Arena games

City Hall finds $35 million--and toys with turning Reunion into a reflecting pool

"Sincerely, Ray L. Hunt."
We may, based on 23 years of past pecuniary behavior, assume that Hunt's "idea" goes something like this: "I'll give you Lot E (all of 7.6 acres). In return, you give me all your downtown, city-owned land--including City Hall, the convention center and the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. Oh, and don't forget all those lovely air rights."

Earth to Hunt: Be like a Bass (as in Fort Worth) and donate your sorry-ass parking lot, pal.

Earth to City Hall: When he doesn't, condemn it.
Georgia A. Hardy, a Children's Medical Center employee and a resident of East Dallas, is some kind of pistol.

Last February 20, the 45-year-old wrote a letter to her councilman, Craig McDaniel, who had just announced publicly that he had no intention of allowing the taxpayers to vote on the arena. It reads:

"McDaniel: I see you have chosen to support the latest City Swindle, this time a $400 million sports arena to replace the one we haven't yet paid for so the lazy rich can hang out in comfort. If you want this, you pay for it. If the rich want this, they can pay for it. If the team wants it, the team can pay for it. Stop swindling me you lazy bum. I'm not in the mood to further your career by footing the bill for your handlers.

Hoping you find yourself unemployed, destitute and homeless in the near future, I remain, Vigilant, Georgia Hardy."

McDaniel, a tepid sort who, in 18 months, has added absolutely nothing to the arena debate, responded:

"Dear Ms. Hardy: Thank you for writing me regarding the proposed new sports arena. I believe you have misinterpreted my position regarding this issue.

"I have not 'chosen to support' the project on the basis you stated. I support private funding of the arena with city participation limited to what we would provide other businesses relocating or expanding in Dallas. Sincerely, Craig McDaniel."

What's the matter, Georgia? Don't you think the city offers every relocating or expanding Dallas business $35 million?

It should be duly noted here that some of our elected officials--unlike McDaniel, who was nice enough to share his nasty constituent letter with us, like to play fast and loose with the Texas Open Records Act.

Either that or they somehow get no constituent mail on the hottest topic of the day. Either that or they find it boring to keep files on a controversial and expensive public project.

"Information found in the files for council members Domingo Garcia and Charlotte Mayes were [sic] duplication of material already submitted by other council members," city council liaison Rhonda Hart wrote in a memo responding to our records request. "Councilman Larry Duncan has no documents related to the sports arena."

The response to my open-records request--for everything pertaining to the arena--also included nothing from the files of former Mayor Steve Bartlett. No surprise there. Over the past year, in response to two other records requests, Bartlett has provided a whopping 26 pages. The notion that Bartlett--the arena's number-one promoter--has nothing in his files on the matter is preposterous. Bartlett similarly turned over nothing when we requested his documents and correspondence on the Pinnacle Park racetrack project, another scheme he was water-boying for Hunt.

Last week, when I asked his former administrative assistant, Kristi Sherrill, now working for Mayor Ron Kirk, why I had received no arena documents from Bartlett on this latest request, covering the period from December 1994 through June 1995, she responded the same way she had in the past: she shrugged. "When we got the request, we looked through the files," Sherrill said, "and we sent you everything we found."

Sure. We also remember Bartlett's favorite motto: "No tax dollars will be used to pay for this arena."

Speaking of taxes, let's discuss the ones we're going to spend on the arena.
On June 14, the city staff met behind closed doors, as usual, with the city council. During that meeting, council members were informed that City Manager Ware was upping the ante on the arena--offering Carter $35 million in city money to help build it instead of the $12 million that had been on the table previously.

Where would that money come from?
Well, the answer was located in a fat briefing document the staff had prepared for the council--a document the council members didn't get much out of, since they weren't allowed to keep it. The packet was passed out, breezed through, and snatched back up before anybody could digest it.

The following day City Hall activists Rick Finlan and Don Venable filed suit against the city, alleging that the council had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by discussing, and then authorizing the staff to make, the $35 million offer to Carter during the 2 1/2-hour closed-door session. City attorneys called the suit baseless. "Everything was by the book," City Attorney Sam Lindsay told the Morning News.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall--who had previously rejected a similar Lindsay argument, ruling that a city council committee's closed-door meetings with Carter and Hunt were illegal--took one look at the 113-page briefing packet the council was given during that meeting and declared 26 pages of it an open record that should be shared with the public.

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