This idea, first of all, got way ahead of itself. Mayor Ballard's comments to the Star's editorial board left many uneasy. A further example of how somebody close to the mayor is looking out for their own self-interests instead of a sound, vital and economic approach to our parks is Brendan O'Shaughnessy's discussion of a contract entered into with John Bales' Venture Real Estate Services, LLC. "The contract gives Venture the exclusive right to market any property the city decides to sell -- an arrangement some say gives Venture reason to put its business interests ahead of the community," O'Shaughnessy writes. "Chris Cotteril, the city's top attorney, said the contract was a creative way to save taxpayer money and that the company was taking a big risk. Ballard pointed out that the city would make the final decision on any sales."
The red flags really begin waving with O'Shaughnessy's observation that "another company Bales owned, Meridian Asset Development, drew attention from city officials three years ago when it was hired to find buildings for county agencies to rent and ended up buying the buildings and becoming the developer." Meridian Asset Development later became a part of Venture Companies. Venture Real Estate Services, LLC is the managing partner of Venture Value Fund I. According to the company's website, its directors include Carl Brizzi, Paul Kite and Barnes & Thornburg partner, Benjamin Pecar, among others, in addition to Bales. The City's Corporation Counsel, Chris Cotteril, is a former attorney for Barnes & Thornburg.
I don't often agree with Jen Wagner, but I think her observation about Ballard's missteps of late is dead on. Wagner blogs today:
A Republican friend and I were talking a few weeks back about the need for every elected official to have a close adviser with no vested interest, someone who's there to say, "Hey, friend, I wouldn't do that because [insert unpleasant consequence here] will happen, and you'll look bad . . ."
I'm going to say one more time that I don't think Greg Ballard is a bad guy.
I will say, however, that I think he's tremendously naive, and he's going to be a bad mayor because he doesn't have the wherewithal to stick to his core values amid an onslaught of requests from people who have their, not his, best interests at heart.
While I'm on this point, the Star's Dan Carpenter hits one out of the park today with his blunt assessment of how Ballard is conducting business as usual. Carpenter writes:
"We're talking, of course, about the established, casual, little-examined practice of transferring the people's wealth -- in real estate and cash -- to well-heeled private entities for the sake of "economic development" or simple bill-paying."
From the huge (Downtown stadiums, office towers, hotels, Circle Centre mall) to the petty (conversion of an inner-city park into a parking lot for a bar in which various Democratic elected officials had an interest), the fruits of "public-private partnership" have been cultivated and harvested without a great deal of trifling over taxpayer remonstrance. Want to know why Simon Properties gets free land for its new headquarters, and why advertising revenues for the government-built and -owned football stadium are kept secret? Just ask your stewards, and listen to the laughter.
Ballard will not be a departure from the Hudnut-Goldsmith-Peterson philosophy of creative availability. He offered a few discouraging words during his campaign about municipal generosity to millionaires, then wound up basking in the shower of Super Bowl glory. He declined to balk at the outrageous giveaway of RCA Dome souvenir auction proceeds and Pan Am Plaza sale profits to private foundations, even though the taxpayers took the latter hit from the other party prior to his watch. Previous agreements will be honored, he said when asked about the Pan Am switcheroo. Even though a court has yet to decide whether that agreement was legal? There's magnanimity for you.
I really hoped Ballard was going to be different. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in becoming cozy with the people who did everything they could to stop him from becoming mayor. Those of us who supported him are just sitting on the sidelines watching in disappointment as we come to the sad realization of what could have been is not going to be.