As the Crow Flies Off the Handle

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It's been a week since Mitchell Rasansky was fitted for a muzzle. Turns out, though, he's not the only one unhappy with his being shut out from the discussions surrounding the proposed convention center hotel. Enter Anne Raymond, who has worked for the Crow family (owners of the Hilton Anatole Hotel) for more than 20 years and is in charge of Crow Holdings' hotel investments. She was at last Monday’s meeting, watching the drama unfold as Rasansky was escorted out by someone wearing a black cloak and carrying a scythe.

“We were very surprised to learn that the application of some city rule would exclude a councilman from this important debate,” Raymond tells Unfair Park. “We are investigating further.” This means Crow Holdings will be combing through other council members’ stock portfolios to see if anyone else should be muted. Which isn't a surprise: Bossman Harlan Crow's already told Tom Leppert, twice, to back off.

Rasansky’s ownership of Citigroup stock was what got him the boot, and the company was mentioned in last week’s blog as one of six underwriters for the land purchase -- the likely destination for a potential hotel. However, it turns out the council vote on March 26 approved underwriters “for a possible convention center hotel.” Silly us, we assumed the underwriters were tied to the scheduled April 23 vote on the certificates of obligation to buy the land, since no one knows how much a potential hotel will cost.

Raymond points out that Rasansky’s ownership of Citigroup shares is not uncommon and is probably the case for any individual that owns any part of a U.S. value stock fund. And she says since the potential hotel has no operator, no developer, no capital structure and hasn’t been priced with a contractor, then it “just doesn’t seem right” to exclude Rasansky from the debate.

“If the application of the rule is accurate, which is hard to believe, the appropriate thing would be to delay hiring the investment banker until all of the questions have been answered -- which is how it would happen in the private sector,” Raymond says. “You can't answer how you are going to finance a project until you know all of the specifics about the project.”

Angela Hunt, now left as the only vocal critic of a convention center hotel on the council, agrees that Rasansky should be recused when voting on which company handles the financial transactions, but she disagrees with the conclusion that he is conflicted regarding any issues associated with the convention center hotel just because he owns Citigroup stock. “I think that’s an overreaction and incorrect conclusion to be drawn,” she tells Unfair Park.

Hunt says Rasansky’s removal from this debate is disappointing, and it’s crippling for her because she no longer can bounce ideas off Rasansky, who can better analyze the data because of his experience in real estate. Hunt adds that the process is totally backward, with the council approving underwriters on debt for a potential hotel before the council has even voted on whether or not to build a convention center hotel.

A concerned District 13 resident e-mailed me, saying the district is “really getting the shaft.” The e-mailer asked who would now represent the thousands of residents in Rasansky’s district, and then answered the question. “This recusal leaves District 13 with only its at-large representative: the mayor.”

Those in Rasansky’s district are getting screwed on this issue, but his removal is more far reaching. Essentially, the entire city is losing out because the council’s senior member and fiscal watchdog has been wiped out of a debate that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Don’t worry, though. Mayor Tom will gladly pick up the slack. --Sam Merten

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