Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

CHAP Commission Ignores Concerns - Passes Controversial Interior Controls on Senator Theatre

Well, yesterday's CHAP hearing went pretty much as expected. Rumor had it that the CHAP commission had already decided the outcome before the public hearing. Although they denied that when pointedly asked the question by Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, their lack of consideration of the objections raised by Kiefaber and members of the public, including myself, and their hasty movement toward unanimous passage of the controversial measures certainly indicated the fix had been in before the meeting even started.

I got audio of the whole sad, sorry affair, and video of some of it. Those with strong stomachs may want to listen to this.

The entire portion of the meeting on The Senator took nearly two hours. I chose not to show the staff presentation by CHAP, which was a summary of the legislation, in the videos. The actual legislation is just a sideshow to the real issue at this point.

I figure anyone who really wants to know the details of the legislation can go to the CHAP web site. The actual legislation might not be a problem if it were currently needed, and if it weren't for the inauspicious timing, which has scared off private investors and had serious detrimental consequences.

The videos therefore focus on the objections to the legislation by Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber, testimony by members of the public, and the CHAP board's hasty passage of the measures anyway. They are a study in government indifference and the exercise of royal power by the elite.

Part 1: Board members are introduced. Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber begins his testimony agreeing in principle with the aim of preserving The Senator's interior, but objecting to the legislation for its negative consequences.

Part 2: Kiefaber gets further into his testimony, detailing how a pattern of CHAP actions with "inauspicious" timing has derailed multiple rounds of negotiations with potential private investors in The Senator. Bob Embry catches up on his sleep.

Part 3: Kiefaber wraps up his testimony and requests that the legislation be withdrawn so that it will not interfere with the upcoming foreclosure auction on The Senator and not impede the search for a buyer who will have the resources to run The Senator without leaving the financial burden on taxpayers.

Part 4: Kiefaber asks the CHAP board whether or not it is true that the outcome of the meeting was already decided before the meeting started. CHAP Chair Tyler Gearhart denies this, but as the meeting progresses and the CHAP board ignores objections by Kiefaber and others, it becomes more and more clear that the outcome actually was already decided.

In this section also, public comment begins and Gayle Grove, long-time Senator employee, gives her testimony. My camera battery ran out, so I will report that Gayle was suitably attired in camo pants and a t-shirt that read "Do Not Star With Me You Will Not Win."

Part 5: Public comment continues. I give my testimony, where I object to the CHAP board taking actions that have scared off potential buyers and scuttled private sector solutions, which has necessitated the city to spend almost $1 million in a recession when the city's budget is seriously strained. Although I don't object to the city spending money on preserving this wonderful theatre, I do object to the timing of these actions, which appears manipulative and suspicious. (Gayle and I had coordinated our outfits, and although you can't see it, I had borrowed the "They're Lying" t-shirt from Han Solo.)

I also point out Bob Embry's conflict of interest (yes, he's Mr. X!). Embry has been involved in The Senator's finances in the past, including a previous Abell Foundation foreclosure attempt in his role as President of the Abell Foundation, and he also has a long-standing personal connection to a prominent developer who has publicly expressed interest in owning and/or operating The Senator.

Tom Harris also gives his testimony, asking several pertinent questions about why the CHAP board is proceeding with these measures at this time.

Part 6: Johns Hopkins of Baltimore Heritage is the only member of the public to speak in favor of the CHAP measures. It is pretty clear his organization has not considered the timing or other suspicious factors, but only the need to protect The Senator's interior. Hopkins speaks of The Senator as a kind of museum, and Tom Kiefaber speaks up to point out that it is absolutely not a museum, but a living, evolving entity in an ever-changing industry.

Part 7: The CHAP board ignores most of the objections raised and continues with discussion of the finer points of the legislation that they clearly intend to pass.

Part 8: The CHAP board proceeds to a vote. Tom Kiefaber objects one last time on procedural grounds: the neighborhood associations for the surrounding neighborhoods were not notified, in violation of CHAP's own procedural guidelines.

The vote goes forward anyway. Bob Embry abstains due to the criticism of his conflict of interest, but only after making sure the measures were passing unanimously, and reportedly after being the driving force behind the whole thing up to this point.

There is apparently an appeal process, and the city council still would have to approve this before it becomes law. Another disappointing day in the petty politics of Smalltimore.

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