the selling point that closes the sale is greed, for both the companies selling the technology and the cities buying it. Safety, like “national security,” is just one more shibboleth for the governing class to find a way to raise money. Amarillo’ City Council has been adept at this during the last few years. The five-member walk-in-lock-step cabal approved the red light cameras and then expanded the use despite the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute findings. And, they accepted misrepresentations of hearings by the chairwoman of the city’s Transportation Commission on the cell phone ordinance.

Arlington is facing a petition drive that may be successful in killing off the cameras. Other cities, Houston, Lubbock and College Station have already banned them. The odds aren’t good in Amarillo for such action because the City Council made it more difficult to place things on a ballot. Of course, the council did so with the predictable help from those who didn’t bother to understand and voted their own interests.

It is one more case of getting the government we deserve.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Connect the dots, people.

I have waited all day for someone to point out how unethical the Globe-News can be by not fully disclosing information. In today's editorial, the fifth-rate media outlet takes the city of Amarillo to task to failing to replace lights at the Interstate 27-Interstate 40 interchange.

The editorial fails to make clear that the city has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation in which the city maintains the lights within the city. And, further, the city has a contract with Xcel Energy for the privately owned utility to carry out that work. And, that utility has also garnered extensive profits from the downtown development and will continue to suckle at the Amarillotaxpayer teat when — it’s a foregone conclusion, folks — the company’s new building gets favorable treatment from the TIRZ and AEDC.

Connect the dots, people.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy 2015

New Year wishes for good fortune, prosperity and happiness are cascading down my Facebook newsfeed this morning. And, so, I return those sentiments as I muse about the year past and the upcoming one.

First, I note, without self-critique or judgment, that it’s been about 2½ months since my last posting to The Amarillo Independent blog site, which is now my personal blog. I chalk up my absence in part to the rigors of retirement — or semi-retirement. Those rigors include a 5,000-mile road trip that took us to Massachusetts to celebrate Thanksgiving with my contribution of kids-grandkids to our extended family; and a return paralleling the Appalachians to see my brother and sister-in-law in South Carolina. Blogging along the way would have, on one hand, taken time away from the activities during the journey; then, blogging would have helped document more of the trip, some of which is a bit of a blur. In addition, I am chary about any posting that indicates we are on the road lest we make our home vulnerable to miscreants. And, I hope that I will have future conflicts about whether to post while traveling because I hope to increase traveling.

I am, however, dealing with another conflict. Writing to blog or post elsewhere reflect an engagement in current or civic affairs. Some days I ask myself, “why bother?”

Clearly, the struggle suggests I feel something to contribute to the discussion; but, it also indicates that I am not sure what I contribute matters or makes a difference. And, even if I could “make a difference,” why should I care? One of my main goals these days is to keep my blood pressure down in order to protect my heart and my eyesight. Getting riled up about what happens in the political realm does nothing to contribute to my equanimity or to my overall health. Nor do the intemperate remarks that sometimes surface through political and religious discussions.

But staying engaged is important. Keeping up and staying mentally active is healthy. It may keep senility at bay. And, staying engaged and contributing to the civic dialogue supports one of my core values of United States citizenship.

If I post, I’ll tweet it and post it to the Independent and personal Facebook pages.

Meanwhile, I repeat, I hope those who see this have a wonderful 2015 — and many more great years to come.