Six months ago, Mel Tito wanted to open a second teacher’s supply store. The last thing he thought about doing was asking the city for help.

“Why would I do that?” says Tito, who has owned A Teacher’s Aide store for 12 years, first at Abrams and Skillman and now at Abrams and Mockingbird. “Their policies are so misguided, they’re not going to help me, not going to do a thing for me. I’m never going to get the same breaks that other guy got.”

The other guy, of course, is one of the world’s richest men, Ray Hunt, who is enjoying a $6 million dollar gift from the City Council this holiday season, in the form of property tax abatement for his new downtown headquarters.

The point here is not that Hunt asked for his holiday cheer; in the free market, he can ask for whatever he wants. Rather, as Tito pointed out, it’s that Hunt asked because he knew he would get it. There was no point in Tito asking (he eventually opened the new store in Mesquite) because the only thing he would have gotten, he says, is red tape and paperwork.

The council can defend its Yuletide generosity any way it wants — even claim that it’s a key development in the economic revitalization of downtown and that it saves jobs and boosts the tax base. The only people they’re fooling are themselves.

Economic development is not about lining the pockets of a man whose estimated worth is more than $2 billion, but about bringing jobs and businesses to the neighborhoods, about offering incentives, and not about providing subsidies to people who don’t need it. It’s about businesses such as Mel Tito’s, it’s about the empty storefronts in Lake Highlands, about the dilapidated strip centers in North Dallas, and about neighborhoods like Fair Park, Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff, and West Dallas.

What it will bring, instead, is Ray Hunt’s goodwill. Let’s not kid ourselves here. There were 11 votes in favor of the Hunt deal, and maybe two or three of them make sense politically.

Meanwhile, how could Angela Hunt, the heir to the most pro-neighborhood seat on the council, stretching back through Velletta Lill, Craig McDaniel, Craig Holcomb and Lori Palmer, vote for this thing? That $6 million she agreed to give Hunt is $6 million that won’t be spent on library books, more cops and road repairs.

I checked the 2005-2006 budget, and the city’s office of economic development has been given $2.3 million to “provide services to stimulate economic development and assist the development process.” Or, in other words, about $3.5 million less than Ray Hunt got. No wonder those of us in the neighborhoods sometimes wonder how the city ever functions.

Sadly, this was not a vote about economic development. This was a vote about getting on the right side of a man who might someday contribute to political campaigns and grease business deals, and offer financial support if you’re under FBI investigation.

And even more sadly, I understand the council’s attitude, as wrong-headed as it is. Why not play nice with Ray Hunt if you want to be mayor someday or need to stockpile campaign donations for the day the grand jury indictments come in? And I suppose I even understand why they’re being so hypocritical about the giveaway.

But what baffles me is why they thought none of us would notice. Do they really think we’re that naive?

If so, they’re the only ones.


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