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

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Open Letter to Bill Henry #2

After a heated email exchange today in which Bill Henry asked Tom Kiefaber for access to The Senator's listserv for a response, which he wanted Tom to agree to before even seeing the response, Tom just sent out another open letter to Bill through The Senator's listserv. I'll make no bones about it. I agree with Tom.

July 7, 2009

Dear Councilman Henry:

I received your response to my July 5th open letter, and your request for unfettered access to our entire email list serve in order to respond.

The blunt answer to your inquiry is no.

As my earlier letter stated, there are increasing concerns emerging among your constituents and the city and county communities surrounding the theatre and Belvedere Square over the upcoming public auction of The Senator on 7/22, and its aftermath.

The message "BILL HENRY WON'T MEET WITH THE COMMUNITY ABOUT THE AUCTION" on the front of the Senator's marquee was pointedly displayed to alert the public of your ongoing refusal to agree to meet at The Senator with the community and discuss what's taking place. The Senator's marquee also expresses a related community sentiment that reads: "THE CITY'S AUCTION OF THE SENATOR IS RUSSIAN ROULETTE OR A RIGGED SHAM".

The historic theatre's marquee is one of the few active channels with the public we have left as The Senator is headed to a little known, barely understood and potentially disastrous city public auction in two weeks time. It's an alarming situation that has apparently sent you and your associates to ground and it appears that you're simply dodging the crucial issues and running out the clock, while demanding that the critical marquee message be removed immediately.

Beyond the marquee, The Senator's extensive e-mail list serve is our most effective method to disseminate information and communicate laterally to a large recipient base nationwide. You and your colleagues at the city and the BDC are not hindered in this way and you have readily utilized the local media in ways that have served to undermine my credibility and confuse the public, but have unfortunately not defused a needlessly explosive situation at The Senator Theatre.

As our sole 4th district City Council representative and our self-appointed single community representative that participated in the private Senator Theatre steering committee discussions and deliberations, you've represented the city's position in this matter. Until recently when conflicts of interest and inconsistencies became apparent, you cheerfully assured the public through regular media appearances that the city's upcoming auction of The Senator was a well though out and necessary step on the way to save Baltimore's irreplaceable landmark theatre.

Until just a few weeks ago you were the city's high-profile point person representing the position of the BDC and the mayor's office and making effective use of the media to calm and reassure the public that the rapidly upcoming public auction was a necessity and that good things would result for the community.

You've been an enthusiastic advocate through the media and in public and private meetings across North Baltimore for the city's position regarding a Byzantine plan concocted by Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank and the BDC. The mantra repeated to the media and the community was that the outcome of the city's public auction was under control. You regularly assured all concerned that the city was going to soon own the theatre and you and the city will control the process of choosing the new owner or tenant to fulfill your personal commitment and your desire to "save The Senator" on behalf of the community.

In your talking points throughout this period, your mentions of the problematic and pivotal public auction were all minimized or skipped. As a result, the public's perception is that The Senator is already owned by the city and that select members of the community will determine what to do with it. In that context, you have also gone as far as to publicly reference Buzz Cusack's avowed interest in owning the theatre, perhaps with a BDC encouraged purchase of the iconic landmark Senator Theatre and it adjacent cafe space, subsidized by the city and the seizure of my residential Orkney Road property.

You were also one of the key Steering Committee members identified to the community, who endorsed the report's misguided assessment that no one will outbid the city's 950K position at public auction. The related conclusion by the committee is that therefore The Senator Theatre cannot become a non-profit facility, because it would require ongoing subsidy by the city, yet you are also well aware that the local consultants you steered our way in 2008 determined along with the community that historic facilities with the attributes of the renowned Senator Theatre are readily capable of achieving sustained funding without requiring the city to continue to foot the bill once the theatre achieves non-profit ownership status.

There are alarming contradictory factors and conflicting agendas inherent in the overall situation that need to be faced head-on and clarified now before the upcoming auction takes place. In this light, we feel strongly that you have a compelling and immediate need to demonstrate your political leadership and we again call for you to meet at The Senator and respond to a variety of concerns raised at an open and transparent public meeting. To continue to dissemble and decline the request in the face of what is unfolding is grossly irresponsible.

After 70 years of community-based family ownership, the crucial determination of what The Senator will become has been effectively taken from my family's guidance and the community's mandate for its future. It's probably headed out from under the city's control as well, in a risky game with potentially dire downside consequences for all concerned. This is unacceptable.

It's apparent behind-the-scenes that the city's murky, convoluted plan to utilize an extremely risky public auction process to eliminate the state's lien and acquire ownership of The Senator on the cheap has too many unethical goals. It has now jumped the tracks and is headed to the cliffs at high speed. After the auction, if it takes place, the result will in all probability be sadly headed through the courts, in a drawn out, slow motion process.

Under these circumstances, rather than posture and seek access to our list serve to possibly obfuscate the situation and delay the public's recognition of what may occur and what's at stake, we implore you drop the artifice and agree to meet as soon as possible at The Senator with the public.

You frankly appear to be hiding from your constituents and a confused general public regarding what they need and deserve to know immediately before the final gavel comes down at The Senator. It's currently a bungled and mercurial situation, Councilman Henry, and the city's miscalculated efforts to control the outcome have backfired, and now things are spinning out of control. This is not the time to run for high ground in your district.

Weeks ago you completed a mission to lull the public into complacency with what are turning out to be inaccurate and false assumptions. It's now an 11th hour turning point in The Senator's rich history, and you will hopefully rise the occasion and demonstrate your leadership by responding to concerns and providing straightforward reckoning of what's at stake, and where you stand. In Andy Frank's absence, Mayor Dixon needs to address these issues as well while timely opportunities remain to avert a disaster.

You have not supported the extended community's enlightened mandate for The Senator Theatre, in collaboration with non-profit historic theatre professionals and the city and state economic development representatives, to transition to not for profit ownership as so many other cities and communities have done successfully with their historic theatres nationwide. That's what you and The Mayor's constituents and The Senator Theatre deserve, not the rapidly approaching circus spectacle of an already tainted and risky public auction.


Tom Kiefaber
The Senator Theatre

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