Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

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.