The Brave and the Bold Among City Hall's "Cowardly" Lot

Vonciel Jones Hill

If it weren’t for two members of the city council yesterday, I don’t think the public would ever have known what just happened on that convention hotel deal. It wasn’t the price of the land. It wasn’t the location of the hotel. Those were red herrings. The important issue -- the one the rest of the council didn’t want you to notice especially -- was that the City of Dallas just went into the hotel business.

Thanks to council members Angela Hunt and Vonciel Jones Hill, the real issue of the day was clearly illuminated. Hill was especially eloquent. She pointed out that the mayor and council were doing a kind of sleight-of-hand by jamming the purchase of land for the hotel in with the same vote with the decision to make it a city-owned hotel.

“To own the land is a good idea,” she said. “To own the hotel is a bad idea.”

Hill parsed the two issues carefully, like the good lawyer she is, making it clear there was no reason to rush a decision on the second question, about the city going into the hotel business. While she spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the council chamber.

She moved to divide the two questions into two separate items, to be voted on individually, but a majority of the council joined the mayor in voting her down. By doing both issues as one vote, they avoided was any kind of open-air focused discussion of the obvious question that might occur to the average taxpayer: Why in the hell would the city of Dallas enter the hotel business?

In remarks so far, the mayor and city staff have said that no private developers can make the numbers work on a convention hotel downtown. Their argument is that City Hall can do better.

Both Hill and Hunt took them to task over the idea that the city council is going to do better in the hotel business than people in the hotel business. But Hunt’s real anger was about hiding the ball -- mashing it all into one vote and then rushing it through before there was time for public debate.

“The idea that debate is the enemy is irresponsible,” Hunt said. “It is a slap in the face to our residents, our taxpayers who are our bosses. They deserve to be part of this conversation. To say we’ve had discussion about this after discussing it for two hours last week in executive session behind closed doors is inexcusable. For us to move forward on this is cowardly.” --Jim Schutze


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