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Leave it to Richard Ware, president of Amarillo National Bank and a Downtown Amarillo Inc. board member, to bring a ray of cleansing sunshine and honesty to the downtown planning effort.
Readers following our coverage of downtown revitalization and DAI will recall, after The Amarillo Independent won a ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office opening the minutes and meetings of the DAI board to public scrutiny, we learned Ware advocated that the nonprofit funded with taxpayer dollars have open meetings. He did so at the first meeting of the DAI board. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Ware’s candor revealed another long-held DAI agenda — one that Melissa Dailey, the executive director, telegraphed last year and is moving into the open. That agenda would have a part of downtown become a Public Improvement District. The exchange, in a video slightly longer than three minutes, is here.
A PID adds a layer of self-imposed taxation for public services over and above those the government entity, in this case the city, provides under the basic tax scheme. In discussions Thursday, Dailey suggested the PID could finance added security in excess of current police services and added cleanup services exceeding what property owners are now legally required to do. Why the city doesn’t provide these services sufficiently now and doesn’t enforce the law making property owners meet their obligations begs the question.
Dailey’s rhetoric at the meeting at DAI’s offices Thursday afternoon (full video here) and at a public forum Thursday evening at the Civic Center (full video here) framed the process for establishing the PID as voluntary in the sense that the added tax would arise from a petition drive. Dailey also said the public meetings would not be as important or effective as one-on-one discussions with property owners. Of course, those conversations will occur outside the public’s view, so what quid pro quo deals are cut or intimidations implied won’t be known until they are done deals. Remember Dailey’s role in the A&D Mortuary request for adding a crematorium?
The legal requirements for a PID are that more than 50 percent of property owners in the proposed area must agree; and the City Commission must also approve the PID. Then, establishing the PID structure, bureaucracy and service would move forward. Dailey said she would want 80-85 percent of the property owners to agree to the taxation.
As Ware pointed out Thursday, the discussion of the PID and its added tax burden on downtown property owners follows a hike in water rates, an increase in property taxes for street maintenance and the foregone conclusion that the City Commission will pass a fee for drainage improvements.
At some point, will there be public resistance, especially in light of the promise the city, DAI and Wallace Bajjali, the master downtown developer DAI brought to Amarillo, made that funding the $113 million hotel, garage and ballpark would be done without tax money?
And, how the public will hold DAI and the City Commission accountable for what DAI and Dailey say today isn’t clear.
None of the other media outlets covered either the DAI meeting or public forum on Thursday, so the Independent is the only source of information on these issues for now. And there is no spin since we published the videos in full. Draw your own conclusions. Granted, the Amarillo Globe-News published what is known in media parlance as an “advance” for the PID forum at the Civic Center. But, the Augusta, Ga.-owned daily paper, whose publisher, Les Simpson, chairs the DAI board in an egregious conflict of interest, failed to tell its readers of the DAI afternoon meeting that was also public. An honest oversight? A coincidence? Only those at the Globe-News know.
But here is what I know: Amarillo needs a revitalized downtown. But it needs DAI, Wallace Bajjali and the current plan like a fish needs a bicycle.