Ten days ago, we extended Tennell Atkins an invitation to provide us with an explanation regarding the office space he's spent nearly $9,000 in campaign dough to rent that he claims doesn't exist, but not a peep so far from the freshman council member. In the meantime, we've continued to dig through campaign finance reports and discovered that nearly 38 percent of the funds raised in the second half of last year by District 5 representative Vonciel Hill are connected.
In the most recent campaign finance report filings due January 15, Hill received $10,850 from members of the Crow family, representatives of Crow Holdings and a consultant working for Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel. The 15 contributions included donations from Harlan Crow, Anne Raymond, Gina Norris and Kevin Bryant of Crow Holdings and Brooks Love, a consultant and spokesman for Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel. The remaining cash came from members of the Crow family.
The Crows are staunch critics of the convention center hotel project approved at Wednesday's council meeting, with Crow Holdings spending nearly a million dollars thus far in an attempt to kill the project at the polls May 9. Hill, along with Angela Hunt and Mitchell Rasansky, represent the only council members in opposition of the publicly owned hotel.
"The fact that the Crows made contributions to me never crossed my mind because I took my position based on what I deemed the merits of the situation to be, and I did so long before any of their money came in," Hill tells Unfair Park.
Nine of the 15 contributions occurred the day prior to the September 24 press conference where Mayor Tom Leppert and other council members announced their support of Build the Hotel, the committee supporting the hotel. Hill stresses that this is merely a coincidence because she had a fund-raiser on September 23 at Margaux's (a corresponding payment appears on her campaign finance report) to celebrate her 60th birthday.
Despite the support from the Crow family and previously receiving donations from Harlan Crow ($1,000 in March '07 and $1,000 in May '07), Hill issued this statement one month after the September fund-raiser:
"Let us be clear. I do not know Harlan Crow. I don't know Trammell Crow. I don't hang in those circles. Those are not the people who come to my home for tea. And, therefore, I am not influenced by what Harlan or Trammell or any of the Crow family has said. I think for myself."
Hill maintains that she does not know Crow, and says she only knows Gina Norris and Kevin Bryant of Crow Holdings, who have contributed to her campaign in the past. "I would not know Harlan Crow if Harlan Crow came in front of my face right now because I've never met him."
Rasansky and Hunt were the lone dissenters when the council began the process of green-lighting the project in February 2008 by putting an option on the site for the hotel. Rasansky was forced in April to recuse himself from voting on issues related to the hotel because he owns stock in one of the banks approved as an underwriter for the project. Hill supported the land purchase, but replaced Rasansky as an opponent when the council decided in May to publicly own the hotel.
Anne Raymond, an executive with Crow Holdings and face of the Citizens Against the Taxpayer-Owned Hotel effort, says her company and organization support Hill because she has shown impressive intelligence and conviction while studying the hotel issue.
"If people think $10,000 buys a vote, then I think that's a big problem," Raymond says. "Supporting who you believe is representing the people and is being careful about reviewing and studying the matters, I don't think there should be an issue with that."
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It's natural to support "like-minded" people, Raymond adds, and she notes that Mayor Leppert appeared at a fund-raiser for council member Sheffie Kadane in her neighborhood. "I assume it's because he believes in Sheffie," she says.
Raymond spent hours with various council members who she claims have no interest whatsoever in trying to understand the risks associated with the hotel and why Crow Holdings is opposing it, which she describes as "disappointing" as a taxpayer. "And every time I see Sheffie [Kadane], who's my councilman, I tell him that."
"Have some conviction. Have some curiosity. Ask some questions," Raymond says. "If you hear people out and have some intellectual curiosity about it, then people can agree to disagree, but if you don't even want to hear the other side, then it's just rigged, and that's not how we want the council to work."
Hunt was not given contributions because she is not facing an opponent, Raymond says, but Crow Holdings will be contributing to other candidates in the May election. When final decisions have been made on which candidates will be receiving money, Raymond says she will gladly give us the list.