A PID-dly Little Squabble in Deep Ellum

Yesterday afternoon, the president of the Deep Ellum Association, Gianna Madrini, sat down in the comfy confines of the All Good Cafe with various interested parties -- Unfair Park, some guy running for mayor and other remarkably good-looking people -- to talk about a piddly issue. Actually, make that a PID-dly issue -- PID, as in Public Improvement District, a designation made for certain neighborhoods wherein the property owners agree to pay supplemental taxes in the name of, well, improving the public area.

According to Madrini, a good chunk of these taxpayer funds are being dubiously spent or, worse, not spent at all. She even used a phrase that ought to put every decent American on alert: "taxation without representation."

Yes, this is another blog entry about the economic woes of Deep Ellum. Bored? Bad, soulless people who don't care about the future of the city's oldest entertainment district can go here.

Still with us? All right. Here's the deal. The Deep Ellum Association -- a nonprofit made up of business owners, residents and artists -- is headed by Madrini, who also sits on the board of the Deep Ellum Foundation, a small group of property owners who are supposed to dole out the taxpayer-provided PID cash. PID funds buy trash cans, lights, street-cleaning devices and provide for other neighborhood improvements that go above and beyond basic city infrastructure.

Last week -- on Valentine's Day, no less -- Madrini says she went to the DEF meeting, as usual. Only, it wasn't so usual after all: She says DEF treasurer Ken Carlson made a motion during the meeting to "remove the president of the Deep Ellum Association from the Deep Ellum Foundation." Madrini was destined for dumpsville, except that the unanimous vote needed to kick her off didn't happen.

According to Madrini, Carlson told her that he "no longer feels they needed a representative from the association on the board." Because why would anyone want someone who represents business owners, artists and residents voicing an opinion about what to do with approximately $139,000 in taxpayer bucks every year? I know, right?

Precisely why Carlson -- along with motion-seconders Barry Annino, prez of the DEF and former DEA honcho, and landlord John Tatum -- felt the DEA president wasn't needed on the foundation board any more is the "million-dollar question," as Madrini puts it.

Here's the kicker: Later on that same fateful Valentine's Day, Madrini headed over to the DEA offices at 3300 Commerce Street for a board members' meeting, only to find the locks had been changed. According to Madrini, building managers Westdale Asset Management (under the supervision of DEF board members) had been renting out the place gratis to the DEA and a theater troupe that needed practice space, but didn't give them any warning about the building's closing. Carlson, who runs the space the DEA had been using, didn't say anything at the morning's DEF meeting about lock changes.

Yesterday, at the All Good pow-wow, Madrini handed Unfair Park copies of the DEF's PID accounting sheets, pointing out one intriguing fact. As far as Unfair Park can tell, 61 percent of the foundation's $139,000 goes toward payroll for three folks: Barry Annino, a part-time DEF administrative assistant and a guy who makes about $19,000 a year driving the street sweeper.

Minus the sweeper's pay -- hey, somebody's gotta drive the Zamboni! -- that's about half the entire annual taxpayer funds going to pay two people to figure out how to use the aforementioned taxpayer funds.

When Unfair Park asked Annino about the payroll distribution, he cited PID funds being used for trash cans, possible sidewalk improvements and, some day, pretty lights under the I-75/I-45 bridge. But Madrini says Annino has shot down her attempts to get property owners into the idea of sidewalk improvements, and that the pretty lights under the bridge are nothing but a good idea at this point, as no bids have yet been obtained.

And why didn't they tell the DEA they were changing the locks on February 14?

The lease was "always a day-to-day thing," says Annino, and besides, he says, the DEA had given out too many keys. He says they warned the DEA three weeks ago about possible lock changes, but Madrini says nobody told her anything, not even the very morning of the DEF meeting when she was asked to step down from the board.

The tangled web should be woven even tanglier this morning: At 10 a.m., Madrini and other DEA folks are being let back inside the former DEA offices to collect their belongings, and Unfair Park will be on hand to see if Madrini gets any answers out of the guys who broke off a little piece of Deep Ellum's heart on Valentine's Day. Stay tuned. --Andrea Grimes