Eclectic commentary from a progressive voice in the red state

Friday, July 8, 2016

Tee time and the 19th hole

Thursday, the ABC7 Amarillo investigative team reported on the high on the hog travel that former Amarillo Economic Development Corp. president Buzz David’s and Senior VP Brian Jennings enjoyed in their hob-knobbing at conferences, trade shows and client meetings all over the United States. But that wasn’t the whole story, tonight the team told viewers about playing at golf clubs and buy golf clubs.

The ABC7 Amarillo team looked at receipts and “chits” associated with David’s and Jennings’ accounts at Amarillo Country Club and Tascosa Golf Club, respectively.

One Amarillo Country Club bill from 2013 came to $7,000, with the explanation of dues and “local meals.” And some of those meals were fit for a king. One included wild boar ragu, bacon wrapped quail and top shelf drinks like Grey Goose vodka, Makers Mark, and a $19 glass — yes, a glass — of wine.

The ABC7 Amarillo team also found purchases for golf clubs, golf bags and clothing. They found few checks to reconcile that either David or Jennings reimbursed the AEDC for personal purchases. But for two golf clubs, a golf umbrella a pullover and cart bag, taxpayers teed up about $800. Interim CEO Doug Nelson postulated those purchases might have been bought and then used as gifts or donations as part of an event with local businesses. Nelson wasn’t more specific and the team found no documentation of the assertion.

Those memberships were, by the way, part of the executive compensation packages tacked onto David’s almost $300,000 deal with AEDC and Jennings’ $127,000 package.

Now, let’s be clear. Nothing in those receipts showed that David or 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. Further, as the ABC7 Amarillo team reported, for the time period it looked at, the AEDC brought in only two new businesses totaling 320 news jobs.

Granted, the AEDC 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, if any, 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, the city’s 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 members, especially in the Amarillo Globe-News? It’s clear the ABC7 Amarillo investigative report vindicates those members of the City Council who called for replacing the entire AEDC board a year ago.