Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Friday, May 8, 2015

Election issues continue to roil

Jay Groom, a Facebook friend and real life acquaintance posted the following last night: “Very ashamed of the (so-called nsp) in our fine city. The editor (Les) has gone out of his way to increase readership and therefore revenue at the expense of putting a lot of well-meaning public servants in a negative light.

Are these public servants without fault? Am I without fault? Les, are you without fault? No. I have yet to hear thoughtful solutions for some of our city's problems from the nsp or many of the candidates looking to replace the present city council. So many of the negative views of the current mayor and city council have come from a relatively few anonymous posters in the nsp and a couple of mayor wannabees that for whatever reason, chose not to run. Rant is over. I throw it to George Schwarz for a thoughtful rebuttal.”

I obliged.

Jay Groom, thanks for the toss and I’ll rise to the occasion — mainly because I can’t keep my damn mouth shut!

When I came to Amarillo in June 2003, I did so with high hopes of being on the staff of a medium-sized daily paper that was important to the community and provided high-quality journalism as the descendent of a Pulitzer-winning newspaper. When I interviewed for the job, I made it clear that along with being the health and medicine reporter (having a M.A. in hospital and health administration), I am also an investigative reporter. I joined Investigative Reporters and Editors in 1995, during my career change, and have never let the membership lapse. That’s my commitment to investigative reporting.

In the interim of the job offer and arrival, Les Simpson had fired Cathy Martindale as executive editor. I didn’t see that as a harbinger of the paper’s (I refuse to call the Amarillo Globe-News a newspaper) deterioration. But, for as long as I was there, I saw stories killed and scared cows protected. How ironic given Gene Howe’s quote above the door. Then there was the Franklin Covey program that Les and Morris Communications inflicted on the newsroom in which they declared there were no sacred cows. Most of the reporters there laughed at that one. By the way, I can give you all several specific examples of spiked or slanted stories, but not at the moment.

Fast-forward to 2008, with the two-year-old Amarillo Independent covering the City Council (I am using Commission and Council interchangeably, although I know the difference), when the current push for downtown planning reared its head. The Indy pointed out a lot of the problems with the plan, including the failure to focus on the Civic Center first. Despite the City Council’s duplicity with the Globe-News Center, enough political capital remained that the voters would have approved a bond issue for a big Civic Center project. The hotel and other projects, whatever they would be and whatever direction they took would have followed.

During that time, Richard Brown touted the establishment of Downtown Amarillo Inc. as the mechanism to bring the real estate and development expertise to the city, with it being a nonprofit not subject to the Texas sunshine laws. A lot of people objected to that; and many other people — including Alan Abraham (but not Brian Eades) — also objected to Les being placed on DAI’s and the Local Government Corp.’s boards. I remember objecting before the council and in editorials, arguing that if one media outlet was on those boards, all should be. Of course, it was clear why the council pulled that stunt — co-option of the worse kind.

I have said openly and will repeat it here. Les could have done the right thing as an ethical journalist and declined those posts. But, he didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, he forfeited any right to be called a journalist. Whatever his motivation, by repudiating core journalistic ethics, by being part of the process instead of being a watchdog of it, he made the Globe-News and himself bigger lapdogs than they already were. Even worse, he was part of the group that brought Melissa Dailey to DAI and she was the one who, with Les, brought Wallace Bajjali to the table. The Indy did its part with watchdog journalism in November 2010, revealing WB’s shady record at a council work session, all the while Les sat stewing and Dailey claiming DAI had done its due diligence. The city’s retention of a Dallas law firm to “vet” Wallace Bajjali was a ploy to simply grease the skids. As Don Yee pointed out, in commenting about the NFL’s law firm’s “Deflategate” report, law firms can be counted on to come up with findings the client wants. Did the firms do so for the city?

The downtown planning process was gamed from the start and, although the Kabuki Dance tried to make it look like an open process and invited other ideas, the truth is once Dailey and Wallace Bajjali got involved, it was going to be WB’s cookie-cutter ballpark approach. But worse, despite the Indy kicking open the public records and meetings doors at DAI, most of the efforts continued behind closed doors. The city can look cooperative while stonewalling. It’s really quite charming, but it isn’t transparent. As the downtown debacle unfolded and other city problems came to the forefront, failed oversight and transparency became the issues of this campaign.

I don’t think it’s totally accurate to fault the challengers for not having solutions. Many of them have articulated that rebuilding the Civic Center should be the next step; and that the Herring Hotel should not be shut out of the plans. And a call to revamp city management, draconian it may be, is a solution. When the Indy covered this issue, we took editorial positions calling for the Civic Center as a priority, focusing in the city’s railroad, Western heritage and the magic of Route 66. Those ideas were spurned but I am still convinced that those are the elements of Amarillo that people are interested in; I still subscribe to the notion that the ballpark is a joke. Alan Abraham has a university study showing what a bad idea those ballparks are and he showed it to the councilors. The council has a knack for rejecting good information.

As for the Globe-News not offering solutions or alternatives, what do you expect with Les so invested in this debacle? He has gone pretty low profile, hasn’t he? But the Globe-News turning on the city and incumbents has Les’ fingerprints all over it. I don’t know the reason or reasons, although I have my theories.

As for “relatively few anonymous posters in the nsp,” I make two observations. First, the City Council, DAI, WB and the AGN have argued that there was citizen input accepting all the elements of the downtown plan, but in the context of our city, those were relatively few. So, are the posters on the AGN website a disproportionate few? Second, I’ve posted on the AGN site for years, but every time someone there figures out my screen name, they ban me. I outed myself as “opinionista” this past weekend in response to Melissa Dailey using her maiden name and posting propaganda and inaccurate information. I expect to be banned any day now.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s tone, style or criticism of the incumbents. I’ve been harsh but civil. And I stand by my positions. I didn’t grow up in Texas. I grew up in New Orleans and, as an adult, lived in eight states before getting here. I never liked the “get along by going along” approach to politics, public policy or management, although I don’t like the nastiness we’ve seen. But what I see has blunt and straightforward comments and opinions are seen by others as harsh or negative. I see that as a “get along by going along” ploy. I am 70-years-old. I am beyond the point of needing to care what others think of me as long as I retain my own integrity.

Thanks for inviting me to comment and for reading.