L&T Emeritus Larry Phillips
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the final column in a series produced by Larry Phillips.
As I sat down to write this op-ed explaining why I have started an opinion series about city management, or mismanagement, in my opinion – I read the coverage of Tuesday evening’s (4-11-17) city commission meeting.
Alas, it’s the same bad actors in another sad play.
A Spanish-speaking woman has had her business shut down, and nobody on the commission seems to want to know why. She was there seeking help and had to have a translator speak for her.
One commissioner asked police chief Al Sill, “Are there any problems with the bar?”
“Yes, considerable,” Sill replied.
Yet, Sill was not asked to explain any further. Why not?
The mayor asked if the woman had talked with city counselor Shirla McQueen.
“I’ve spoken with Ms. Maldonado a couple of times,” McQueen said. “I had scheduled a time for her to come see me more recently, and she did not keep that appointment, but I’m always happy to visit with her again.”
Did McQueen make her request for a meeting in Spanish? This woman needs a translator, for God’s sake.
I would also be curious to find out what statute gives the LPD authority to close down a business? Forever? A public explanation would be nice.
The bottom line, everything I have been exposing, how Hall manages everything is confirmed by the mayor.
Denoyer said McQueen should get with the woman again, because “… this is the first we’re seeing of this, so the more information we can have, it would be very beneficial.”
The commission doesn’t have a clue, and Hall, Sill and McQueen are taking this woman’s livelihood away from her – and I haven’t seen any due process, as of yet – and commissioners refuse to get involved.
Same pitiful routine, same damage done to our citizens.
Anyway, while I was an active employee of the Leader & Times, I had heard some of the accusations about how Hall treated people, and some of it was covered in the process of reporting on commission meetings and one-on-one interviews.
But with a busy schedule of putting the paper together every day and because we had a small staff, deeper investigations into some of Hall’s actions were not possible.
When I got a call from a concerned private citizen about six weeks ago asking me to look into a couple of issues, I was hesitant at first. I knew it takes time to collect public documents, making phone calls and interviews, but I said I’d look into a few, just to see what was going on – or better yet, what had gone on.
Just by happenstance, I first looked at the land sale because I had known for years there were federal processes the city had to go through to sell airport property.
Once I received copies of emails between the FAA and Hall, the situation looked troublesome. I laid out the timeline and then compared it with my copies of the meeting minutes of the commission meetings – once I got them – during and after that timeline.
The emails and minutes prove without a doubt that Hall misrepresented the city’s position by withholding the fact from the FAA that the city had already sold the land and was building on the property.
I approached L&T Publisher Earl Watt with my documents, but he demanded I confirm with the FAA the date when they learned the truth about the land being sold and the current or present status of the issues with the FAA.
Unfortunately, the FAA agent, Lynn Martin, was away from the office for a week, and there was a delay. I had emailed her with several additional questions, and when she returned, April 3, she turned my requests over to their communications officer.
That officer immediately emailed me the next morning the “fact” the FAA found out about the sale in “June 2015” by a post in the Federal Register in the “comments” section, and the current status as of April 4 was, “The FAA has put a special condition on two outstanding grants for the airport, and future federal funding for the airport is under review.”
I was then able to get my opinion series started on the op-ed page, where it belongs (apparently, there are those who don’t recognize opinion pieces even when I declare it at the start of a piece).
As I dug into other things, I discovered more troublesome aspects with how Hall handles “issues” or “problems.”
I decided to point these out, as well as remind people of past stories they may have overlooked before, but maybe should be re-examined in the context of the fact Hall now has a proven problem with misinformation.
I have only had one negative contact, and predictably, it’s from the husband of a city department head. He’s convinced I’m bullying Hall and the commissioners.
I find that hilarious, considering there are many who believe Hall to be the bully.
I think it’s important to somewhat explain why I have chosen to do this series.
One and foremost is it’s the right thing to do.
Hall wasn’t truthful with a federal agency and believed he could just bully them. He has created a rift that could remove a huge sum of money out of the 1-cent sales tax funds, and it will take years to use up that much money in operating expenses at the airport.
And there is the question, will Liberal continue to have an FAA-supported airport?
Well, I believe Hall’s behavior is not right, and I – as well as most of the people in this county – were taught right from wrong as small children. Those distinctions don’t change with old age, they only become more important than ever as civilized, law-abiding people.
I was also raised to treat people with consideration and good manners – unless they attack you without justifiable cause.
The way Hall has treated citizens is repugnant, especially considering his lack of respect for anyone who disagrees with, or objects to, his compete control.
I found it amusing when I got a call Sunday night, after returning with the state’s top editorial writer award in Topeka, that people who had been calling commissioners were all being told my series was nothing but lies, “Everything he is saying is lies.”
That says a lot about the commissioners when you, the reader, see the emails and/or minutes, and they expose the truth.
The commissioners are telling you that you’re too stupid to read, or what you’re reading can’t be right.
“Don’t trust your lying eyes.”
I have to tell you, I have received more than a dozen “thanks” and that’s nice, but exposing how Hall and his internal supporters are handling the city’s business is doing us harm, in my humble opinion, is what it’s about. I’m not doing this to make friends or get pats on the back.
And when it comes to the commissioners, there are some really good guys in there – I called them friends. I just believe they have been manipulated by Hall, and I’m hoping they will step up to the plate and take leadership seriously.
Commissioners are elected – and Harrison, Denoyer and Aragon will face re-election in November – to sit on a board to just rubber stamp everything the city manager says and does.
They are elected to look out for the benefit and protection of the community and its citizens’ tax dollars. Anything less is dereliction of duty.
We’re not talking about changing light bulbs here – day-to-day operations – especially when it comes to blatantly misinforming the feds on the land sale. The commissioners need to drop that circle-the-wagons mentality and start using sound judgement.
I know there are people who just love everything Hall has done. That’s fine – he has done some good things. But, there are also people out there who have seen his wrath or felt it personally or economically.
The commissioners are going to have to decide if settling amicably with the FAA would be easier without Hall. Surely if the shoe were on the other foot, the commissioners could understand why the FAA feels it can’t trust anything Hall says or does.
It’s been two years since Hall created this problem with the FAA.
If Liberal’s citizens feel my work is all baloney, so be it. I have tried to expose some obvious weaknesses I think have been harmful and have paralyzed certain sectors of our community. And, there is an op-ed page in the newspaper where anyone can agree or disagree.
I’ll follow the voters’ lead – if it’s OK with them to let Hall run the city, it’s OK with me.
But, as I receive the additional federal and state documents I have requested, I will share my findings – the facts – and make my opinions about them known.
PS: Doug LaFreniere tries to change the focus of my series – typical. I said in the first part, the ballfields are wonderful and it’s great to have a Neighborhhod Market – and those would have happened anyway.
It’s how the process was bungled – by deliberate misinformation.
As far as an instant “crisis,” tell that to the FAA who has been “reviewing” this for two years now. LaFreniere doesn’t realize it, but that is the kind of city commissioner the FAA fears will doublecross them again.
And greed has nothing to do with any of this. God save us from those who grasp at straws.