Over at DISD, Supt. Michael Hinojosa made a $64 million mistake with his budget, and the DMN is leading the lynch-mob to get his job.
At city hall, Mayor Tom Leppert decided — pretty much on his own — to spend an additional $250 million or so on a convention center hotel, and instead of demanding that Leppert be recalled, the DMN and city council praised his leadership.
What’s going on here? We’re about to find out, thanks to a pending referendum campaign against the hotel and some interesting comments Leppert made to the Real Estate Council that were recently reported by the DMN’s Dave Levinthal. Given Leppert’s autocratic governing style and his apparently bloated hat size, his comments say a lot about what he thinks of the rest of us.
In those comments, Leppert acknowledges there are a few of us out here who are "critics" of his and who believe the projects he has been pushing — the Trinity River development and the convention center hotel, to name a few — are too risky, too expensive or just plain inappropriate uses of taxpayer dollars and city resources.
Here’s Leppert’s explanation: "But if we’re not willing to invest in the city, then in essence, we’re throwing up the white flag. The greatest risk is that we don’t move forward, that we don’t invest, that we accept mediocrity."
He’s wrong. The greatest risk isn’t failing to move forward or failing to invest in our city — the greatest risk is thinking that spending lots and lots of city money somehow counts as smart investing. That’s how cities wind up broke, and that’s how citizens wind up frustrated.
I voted for Leppert because he said, over and over again during his public appearances prior to the election, that he would take charge with an open mind. But it turned out Leppert’s mind wasn’t open on the big issues of the day. He came out almost instantly after his election against Angela Hunt’s Trinity referendum — I don’t think he even spoke with her about it before making his announcement. And the convention center hotel — a legimate project to subsidize on some scale, perhaps — quickly became a self-described iconic structure — totally OK for taxpayers to fund, Leppert said, but a project that even the proposed hotel managers think is being overbuit.
The speed at which the convention center hotel went from priority to partnership to taxpayer-owned was breathtaking. Leppert bought some overpriced land for the convention center hotel before finding a "developer". He said it would take a couple of hundred million dollars in city subsidies to help a developer build the hotel; then after making a non-refundable downpayment on the land, he suddenly lurched to a taxpayer-owned hotel that will cost us upwards of $500 million because he said no developer would do his original deal. All of this within the space of a couple of months.
Leppert told the Real Estate Council, in explaining his action, that either we build a downtown hotel immediately or we’re guilty of accepting "mediocrity": "What it comes down to is faith. Not faith in a building, but faith in a community."
That’s not a mayor speaking, not even a politician. That’s a wanna-be real estate developer talking. Leppert is talking the developer talk, but he’s walking the walk with taxpayer money — our money — rather than his own. That’s not showing faith in a community; it’s showing faith in his vision of Dallas and assuming that the rest of us will follow blindly along. And why not? That philosophy has been working great with the current city council?
I have plenty of faith in Dallas and our future. I just don’t have faith in Leppert anymore. And the more he talks, the more I’m convinced he’s wrong for Dallas.