The Lincoln Center City Council Debate

el_corazon_chucoAs expected, yesterday’s city council debate over the Lincoln Center was contentious and brought out the ongoing debate about the gentrification of the city and the undercurrent of racism that some perceive to exist. Even Jose Rodriguez alluded to the racism undercurrent while debating with Cortney Niland the merits of Eddie Holguin’s motion.

The meeting first addressed a motion on how the city is going to pursue the Lincoln Center issue. The second part was for the city council to formally ratify the action they took during the emergency meeting.

The first issue, the next process in the saving the Lincoln Center Building that the city was going to take centered on the argument posed by all of the city representatives, except Holguin and Limon about expending taxpayer monies on an action that might well end up being pulled after the expenditures were made.

The argument was that the city would allocate money on the building, even going so far as to secure the building, either through outright transfer from TXDOT to the city, or a long tern lease arrangement and then that TXDOT, through either eminent domain or a claw back provision would take all of that away on some future date.

The majority of council’s comments centered on self-serving pontifications of wanting to save the Lincoln Center, however they had to do it prudently since it involved taxpayer monies. The citizens’ comments were unanimous in demanding that city council preserve the building.

During the discussion, it was disclosed that Cortney Niland sent her staff out to the area around the center to poll the residents about what they thought about saving the building. According to public comments and Niland’s own comments the majority of the respondents overwhelmingly supported saving the building, even if it involved using taxpayer monies to do it with.

Some members of the community alleged that Niland’s polling of the residents was an attempt to intimidate them via the costs involved.

The voting eventually came down to two votes. A motion made by Eddie Holguin and another made by Cortney Niland.

Eddie Holguin’s motion included four important parts. It was to notify the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) that the city was willing to take responsibility for the Lincoln Center; that the city was going to find funding for the revitalization of the building; the motion also identified a source of funds, the $5 million from the Quality of Life bonds for an Hispanic center. The motion concluded with directing the city attorney’s office to begin negotiating with TXDOT.

The motion failed with Lilly Limon and Eddie Holguin voting in favor of the motion, Carl Robinson abstaining and Ann Morgan Lilly, Larry E. Romero, Emma Acosta, Michiel Noe and Cortney Niland voting against the motion.

Oscar Leeser expressed his disappointment in the motion not passing. Jose Rodriguez implored city council before the vote to pass Holguin’s motion because that was the type of motion from the city he and Joe Pickett needed to negotiate with TXDOT at the state level. Rodriguez insinuated that Niland’s motion was too watered down.

Cortney Niland then made a motion to direct the city manager to ask Joe Pickett and Jose Rodriguez to add an agenda item at the next TPC meeting, which is scheduled for June, asking whether the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) is willing to negotiate in good faith in allowing the Lincoln Center to continue. The motion also included language asking if TXDOT is willing to remove the “reversion clause” provision in any lease arrangement the city might enter into, with TXDOT for the building.

The reversion clause is basically a contractual agreement that many property owners use that allow them to take back possession from the renter the property. In this case, TXDOT could potentially notify the city with 30-days’ notice that the city no longer has authority over the building, and effectively take it back.

Niland’s motion passed unanimously.

The second item on the agenda involved city council ratifying the action they took during the emergency meeting on May 20 to file a TRO against the Lincoln Center demolition. Before discussion on the item began, city council went into executive session.

After coming out of executive session, city council voted on two motions for this item. The first motion was made by Niland. It read that the city council hereby authorizes the city attorney to file a nonsuit against TXDOT. The motion basically ends the lawsuit the city filed against TXDOT. Eddie Holguin and Lilly Limon voted against the motion as both wanted to keep the lawsuit alive. Michiel Noe abstained indicating that he filed an affidavit with the city clerk’s office. The motion passed with the others voting in favor.

The Texas Department of Transportation had sent a letter to Oscar Leeser last week stating that it was willing to stop all demolition of Lincoln Center until October 1 and to begin negotiating with the city to find a way to preserve the murals and historical artifacts. It is important to note that the letter did not say TXDOT was willing to negotiate keeping the building intact, in fact, it alludes to stopping demolition until October 1 in order to give the city an opportunity to preserve certain historical artifacts.

The second motion to ratify the May 20 emergency motion by city council to file an injunction against TXDOT passed with Acosta, Holguin, Limon and Romero voting in favor of ratifying the action. Lilly, Niland and Noe abstained from voting.

In both of the last votes, comments about affidavits being filed at the city clerk’s office in regards to abstentions were made although I was not able to access them. I will be filing an open records request for them and let you know what they stated.

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