Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WHO's Listening?

Lots of folks now.  Love the FW Weekly article title.  YOU have to read it all, especially if you live in Fort Worth.   If you don't beleive this is how things are run here, attend a council meeting or watch one online.  Then GO VOTE in May.   Rumor is Moncrief will be bailing by then, so that when this mess of a city explodes (literally) he'll have already ridden off into the sunset with his gas millions.  Regardless, LISTEN and VOTE.

One of our contributors told you about the last Riverside Park meeting and we filled you in when Mayor Moncrief rudely addressed Libby Willis.   The FW Weekly tells you what you didn't hear about conflict of interest, silencing of citizens and neighborhood groups, backroom deals, deals with the gas industry and pawnshops, CCPD shell game, deals cut for the Trinity River Vision...the list goes on and on.  It would be comical if it weren't all true.

Many neighborhood representatives now say they believe they and their views are less welcome at city hall, that important decisions affecting their areas are being made without consulting or in some cases even informing them, unless it’s almost too late for them to organize effectively. And when the neighborhood folks show up at city hall anyway, no one is listening.

Some see an organizing principle at work here. From gas drilling regulation to pawnshops to park protection, these leaders say they see city hall as protecting the interests of money –– drillers versus the people who live near wells, the rich part of town versus the not-so-rich, pawnshop corporations versus the people who end up paying enormous interest rates for payday loans –– rather than the interests of citizens.

In the Riverside area, the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association has been fighting the city on a variety of issues, the foremost of which is their effort to save Riverside Park, which the city has proposed to use as floodwater storage as part of the Trinity River Vision project.

“Riverside is being carpet-bombed by the programs that the city has decided to push,” said attorney and neighborhood resident Robert Gieb.

The group has had numerous meetings with city officials, including their own council representative, Sal Espino, only to be told they don’t really represent the area.

Gieb believes city officials have targeted his neighborhood because they are too scared to take on the wealthier West Side, where the new flood storage area originally was supposed to go. However, when that portion of the plan was revealed, the very rich landowners who were targeted to lose their properties raised such hell, threatening lawsuits, that the floodwater storage area was suddenly diverted to the East Side.

When the excavation of their park was proposed, Espino at first vowed that the project would not proceed without the approval of the Riverside neighborhood associations. In three of the four open meetings, the Riverside Park project was voted on, and the majority of those voting opposed it, according to the League of Neighborhood’s president Willis.

“We didn’t toe the line with the city, so the city realized that [the splinter group] would do anything that [city officials] want them to do,” said Gieb. “They hooked onto them and declared that they are a real organization.”

But the city staff told the association that the apartments were not specifically for the homeless but would be “affordable” housing for those employed. It was only through questioning at a public hearing that Councilman Jungus Jordan and city staff acknowledged that the housing project was going to be used for the chronically homeless.

Maybe it was the gas drilling, she said, an issue that put the city council at odds with thousands of its citizens who felt –– and still feel –– that the city has failed to protect their safety and health from the environmental dangers of drilling, compressor stations, and pipelines.

When the city council appointed a panel to study the situation, only one of 10 members was from a neighborhood association. The rest represented downtown business interests, chambers of commerce, and the convention and visitors bureau.

Eastside activist and former president of the Brentwood-Oak Hills Neighborhood Association, Rita Vinson pointed out that night that just before the issue came to a vote, Cash America donated a strip of land near its headquarters on West 7th Street to the city for expansion of a Trinity River bridge. It may have been Cash America just doing business “the Fort Worth Way” as Moncrief said that night, referring to the pawnshop giant’s just being a “good neighbor,” but, Vinson said, “For those representing the interests of the public, the perception of a conflict of interest is as damaging as a real conflict.”

Some observers see what is happening with neighborhood groups as part of a wider power grab by the mayor and council. In February, the council angered a wide cross-section of the community when council dissolved the citizen-appointed board of the city’s Crime Control and Prevention District and named itself as the new board.

That move was opposed by the Fort Worth Police Officers Association as well as members of the volunteer Citizens on Patrol, one of whom, Camille Drinan, said that she felt “betrayed” by the council decision — especially since the taxpayers had just been asked last November to reauthorize the district and its dedicated tax income for five more years. Opposition to the change was heated, with accusations flying that the city, facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, just wanted to get its hands on the lucrative income from the crime-control tax district, an accusation that council members just as heatedly denied.

So much for the “Fort Worth Way,” Vinson said. “I would be happy never to hear the term again,” she said. “[It] began as a genteel expression to characterize the way we Fort Worth folks want to conduct business — polite and respectful –– but it has become degraded to the point of seeming smarmy or even worse: a tool for controlling and silencing opposition.”

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