I’ve been a journalist for almost 20 years and in all that time I’ve never seen a community in which the newspaper of record was such a lapdog and so unwilling to do the real job of the Fourth Estate. It borders on journalistic malfeasance.
The City Council is on the verge of signing contracts for construction of a downtown convention center hotel and a parking garage with its master developer, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners. The councilors, led by Mayor Stiff Hair in all his arrogance, popped the plans on the community this past Wednesday. The one and only public meeting was last Thursday. The council and its cohorts have skulked behind the public’s back since 2010 and now, in less than a week, councilors plan to adopt contracts that break a string of promises to the taxpayers, citizens and voters of Amarillo.
The City Council told the public that no taxpayer money would be involved in this public-private partnership and that Wallace Bajjali would bring the $113 million miracle to fruition by Nov. 1, 2013. In fact, I sat in City Council meetings in which the publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News, Les Simpson, who was at the time chairman of the Downtown Amarillo Inc. board, said these developers would have “skin in the game.”
And that miracle would be the 300-room convention center hotel, a parking garage and a glorified baseball park that the leadership of this unfolding debacle called a multi-purpose event center. We now know that Wallace Bajjali promises for exotic financing to make the project fly were as false as its promises in Kingswood and Joplin.
The Nov. 1, 2013 deadline came and went and the City Council didn’t have the guts to call the game for what it was — a predictable failure from fourth-rate developer backed by a fifth-rate media outlet that blasphemes when it calls itself a newspaper. Instead, the council finessed the contract. The planning continued, with DAI, the Amarillo Local Government Corp. and City Council hiding behind “executive sessions” and never really leveling with the public about all the problems that have now come to light.
So, here we are, another attempt by the City Council to stuff something down our throats at the last minute — and likely this time to succeed. The hotel size has been reduced, the hotel developer, Newcrest, is the same one who successfully turned the Fisk Building into a Courtyard by Marriott. Anyone who believes this hotel deal needed Wallace Bajjali’s help clearly doesn’t understand Newcrest doesn’t need anyone’s help. In fact, a few years ago, there were rumors that DAI's executive director, Melissa Dailey, actively opposed the Fisk Building conversion to a hotel. How’s that for irony?
The upshot at this point is the city — that is us, folks — will own all this. The “all this” now excludes the much-vaunted ballpark — Melissa Dailey Stadium at Taxpayer Field — thereby repudiating the three-legged stool the City Council promised us.
Throughout all this time, the Amarillo Globe-News had the inside track to let the public know what was really unfolding in those official secret meetings — and who knows whether there were unofficial secret meetings. Remember, the paper’s publisher was not only on the DAI board; he was also on the LGC. Any journalist worth his salt would have made sure the public would learn about the public’s business. We now know that no journalist on the Globe-News staff worth his or her salt was allowed to do the real job of a reporter. And the Globe-News publisher, swimming in the sewerage of conflict of interest, proved the importance of his journalism degree from the University of Georgia was lost on him.
Now, suddenly, the Amarillo Globe-News is all concerned about the public’s right to know. In an editorial today (November 9, 2014), the Amarillo Globe-News has the unmitigated gall to write, “The city needs to allow residents time to understand and research the decisions and agreements that will be the foundation of what Amarillo will be for many years to come.”
The City Council, Downtown Amarillo Inc. and the Amarillo Local Government Corp. flew under the Amarillo Globe-News radar for at least four years, if not longer. All the time, the so-called newspaper did nothing and now at the 11th Hour calls for transparency. All I can think of at this point to ask the Amarillo Globe-News that same question that Joseph Nye Welch, the United States Army’s counsel during the Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) communist witch hunt, asked McCarthy.
“You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”