Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Monday, February 2, 2015

Lessons from Wallace Bajjali

It’s been ten days since this blog broke the news that Wallace Bajjali, the master developer for Amarillo and Joplin, Mo. had abandoned its offices there and the development’s home office in Sugar Land, Texas.

And a hell of a ten days it was.

The short version of this sordid saga is that The Amarillo Independent broke a story in 2010 raising serious questions about the developer’s sleazy history. We managed to get the City Council’s attention, but the council blew off the concerns. After a litany of problems here and in Joplin, Mo., where their City Council brought in Wallace Bajjali to help the city recover from a devastating 2011 tornado, the firm cratered. The Turner Report has covered the problems in Joplin.

That both cities have in common they are holding the bag for a dishonest flimflam firm point us to other characteristics the two communities share.

The first is that both city councils refused to believe the alternative news sources that brought seriously credible information about Wallace Bajjali. It assumed that Downtown Amarillo Inc., with the Amarillo Globe-News Publisher Les Simpson as president and Melissa Dailey, the executive director, were more equipped to provide good information. After all, this is what Dailey told the Independent Nov. 15, “We have not come across anything negative. When we looked into it in detail, it all was positive.”

In Amarillo’s case, the City Council (then commission) had already embarrassed itself even further by coming across as rubes during a presentation by David Wallace as demonstrated in this video from Nov. 9, 2010.

The Turner Reports from Joplin show a similar arc, but one other commonality is the more devastating.

Both cities’ daily newspapers (using that term loosely) — the Joplin Globe and Amarillo Globe-News — are owned by out-of-town corporations, the former by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. and the latter by the infamous Morris Communications. And both papers were in the tank for their councils and the developer. Now, each of the papers are back-pedaling, walking back their support but in different ways.

For Amarillo, it’s important to see what is happening here with two items on Sunday's Globe-News website. First, workhorse reporter couple Kevin and Karen Welch penned a storythat outlined the Wallace Bajjali implosion, clearly using deep information. But, with their ultimate boss Simpson, up to his eyeballs in the advocacy of Wallace Bajjali, the story didn’t mention that connection. For, Simpson was not only the president of the DAI board, on which he remains, but he also sits on the board of the Amarillo Local Government Corp.

Then, there was an editorialthat essentially declares a form of journalistic jihad against the city staff and, perhaps, some of the City Council. The piece was a litany of problems in the city, which were legitimate concerns. But in some of the worst hypocrisy possible, the editorial ended with a slam at the city staff and an abject failure to hold accountable the City Council and all the advisory boards, including the ones on which Simpson serves.

Make no mistake about these two items in the Amarillo Globe-News. These pieces are the beginning of a campaign to deflect blame away from Simpson, the Globe-News and the unholy alliance between this dishonest paper and the City Council. And, if the councilors don’t continue to play ball with Simpson and the Globe-News, they will also become the targets of reportorial retribution. In fact, one candidate seeking the Place 4 seat and sure to win the favor of the hacks on Harrison Street is Steve Rogers, who is associated with the suspicious Commerce Building deal. Look for more of this drama to unfold.

The lessons from this debacle are many. One lesson for the city councilors is to take to heart the value of humility. And to be more critical in their thinking skills. The other lesson is to be careful with whom you crawl into bed. When you lie down with snakes, you’re going to be bitten.

There is also a lesson for Amarillo citizens. We get good service from the businesses we support. Let that statement and the implications of the statement sink in. But the most important lesson is that we also get the government we deserve. The turnout for city elections have generally be pathetic, although the cell phone and smoking issues did spike some interest in civic activity. But this situation is more important. Amarillo’s next municipal election is just a little more than four months away. Think about it.