By way of background, as I said a couple of days ago, I took the bait, and last night, Ms. Underwood finally responded to me.

I do not intend, in this post, to personally attack or offend anyone, particularly Ms. Underwood, who has always been kind to me, at least in person.

If you haven’t already noticed, when I am provoked and engaged or confronted with absurd speculation and off-the-wall ignorance about an issue of which I am personally knowledgeable, I tend to be a little snarky and direct, a tendency for which I apologize in advance.

Considering this post is over 4,000 words, I also think it is appropriate to offer you the option of simply avoiding it entirely.

If not:

I.

I had to edit Ms. Gayle Underwood’s comments for clarity, because it was honestly one of the most insanely configured and jumbled comments that has ever been published in the three and a half years this blog has been online, almost as if the Control-V function somehow had violent spasms.

So first, Ms. Underwood has the mic, and then I will offer a response:

Dear Lamar, After reading your email and comments on your blog and Greg’s blog I decided after working all day cleaning one of my handful of rentals, to answer your question as to why i did not answer your email. First of all i must have ruffled a lot of feathers with the admistration with calls first from the mayor( i did not return) then Ken Juneau, and now your comments on the blog..Anyone with any common sense and intelligence knows that taxpayer money should not be used for private business and the profits to be gained by private people ..Why were the hotel people asked to attend the meeting to hear the Masters talk of things to come at the taxpayers expense? Was it that he feared someone like me would voice something opposite to his view?It is my tax money that would fund this project.Why did he all of a sudden decide after personally telling the hotel people that the TIF (Herbert Dixon) was a bad idea.Could he have had his own plan in mind?I didnt approve of it then and i dont approve on it now.If the reports from the Sales Tax office are correct, the Fulton HOtel appeared to be full during the LMA conventoion, yet no hotel-motel taxes were collected during the month of that convention.
Was the City responsible for the hotel during that time? Where are the taxes for that month?
We now have bond money which is borrowed for SPARC sitting in a bank on whichwe the citzsens are paying debt service. When will we see that money go to a project and not to a consultant?

How much money has the city spemnt on consultants and legal fees to determins who the frontrunner should be in the hotel plan? Where did the money come from and why are we paying for it? The mayor ran on a platform of not hiring a bunch of consultants yet that number contiues to grow.

Now why all of sudden does the mayor want to spend our tax dollars for the hotels.Makes you wonder who is going to benfit from the project. Lets see, Bob Dean and Buddy Tudor comes to mind as Dean will get the money and Tudor will get the remodeling…….

Now answer to your question as why no response from me.I fully believe that I ruffled someone’s feather and that you were asked to contact me as i did not wish to talk to the Mayor, yes i know how he gets his staff to do his biding.

I did not care to hear the Masters BULL (notice i am being nice and my Irish temper did not flair up) he has not be truthful to the citizens of Alex. In the last few months and maybe this year. It’s his way or no way. The sad part about it is that we had high hopes of the new administration. I dot know if he is aware of it but he is losing support of his freeness and supporters.YOu would be surprised as to what his friends are saying. They are disappointed in him, and plan not to support him for any office. The sad part about it the situation is that a lot of good, smart people who work for him will be unemployed because of the decisions he has made/ let me remind everyone, that i am not for either the council or the administration. I am for what is right for the city and the taxpayer…
LAMAR, you can write all the things you want to about me, I owe no one money for loans or debts, or do i owe anyone favors. But if you are a person in need and i am able to help i will try my best. BUT Lamar I answer to no man or woman but to GOD. Isn’t it great that we can voice or beliefs and I do hope that your PRESIDENT DOES NOT TAKE THAT FREEDOM AWAY FROM US. /

II.

And then her pithy postscript:

I reread your comments and i do hope that in looking into my business that you took the time to look under my maiden name,my husbands name,. and other adventures that i am involved in./ you might be surprised what type of business ventures i am into all legal so dont send out a private eye /i work for my living and money

III.

So, having already taken the bait, let me extend the metaphor and fall hook, line, and sinker (And I don’t think it is necessary to put my own words on my own blog in block quotes).

Gayle:

Even though I think Darren is probably right and even at the risk of speaking out of turn, I have to say: I find your reaction over a simple e-mail inviting you to ask whatever questions you have about the Downtown Hotels project to be bizarre, self-aggrandizing, and, to borrow from Drew, erratic. But more importantly, it’s littered with lies, half-truths, and fabrications, many of which appear to have been torn from the playbook of a small handful of the Mayor’s political opponents and people who, for various reasons, no longer work for or “consult” with the City.

It is impossible to glean everything about the daily work of government simply by sitting in on a Council meeting every other week, however informative or entertaining they may be, and frankly, I find it difficult to understand your prerogative.

You apparently have all of these concerns and questions, but you say that when the Mayor called you recently, you wouldn’t even return his phone call.

Then, after you implied on The Town Talk’s website that the Downtown Hotels project was simply designed to provide “kickbacks,” a charge that some may find defamatory, I wrote you a personal and, I think, friendly e-mail inviting you to ask me whatever questions you had. But instead of responding to me, apparently you thought it would make better fodder for Greg Aymond’s website, something with which Mr. Aymond apparently agreed.

So, forgive me for not completely appreciating or understanding your perspective, because it is difficult for me to determine whether you’re interested in having an actual, respectful conversation or you prefer to grandstand and kick up dirt on a series of issues, without ever really seeking a command or an in-depth understanding of those issues.

I did not write you to provoke an argument, Gayle. I wrote you because I know you personally, and considering you have always been kind to me in person, I thought I could answer any questions you had. Yes, I thought it was both irresponsible and ignorant to publicly suggest that the hotels project was simply a way to provide kickbacks to certain people, but given the last few years of false starts and empty promises, I still understood your cynicism. However, I also know that the process and competition created by Mayor Roy has been completely above board and totally objective. It has attracted national, award-winning firms, and it has always focused squarely on minimizing the public risk and promoting the notion that the public’s investment should always be in public infrastructure, not in infusing public capital into a private business operation.

Regardless of your motives, you raise a number of questions that I am more than happy to answer.

First, NO ONE instructed, ordered, or asked me to contact you about the comments you made under the name “councilwatch” on the Town Talk forum, and NO ONE instructed, ordered, or asked me to respond to you now.

Either way, when you question or criticize your elected officials and they decide to reach out to you personally, like the Mayor apparently did for you, it doesn’t mean they’re just trying to silence you. Usually, it simply means they want to answer your questions and discuss your criticisms with you.

I don’t know anyone who harbors a vendetta against you, and frankly, I find your comment implying that I would be investigating all of your business “adventures” to be strangely paranoiac and weird. You received a couple of phone calls and one e-mail, all in good faith, all in an attempt to have a conversation with you.

But onto your questions. I will try to answer all of them to the best of my ability.

1. “Why were the hotel people asked to attend the meeting to hear the Masters talk of things to come at the taxpayers expense?”

The meeting you are referencing was called for and held by the City Council, not by the Mayor. The “hotel people” were not asked to attend Monday’s meeting by anyone in the Mayor’s Office. However, notably, representatives of both the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hotel/Motel Association were included in the Downtown Hotels Selection Committee, and obviously, other local hoteliers and hotel developers recognize that they have a vested interest in ensuring for the sustainability and viability of the publicly-owned Fulton/Riverfront Center complex.

I obviously cannot speak for all of the hotel/motel folks, but it certainly seemed as if the vast majority of those who attended the meeting left pleased with the City’s objectives and reassured by its commitment to locate a solution that best minimizes the risk to the public.

With all due respect, you seem to forget that two of the three assets in the Downtown Hotels Initiative are already publicly-owned and, therefore, currently “come at the taxpayers expense.” The entire purpose of this initiative was to locate the most effective and viable way of increasing the value and the performance of two critically important publicly-owned assets.

2. “Was it that he feared someone like me would voice something opposite to his view?”

Not at all. This was a public City Council meeting, a meeting that was properly publicly noticed and mentioned in the newspaper, and like any meeting called by the City Council, you, like anyone else, were more than welcome to attend and voice your opinions.

I don’t think the Mayor “fears” you, Gayle. After all, according to you, he called you, and you elected not to return his phone call. To me, it looks like he was actually trying to reach out to you, much like I did, but instead of engaging in an honest discussion, you decided it would be better to ignore the invitation for a dialogue and then continue to criticize him on a couple of blogs and The Town Talk forum.

Of course that’s your right, but it’s difficult for me, personally, to believe in your seriousness of purpose or the validity of your intentions when, instead of actually engaging in a conversation with people, you would rather imply online that they are complicit in some sort of kickback scheme and label the Mayor as a “Master.”

Gayle, what a stupid and hateful thing to say, labeling the Mayor as “Master.”

3. “Why did he all of a sudden decide after personally telling the hotel people that the TIF (Herbert Dixon) was a bad idea. Could he have had his own plan in mind? I didnt approve of it then and i dont approve on it now.”

Gayle, no doubt, the Mayor did have his own plan in mind. The TIF proposal could have easily allowed a single developer to capture a significant portion of future tax revenue collected in a relatively large area of inner-city Alexandria to fund, exclusively, both the purchase and the continued operations of a single private project (i.e. the Hotel Bentley). In my personal opinion, the entire scheme was drawn up in order to provide a single development group with the assurances necessary to secure financing for the purchase and operation of the Hotel Bentley, a development group who, otherwise, could not or would not be able to commit to investing the private equity necessary to make the deal work.

If the TIF legislation had passed, then an increase in tax revenue generated in the Lower Third neighborhood, for example, could have, hypothetically, gone exclusively to funding a privately-owned luxury hotel in Downtown.

TIFs are not always a bad instrument, particularly when they are used to help facilitate a value-added and job-creating venture in a blighted and economically depressed area.

But, despite what was said at the time and despite the prognostications offered during City Council meetings by the developer’s paid consultant and lobbyist, that is not what this particular TIF was about. This particular TIF proposal was aimed at providing one particular development group with the financial assurances it needed to purchase and operate a privately-owned hotel, a hotel that apparently they could not otherwise afford.

So again, yes, Gayle, I believe the Mayor did have his own plan in mind. For one, I think he immediately recognized that it would be improper to establish a special taxing district simply to benefit one developer on one private project, and secondly, I think he was fundamentally opposed to allocating the future tax revenues generated by the residents of inner-city Alexandria into bankrolling a private hotel operation.

Like you and the Mayor, I am also opposed to creating a TIF district simply to give one developer the money they needed to purchase and operate a private hotel, and, in my opinion, this specific TIF proposal was particularly egregious, considering that the project already qualified for nearly $20 million in various state and federal tax credits and that it was designed to benefit a single developer, without any objective competition or outside request for proposals.

But Gayle, we are no longer debating or discussing the merits of a TIF for the Hotel Bentley, and it is both erroneous and uninformed to suggest that the proposals currently being considered are, in any way, comparable to the proposed TIF.

After an exhaustive, eight month-long, national Request for Proposals process, we are now considering a couple of world-class proposals from firms with proven track records, proposals that would only require spending public money on public infrastructure. One of those proposals calls for shoring up the sustainability of the Hotel Bentley by relocating City Hall into the so-called “new tower” of the Bentley, and the other proposal calls for matching public investments in a parking garage and improvements to ancillary public infrastructure with over $40 million in private funds.

Neither one of the top two proposals suggest that the City or any other governmental agency contribute public dollars into the operation of a private business, though both offer uniquely different solutions.

Personally, I think, depending on the project and the expected returns, it is often appropriate and necessary to invest in publicly-owned infrastructure to facilitate catalytic private-sector investment and job creation. And I would suggest that if you simply are fundamentally opposed to using public dollars to improve public infrastructure in order to generate private-sector economic activity, then, with all due respect, you should offer to pay, out of your own pocket, for any repairs to streets, sidewalks, utility lines, and drainage in or around your rental property.

4. “If the reports from the Sales Tax office are correct, the Fulton Hotel appeared to be full during the LMA convention, yet no hotel-motel taxes were collected during the month of that convention. Was the City responsible for the hotel during that time? Where are the taxes for that month?”

Let me get this straight: Are you suggesting that you have a suspicion that the City, a municipal government, was directly managing and operating a City-owned hotel and, all the while, cheating on its taxes?

Seriously?

A quick side note here, directed in general and not specifically to Gayle:

Let me be clear, I speak entirely for myself on this, and I know some may disagree. I promise this isn’t a non-sequitor, and I have an overall point: Paul Carty, the Gannett guy who reveals to his readers in almost every one of his editorials that he’s obviously a corporate transplant and obviously not from Louisiana (or anywhere in the South), is the Executive Editor of The Town Talk, which, for all intents and purposes, means he essentially controls the editorial and news agenda of the paper. If you’re a daily reader of The Town Talk, you know exactly what I mean– the earned media provided to local right-wing tea parties, the offensive suggestion that the President should have avoided visiting New Orleans because the people of Lake Charles were allegedly less dependent on government assistance for disaster relief assistance after Rita than New Orleanians were after Katrina (seriously, this was the basic thesis of a recent column), and, most recently, a bizarre rant suggesting the attempts to describe the public option in health care reform reflected Obama’s Orwellianism.

Earlier this year, another editor at The Town Talk dedicated her entire column reacting to something I posted on my blog. At first, I felt a little embarrassed and concerned about any embarrassment the article may have caused my colleagues, friends, and family members. Even though she did not mention me by name, anyone who knows me would have immediately known she was writing about me. A couple of local bloggers picked up on her column, letting everyone know, if they hadn’t already guessed, that I was the target of a Town Talk writer’s scorn. A newspaper editorial writer is an ideal position on which to build a bully pulpit.

But after rereading her column a few times, I recognized that the main thrust of her criticism was that I somehow confused individual editorials written by individual Town Talk writers with the official positions of their editorial board as expressed in the paper’s Our View columns. I don’t believe I had ever had any such confusion, but today, I have to question whether or not “editorial board” opinion pieces are actually written and edited by an entire “board” or if the responsibilities of writing the column are usually assigned to a single writer. Today, it certainly seems like The Town Talk editorial board often reflects a personal, instead of institutional, perspective.

I have concerns for the future of The Town Talk. Really. It has been part of the foundation of this City for over a hundred and fifty years, and not only has it continued to document the daily life of our entire region, it’s also provided opportunities and livelihoods for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of local residents. During my senior year of high school, I wrote a weekly features column for The Town Talk as a member of the now-defunct Youth Council; it was a thrill for me, and it provided me with the opportunity to build confidence, as a teenager, in my own voice as a writer.

The only time that incredibly bad news about a local business does not make the front page of the newspaper is when the incredibly bad news is about the newspaper. If you’re a Gannett shareholder from Alexandria, then you should ask how many jobs have been cut from Alexandria and how much of their Alexandria assets they intend to sell or liquidate.

Better yet, ask corporate Gannett officials what they think of the value and long-term viability of property in Downtown Alexandria. I have a feeling the answer would surprise some of you, particularly considering a recent editorial position taken by The Town Talk suggesting that the City should consider subsidizing a trolley route between the new Courtyard by Marriott on the old Cinema Six property and the Alexandria Riverfront Center, before lending support to the publicly-owned Alexander Fulton Hotel connected to the publicly-owned Riverfront Center, both of which are located less than four blocks away from the massive Downtown complex owned by Gannett.

Which brings me back to the opinions of the corporate Gannett guy with the penchant for wingnut editorials: Recently, he wrote that the City has been in the “hotel business” since January of 2009, an observation that is probably curious to anyone who has lived in Alexandria during the last, oh, 26 years, when public dollars were first used to build what is now known as the Alexander Fulton Hotel.

Sure, the City’s role has been forced to change after the former management group declared bankruptcy, but it is totally misleading to imply that, in January of 2009, the City suddenly decided to embark on a bold, new business venture. The City- that is, the taxpaying citizens of Alexandria- have actually owned a hotel for nearly three decades and a connected convention center for over one decade. Like it or not, the City has owned and served as a landlord of the hotel for 26 years. The declaration of bankruptcy by the former management company forced the City to locate a new manager.

The truth is that the City has never managed the business operations of the Alexander Fulton Hotel. The City has maintained an ownership interest in the hotel since it was built 26 years ago, but it has never actually managed the hotel business. I’m not trying to deflect anything here, but your questions about the payment of taxes should be directed at the firm that managed the Fulton during LMA.

However, I would suggest that, considering the hotel was occupied by members of the Louisiana Municipal Association, all of whom are employed by tax-exempt municipal governments, it is not too surprising or notable to me that the Fulton did not report a downtown hotel tax.

I strongly recommend reviewing all monthly reporting in order to fairly determine a baseline for this particular tax; I think you will discover that in recent months, the tax has never generated anything substantial.

These are both things that Rhonda Reap-Curiel apparently did not consider or, at least, did not disclose whenever she publicly questioned the integrity of the previous management group’s tax reports. Rhonda, incidentally, consulted and lobbied for the group seeking a TIF for the Hotel Bentley.

I think you should have all of your facts straight and your numbers in order before publicly accusing someone of cheating on their taxes.

8 thoughts

  1. Lamar-
    Since you chose to include my name in your response to Mrs. Underwood, I will address the portion of that response directed at me.

    First, I did consider who was responsible for collecting and reporting the taxes when I asked the question publicly. It was my understanding on the ONE occasion I asked the question, the City was responsible for remitting the taxes, not Mr. Rosenfeld.

    In response to my question during the Council meeting, the City’s own head of finance, David Crutchfield stated he completed and submitted reports during the timeframe the City was responsible for submitting the report and funds.

    As far as determining a fair baseline with regard to the collection of taxes, IF you bothered to actually review the report conducted prior to the original group, Cyntreniks, submitting their proposal for the Hotel Bentley, you will find an analysis of hotel occupancy taxes. This analysis goes includes taxes dating back to the month these taxes were first collected. The analysis breaks down the complete history of ownership and looks at the drops which occur each time a new operator came into play. The anlysis did consider the drop in the taxes collected once the Bentley closed and I have often remarked both privately and publicly how the Holiday was collecting taxes equal to the amount of both hotels being open during the final year in which both hotels were open in the months immediately following the Bentley’s closure.

    1. Rhonda, good to see you blogging under your own name.

      Remind me, because apparently I forgot, when, exactly, did the City serve as the management group for the hotel?

      Either way, yes, I did read the report you provided for Cyntreniks. It was a good report, and indeed, it is interesting that the former Holiday Inn performed well in the immediate aftermath of the Bentley closure.

      Since I have your attention, maybe you’d be willing to answer a few questions. As you expressed on Greg’s blog, under your pseudonym “Bird,” apparently, the signature stamp on my e-mail to Ms. Underwood confused you about whether I was writing her personally or whether, because of the contact information posted at the bottom of the e-mail, I was somehow speaking in an official capacity. It’s an interesting point, to be sure, and it got me thinking, generally, about conflicts of interests. (Again, if my signature stamp created any confusion, I regret it).

      1) When you were consulting and lobbying for Cyntreniks, did you, at any point, also have a professional services contract with the City of Alexandria?

      2) Was there any overlap?

      3) If so, how did you reconcile your contractual agreement with the City while also working for a group seeking significant subsidization (for a private deal) from the City?

      4) You are a registered lobbyist, correct? Will you disclose the list of clients for whom you lobby?

      1. 1) When you were consulting and lobbying for Cyntreniks, did you, at any point, also have a professional services contract with the City of Alexandria? No I did not. My contact terms had ceased prior to my engagement by Cyntreniks.

        2) Was there any overlap? Answered above.

        3) If so, how did you reconcile your contractual agreement with the City while also working for a group seeking significant subsidization (for a private deal) from the City? There was no reconciliation since there was no contract.

        4) You are a registered lobbyist, correct? Will you disclose the list of clients for whom you lobby? Yes I am a registered lobbyist. The ethics law requires that I disclose issues that I lobby and any funds expended on legislators. You’re more than welcome to look at my reports by going to the ethics commission. I am not required to disclose my clients.

        <>

        You would have to confirm the time period for which the City became responsible for the hotel with David Crutchfield and Chuck Johnson, they both confirmed on more than one occasion the City was responsible for paying the management fee and at least for David, that the hotel-motel occupancy taxes were properly filed. It was during the period immediately following the time period after the bankruptcy court stopped paying Fred Rosenfeld and the City put Noble in charge. I believe the City paid the bill for 30+ days and did so to ensure a management firm stayed in place for the LMA. IF the City were not responsible, why then would Crutchfield state in a council meeting he made sure the taxes were filed and remitted? Why would Chuck Johnson state the City was not responsible for some payroll checks for the employees but they were for others? The City obviously was responsible for the running of the hotel, even if Fred Rosenfeld was on the ground acting as its manager if those things were occurring. If not, then two city employees made false statements in a public meeting. I am more inclined to believe they did no such thing.

        As for your signature confusing me, I only questioned it since I have seen the same thing on emails myself and have questioned whether they were personal in nature or related to City business.

        1. Rhonda,

          I know the ethics rules.

          I didn’t ask if you were required to disclose your clients; I asked if you would be willing to disclose your clients.

          Based on your response, I assume you are not.

          By the way, your confusion about the management arrangement at the Fulton is EPIC… almost as good as when you attempted to argue the definition of the word “family” at a City Council meeting. (Still makes me laugh).

  2. Lamar
    Let it go.
    I sense the lady has emotional issues and you are just further exasperating the problem. No offence to anyone. That’s just the way I am reading it. Once again our dedication is getting the best of us.
    Frankly I feel sorry for her.
    Alex

  3. Lamar,

    By all means keep up this response to Underwood. Sure, as alexcenla mentions, she may have issues (who doesn’t?), but it’s great reading. Far more entertaining than anything you’ve had up here in some time.

    Keep up the good work.

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