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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Richard Connor: Did you hear the one about the fox and the henhouse?

A fable.

The fox had been guarding the henhouse for many years.

Some hens had gone amissing.

The fox was getting fatter.

There was a cacophony of cackling over the missing chickens but the fox was not talking. The chickens themselves were a nervous wreck.

Some of them said if they could they would escape and cross a bridge to freedom. The problem is the bridges outside the coop were not built.

The mayor of Foxtown ordered a study to be done to answer the cackling townsfolk and their concerns. She also was worried about the poor chickens whose eggs financed this enterprise. The report would be given to the henhouse board of directors, an esteemed group of chicken-watchers.

The henhouse was studied by consultants who issued a report on the problem. They even supplied a blueprint on the henhouse.

The head man of the chicken-watchers board took the report and before opening it to the public or even his board gave the report to the fox.

The End.

But was this end – or even a fable at all?

It was neither. The study was one commissioned to study the fiasco known, variously, as the Trinity River Vision, the Central City project and, most recently, Panther Island.

Mishandling the release of the study this week was another example of the lack of transparency in the public’s continuing effort to find out what is going on with its money.

Here is Business Press reporter Marice Richter’s account of the latest bend in the muddy waters of this fundamentally misguided, hopelessly mismanaged project:

“Release of the findings of a comprehensive review of the $1.17 billion Panther Island project has been postponed so that Trinity River Vision officials and board members have a chance to craft a response.

“G.K. Maenius, Tarrant County administrator and Trinity River Vision Authority board president, announced Wednesday that the review is complete but he made the decision to delay public release of the report until board members have a chance to read it, ask questions and confer with staffers about its contents.

“‘Because of the complexity of the report, I made the decision that it is in the best interest of this organization to give everyone a chance to respond,’ Maenius said. “I know some of you may be upset with me but this is the best decision for this agency and I made it.’”

Some of Maenius’ colleagues were stunned and annoyed, to say the least, by his arbitrary decision to suppress the report by Dallas consultant Riveron.

“We came here today expecting to hear from Riveron,” said Fort Worth City Manager and TRVA board member David Cooke. “The consultant was supposed to present and go back and forth with us so we could understand the document.”

Objections likewise were voiced by Fort Worth City Councilman and TRVA board member Carlos Flores and by James Hill, a member of both the TRVA board and the board of directors of the Tarrant Regional Water District, the agency charged with overseeing the Trinity River Vision Authority and the entire Panther Island project.

Some sage once said something about being able to fool some of the people all the time but not all the people all of the time.

People – taxpayers – rise up.

Of all the arrogant, tone deaf, irresponsible outrages the Panther Island cabal has perpetrated on the public, this one takes the prize.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse.

What the public wants right now, what it always wants, is conscientious and responsible handling of its hard-earned tax dollars. What it wants equally as much is transparency and accountability from the officials who spend that money.

Treating the taxpayers with respect won’t get Panther Island the federal money needed to complete the project and it won’t build the three unfinished bridges that are the most sadly visible evidence of a boondoggle in shambles. But it might help boost the public’s waning confidence in the leadership of local officials.

Before the project review was suppressed instead of being released as promised, the bridge contractor met with owners of businesses who have been devastated by detours and traffic snarls created by bridge construction on White Settlement Road.

They were told that over 90 deficiencies have been found in the design of the unfinished bridges and that the contractor has not been paid all it is owed. The attorney expressed frustration that the contractor can’t seem to find out who owes him the money.

Mayor Betsy Price, who has been proactive in questioning the project’s management, says the Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for the bills. OK. But everyone feels as if they are getting the bureaucratic runaround on all of this. The bridge designer, Freese and Nichols, says there is nothing wrong with the design.

No one in a leadership position has been willing to accept responsibility for this fiasco. One of the hoped-for results of the project review was some accountability, if not flat-out blame-placing, for all that has gone wrong. But hopes were dashed, at least for the moment, by the decision to hold back the report while the people who have caused all the problems pick it apart and devise a response they hope can spin away their culpability.

Maenius tried to double-talk his way through his confounding decision to let the fox’s friends read the report and clarify it. The report is long and complex, he said, and requires a “deep dive” to digest. Fine. But that’s all the more reason to set it free for public consumption, sooner rather than later.

TRVA Executive Director J.D. Granger, of course appreciated Maenius’ decision.

Granger “expressed concerned about misinformation being communicated through the media if the report wasn’t vetted before its public release,” Richter wrote.

Misinformation? Or extremely relevant and useful information about Granger’s role in creating and perpetuating the horrific debacle that is Panther Island? We eagerly await the review’s findings regarding the quality of Granger’s decision-making as the prime manager of the project.

The operative word, unfortunately, is await. We have waited. And waited. And now wait some more.

And while we wait, the fox gets fatter.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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