San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 14th, 2009
Editorial: Messing with 'misinformation'

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

By the Newstreamz editorial board

Susan Narvaiz, the mayor of San Marcos, took to the pages of a local newspaper last Friday in her campaign against “misinformation” that had “leaked” into the community regarding an incentive proposal for the redevelopment of Springtown Center. We, too, are interested in stopping the spread of misinformation, so we wish to set the record straight.

The city’s economic development board, Economic Development San Marcos (EDSM), met on June 30 to discuss the Springtown redevelopment. In open session, the board heard a proposal from the developers, which included a $5 million interest-free loan from the city to be repaid over 20 years. The proposal included specific mention of an Alamo Draft House, all the way down to details of the loan, $1.8 million of which would front the costs for the theater’s construction, furniture, fixtures and equipment, with the city obtaining a first lien on the furniture, fixtures and equipment.

The developers presented to EDSM, in open session, a graphic detailing the construction timeline for the Alamo Draft House. Additionally, the developers put up a graphic of Springtown Center as it exists now. One of them pointed to the location of the Best Buy, saying, in so many words, “The Alamo Draft House would go here,” adding that the roof would have to be demolished and built higher to accommodate the theater.

All of this occurred in open session, entirely available to the public. Anyone in town could have walked into that meeting and heard the proposal for a $5 million interest-free loan to help place an Alamo Draft House in a Springtown Center redeveloped as an entertainment venue. EDSM then went into executive session to discuss the proposal and work up a recommendation for the city council. EDSM refused to divulge whether it would recommend approval or denial to the city council. A week later, after the good people of San Marcos roared their opposition, the city council unanimously denied incentive proposals for Springtown Center.

We review the events of that open session because they are salient in light of Narvaiz’ remarks in the local newsprint last Friday, three days after the council’s denial. The newspaper indirectly quoted Narvaiz saying the Alamo Draft House was never publicly identified as part of the project. Furthermore, Narvaiz said in the article, “the integrity of the process” was breached because information from executive session was “leaked.” The article clearly indicates that the proposal for an Alamo Draft House is one of those alleged leaks.

Herewith, we quote from the daily newsprint’s article, in italics, to demonstrate the flavor and substance of the mayor’s remarks:

Saying that information from executive sessions had “leaked,” Narvaiz noted, “Before you know it, everybody’s talking about Alamo Drafthouse” and other particulars of the incentives package that may or may not have been an actual part of the package.

We are disappointed that the mayor would make such assertions in an attempt to dispel “misinformation,” the word she used more than once while discussing the matter at last week’s city council meeting. Clearly, the mayor misspoke, because the Alamo Draft House was publicly identified as part of the project. Clearly, the mayor misspoke, because that information was not “leaked” by anyone, nor were the proposed terms of the loan. All of that information emerged in public session, as Newstreamz was the first to report by several days. Newstreamz was at that public presentation. The mayor was not.

It remains, though, that the mayor knows all the facts if anyone does, and one imagines that she would have checked on what happened in open session before going on a soap box to say that what happened in open session didn’t happen in open session. Thus, we are mystified that the mayor would say the Alamo Draft House was never publicly identified as part of the project when it plainly was. We are puzzled that the mayor would make such remarks, which are manifestly and obviously untrue, when she, of all people, could have and should have known they were manifestly and obviously untrue.

We are also very troubled that the mayor would say such information “leaked” when she could have and should have known it hadn’t. All of the relevant and controversial information emerged from a public meeting as reported by this publication, triggering vigorous public discussion for four days before any other publication even touched it. None of that information was privileged to executive session.

By saying that privileged information “leaked,” thus jeopardizing “the integrity of the process,” the mayor has unjustifiably jeopardized the integrity of her staff, her economic development board, her council and anyone else whose duties require confidentiality. Her remarks place all of those people under suspicion for being untrustworthy with privileged information when, in fact, none of that information was leaked because it all came out of open session. Going back to the furthest reaches of our imagination, we can find absolutely nothing to recommend about the implications for the mayor’s leadership. At the very best, such loose accusations have got to be a drag on morale at City Hall.

The word “misinformation” is a coinage of policy makers and others who know the revealed information isn’t false, but they want to discredit it, anyway. Most charitably, “misinformation” means the available information is incomplete or out of date, which doesn’t mean the information is inaccurate. For example, if EDSM considered a $5 million interest-free loan two weeks ago and that proposal is now off the table, that doesn’t mean EDSM’s consideration of a $5 million interest-free loan was false two weeks ago. If the information is incomplete, that’s because the process has secrecy built into it, for the understandable reason that too much publicity compromises the city’s leverage in negotiations.

In a guest column that appeared in the San Marcos newsprint on July 11, nearly two weeks after EDSM considered the loan in question, Springtown Mall Co-General Partner John Lewis said his operation is proposing a loan from the city, which would receive quarterly interest and be repaid in six years. That is certainly a change in the weather. But it is not what EDSM heard about in open session two weeks ago. It very well could have been a new proposal considered by the council last week without vetting by EDSM. We don’t know, because no one in that process is “leaking” information.

We also don’t know how the mayor feels about the developers divulging their later request for an interest-bearing loan to be paid in six years. But we are unmoved by the guest column’s threat that “if we are unsuccessful in getting this loan from the city we will be forced to board up the center, except for the few tenants that remain and wait for better times.” We believe the owners would sell before absorbing too many holding costs on a property that isn’t producing revenue, and the matter will resolve itself privately.

By the looks of her remarks in the daily newsprint, the mayor remains committed to incentives for retailers and other purveyors of minimum wage work, arguing that they generate sales taxes. She indicated that the matter is coming back. We will note, because the mayor is a fine politician, that she voted with the unanimous council to deny the incentives for Springtown as they were understood at last Tuesday’s meeting, though she apparently favored the incentives. If she had not voted on the prevailing side, she could not bring the matter back up in council. So, it appears we could be in for another discussion about city incentives for minimum wage employment.

We repeat: we believe that is an unwise expenditure of city incentives for economic development. This city needs to incentivize for breadwinner employment that will enable us to capture young talent coming out of Texas State and, thereby, maximize that great opportunity on our horizon. Judging by feedback the public has provided on our pages, our position matches the community’s general desire.

We do not wish to demean the mayor, nor do we wish to diminish her many fine works on behalf of this city. But we disagree with her about the use of economic development incentives for bars, restaurants and retail, even as we agree that the outlet malls are a sales tax bonanza for the city. Now, we insist, San Marcos must mix in more living wage employment, and that is the only appropriate use of incentives. We disagree with the mayor about that. And we’re also disappointed that her attempt to clear up “misinformation” about the Springtown matter was so “misinformative,” as it were.

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15 thoughts on “Editorial: Messing with 'misinformation'

  1. Narvaiz didn’t “misspeak”, she outright lied. She knew the facts and was trying to back pedal out of a mess. I don’t trust her… never have and never will. I and many others can’t wait until she is no longer mayor.

    Kudos to Newstreamz for bringing this and other city fiascoes to light.

  2. I’m sick and tired of our cities talking about spending our money behind closed doors. They need to do some soul searching about what the term “city” really means. Unless, of course, they are willing to pony up this money out of their own pockets.

  3. You state, “We do not wish to demean the mayor”, and you haven’t. But you certainly let her demean herself by printing her remarks for all to see, and I thank you for it.

    The Springtown matter has certainly been a pig’s ear, but I believe it’s up to local reporters to cover these matters to the utmost of their ability, and to call out inept governance when found. Keep up the great work!

  4. I’m sure there are other details that Narvaiz will claim were leaked and accusations will fly. That way she can forever blame others for the failure of this deal. She will not stop until she gives “something” to the Springtown developers to claim that she made it happen.

  5. Small town politics are a lot more interesting than hearing about Obama and his health care plan or many of the federal issues out there. It just amazes me how manipulative this mayor seems to be, yet she comes off as this caring individual when you hear her speak at functions.
    Of the other news publication mentioned in this editorial, we all know which one it is, and in my opinion, it is a joke. It does nothing good to serve this community. I bet they were not even there at the EDSM meeting, and have not done any research on what was or wasnt in open session, and allowed narvaiz to go on a rant about it.


  7. Our leadership sure is in a hurry to push something through. I bet the subject of taxpayer wealth transfer for the developers comes up again at the next council meeting July 21st.

  8. July 21st council agenda published, Springtown on the agenda again:

    “Presentation from developer regarding redevelopment of Springtown Center; discussion, consideration and possible approval of incentives for redevelopment of Springtown Center and authorize staff to finalize contract negotiations.”

    Should be interesting…

  9. Correct. How could it ever be determined that a good use of city funds would be to enable more low paying jobs to move into a city that needs no more of it.

    You guys hit the nail right on the head with “ needs to incentivize for breadwinner employment that will enable us to capture young talent coming out of Texas State… ”

    Way to go guys and thank you for sharing San Marcos’ interests in your reporting.

  10. Why don’t you just attribute the name of the “paper” like professional journalists are supposed to do?
    And Gregson’s interest about keeping his downtown investments intact are the real motive for this editorial anyway. Yes, the city shouldn’t give money, but incentives will be needed to get some one into that hole of a shopping center.

  11. Why do you people feel you need to “walk on eggshells” when you question an elected official? God forbid we may create “waves”.

    If you ask me, we need to be more aggressively direct in dealing with our officials. Most of them do not do the job they were hired to do for the people.

  12. @David – So let’s see a plan. Let’s see a lot of them. Specific proposals with projected income and expenditures. Let’s ask ourselves why normal banks won’t lend the money. I’m all for putting our tax dollars to work (since we can’t keep them legally) so who has a plan that works? Someone has a plan, no doubt, but these obstructionist maneuvers are making me very suspicious.

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