Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from the sessions

Advance Amarillo is on Facebook crowing about the great turn out and support for the Wallace Bajjali-Downtown Amarillo Inc. plan for downtown development.

“A big thank you to everyone who voiced their support for the plans to revitalize downtown today, it was a good day!” reads the post. And one of the supporters, a Sally Jennings, responded, “Today was a great day for the citizens of Amarillo!! Those that want to create and do something good and make this a great city spoke up and were heard. 99% positive comments!!!!”

Here are some major takeaways about the Wednesday session.

• While the turnout was good at the start, let’s remember that the purpose of the all-day dog-and-pony show was to sell and/or pressure the new councilors to buy into the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan. By the way, one of the speakers said the ballpark wasn’t a Wallace Bajjali idea, but that was one of the many pieces of disinformation. The so-called three-legged stool is the cookie cutter approach Wallace Bajjali peddled elsewhere.

• The daylong meeting was designed to bring out the supporters who had pecuniary interests in the plan and to exclude those who would have spoken against the ballpark in particular. Amarillo’s working stiffs had zero chance of sitting through this disinformation campaign.

• After almost 8 hours of the advocates representing Center City, the Local Government Corp., Downtown Amarillo Inc. and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone as well as the city itself with the mayor touting elements of the plan, the public comment session began 2¾ hours after the originally scheduled 3 p.m. start time for public comment. This was a transparent ploy to wear down the outnumbered opponents of the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan.

• It became clear that the public comments portion of the day was also a setup when participants learned about the City Council’s sacred three-minute time limit, wired to favor the advocates of the Wallace Bajjali-DAI plan. The setup included “youth” with clearly scripted speeches that conveniently fit the time limit. When was the last time you heard a high school or college kid refer to “catalyst project?”

• And, speaking of three-minute time limit, it was impossible for anyone sitting through the 8 hours of presentations from the advocates talking without time limits to come up with an equally balanced critique of the disinformation.

• While one of the key pitches to the public, and made by several at the meeting and after as presented on ABC 7 News Nightside, the purpose of the meeting was transparency. But when some key questions came up, there was not transparency. Case in point: Who are the investors in the convention hotel? NewcrestImage’s Chuck Patel said it was no one’s business. But newly elected Councilor Randy Burkett got a confirmation that Joe Bob McCartt, former Debra McCartt’s husband, and Alan Rhodes, of the Underwood Law Firm, were two of the 30 investors in the hotel. And McCartt and Rhodes are also involved in the Commerce Building scandal that has triggered an FBI and grand jury probe.

The new City Council members — Mark Nair and Elisha Demerson — have joined Burkett in the first shake up at City Hall. They called for and got Assistance City Manager Vicki Covey’s resignation on Tuesday and succeeded in getting City Manager Jarrett Atkinson’s job status on the agenda for next week’s council meeting. They also called for the resignation of the entire AEDC board. I can’t imagine that the DAI and LGC boards are far behind.

But ultimately, the meeting, while cordial, generated more heat than light. We still lack in-depth and, perhaps, honest answers about:

• Why the city didn’t move to rebuild the Civic Center first.

• Why it focused Wednesday so much on “millennials” while throughout the process until now we’ve not heard about those folks.

• How the “millennials” would drive conventions and hotel usage and how that relates to the ballpark.

• Why the budgets after eight long years of planning are so tentative.

• Why the city is stonewalling the Herring Hotel and who is behind this attempt to put this kind of squeeze on the owner.

• Who the other local investors in the hotel are and what ties they have to public money and local decision- and policy-making.

• Who the organizers of Advance Amarillo are and the interests those people have in property downtown.

• How DAI’s Melissa Dailey came up with Wallace Bajjali and has contributed to some of the enmity toward her, going back to the 2007-2008 years with her treatment of people objecting to the design standards.

• How Dailey has also misled (some have told me she lied) about some of the plans.

The City Council, it turns out, has the power under Section 19 of Amarillo’s Municipal Code, to “investigate the financial transaction of any office or department of the City government, and the acts and conduct of any officer or employee. In conducting such investigation, the Council may compel the attendance or witnesses, the production of books and papers, and other evidence, and for that purpose may issue subpoenas or attachments which shall be signed by the Mayor; which may be served and executed by any officer authorized by law to serve subpoenas or other process, or any peace officer of the City.”

In the 12 years I’ve lived here, I don’t remember anyone using this provision. But, if that is what it takes to get answers to the questions that may make the citizens and taxpayers of Amarillo more trusting, then I hope the new council will do so.