“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Friday, August 24, 2007

Some local commentary from Kathie Greer

This is the Indy's "Across the Fence" column by Kathie Greer for this week:

Across The Fence

A jerk in County Commissioner’s clothing

I set out earlier this week to educate myself on an important local issue.

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #1 is a program designed to promote new businesses, residences and revenues in a section of downtown Amarillo.

Many of my friends and acquaintances — most with a definite for or against point of view — have discussed various aspects of the plan. I’ve listened intently from the middle of the fence, not feeling like I know enough about the plan’s particulars to jump in either direction.

As a resident of Amarillo and Potter County, I felt like it was my responsibility to develop an understanding of the issue. And, I’ll admit, my work as a journalist also prompted me to pursue the details.

My informational quest led to elected officials and staff members in city and county offices. I also prevailed upon my contacts within the community for their input and perspective on the financing plan for TIRZ.

Potter County Commissioner Manny Perez and County Judge Arthur Ware are on opposing sides when it comes to the county’s participation in the TIRZ. Perez’ complaints center on the weight of the county’s investment and return versus the city’s portion. Ware believes growth and productive enterprise in downtown Amarillo will broaden the tax base and ultimately benefit everyone in Amarillo.

Even though they disagree with each other, both men were open, forthcoming and polite in their discussions with me. Even better, each man willingly referred me to other people they felt were well informed on this subject.

That’s the response I’ve usually gotten from the elected representatives and staff members I’ve worked with over the years. Those past fact-finding missions have included people from the basic services, like water and sewer, all the way to United States senators and their staff members. I’ve always been dealt with fairly and professionally, even if my previous positions or columns about them haven’t been glowing compliments.

Imagine my surprise when Potter County Commissioner Joe Kirkwood was neither polite nor professional. Not only was he less than forthcoming, I don’t know if he was honest.

I met Kirkwood several years ago when I worked with him on a community project. He seemed both a knowledgeable and likable candidate and I was encouraged by his election.

But Kirkwood showed a completely different side to me during our conversation on Monday. His tone, accusations and reluctance to provide a county resident with information left me not only disgusted, but actually angry.

I told him, when he answered his cell phone, that I was looking for information about TIRZ. His immediate response was that it must the day for TIRZ discussions because he’d just left a meeting with other elected officials where they had discussed the issue.

That struck me as rather strange. And my suspicions mounted when he refused to tell with whom he’d been speaking or the nature of those discussions.

My knowledge of the Open Meetings Act is that private meetings of elected officials are forbidden on just about everything except personnel, contract negotiations, litigation and other specific matters. And even legal executive sessions must be announced to the public.

Things deteriorated further when I asked Kirkwood to tell me how TIRZ was structured and why he thought it would be bad for Potter County residents.
No solid information or facts about the plan were presented. He did, however, profess his objectivity repeatedly while simultaneously telling me the whole thing would only make the rich richer and that it wouldn’t help any other residents of Potter County. He said that he thought the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. had already been put in place to do the same thing that TIRZ is supposed to do.

One point where I might have found agreement with him was on the issue of fair representation between the county and the city on the TIRZ board. But as that discussion led to the committee the county commissioners have appointed to study the matter, another red flag flew in my face.

Kirkwood indicated to me that members of the committee had already made up their minds, while continuing to tell me that he himself was trying to remain objective.

He said that he knew people from the County Auditor’s Office, the Tax Department and the County Attorney’s office who were opposed to the plan. But he wouldn’t tell me the basis for their opposition. And when I asked for names so I could follow-up on the arguments against the reinvestment zone, Kirkwood again refused.

"I don’t want you lobbying those people,” he told me.


Wait a minute.

Since when are asking questions and seeking information considered lobbying tactics?

Furthermore, the names of those committee members are a matter of public record. Doesn’t Commission Kirkwood know that?

And as a resident and taxpayer in Potter County, don’t I have the right both to ask questions and to state my opinions to county officials?

Evidently, Kirkwood doesn’t think so.

Bill Sumerford, a Potter County resident who keeps a close eye on tax issues, lives in Kirkwood’s precinct. Sumerford said that he has called Kirkwood at least three times and left messages asking to talk to him about TIRZ. So far, Sumerford reported, Kirkwood hasn’t bothered to return any of those calls.

Sumerford also told me that even though Kirkwood knew most of his constituents supported a Potter County tax freeze for the elderly and disabled, the commissioner voted against it.

It looks to me like Kirkwood is out of touch and unresponsive to his constituents.

It’s evident he’s also one of those elected officials who doesn’t believe in the public’s right to know.

I still haven’t made up my mind on whether TIRZ, as it was initially structured, is the best plan for Potter County. Unlike Kirkwood, though, I think I’ll wait for the committee’s official report.

The one thing I do know is that Kirkwood isn’t the kind of representative I want at any level of government