What the sweet hell is going on in Irving? And when will people start holding its mayor responsible?
Granted, I make fun of suburbs like Irving and Arlington a lot in this space. That’s because it’s fun (especially Arlington because, c’mon, it’s freaking Arlington). But I lived in Irving the first five years or so of my time in DFW, and I have an affinity for it.
I also like some of the business leaders there, people with whom I’ve worked and tippled. After having conversations with them the past few days, I’m becoming more shocked that no one is calling out the city’s mayor for the way she seems to be letting her personal vendettas cripple Irving.
I know you probably have no idea what’s been going on, so let me give you some background, as pared down as possible: There was an election two years ago in which former councilwoman Beth Van Duyne beat the longtime mayor. She promised to end development deals she didn’t like, including this one for a $250 million multiuse entertainment complex that sparked allegations of overcharging the city.
This led the developer, Billy Bob Barnett, to back the former mayor’s campaign to the tune of a half-million dollars. Which is perfectly legal, but folks like the Dallas Morning News got their panties in a wad over, you know, so much legality. They backed Van Duyne, and she won the election.
Almost two years later, here’s where Irving is: Van Duyne got the city out of the deal with Barnett, which is fine except that everyone in town believes the complex is necessary to kick-start development, and it now sits in limbo. The city is being sued by Barnett’s group and has a pretty good legal case that, minus argued overcharges, it’s owed nearly $40 million for the work it did. Meanwhile, the mayor already is complaining about a new developer who has agreed to make Barnett’s group whole and take over the project.
Oh, yeah: She also got her ass handed to her in public when Dallas recently stole the Byron Nelson tournament, and now the Dallas Cowboys are looking at moving from Valley Ranch to another city (probably Arlington — of course).
But according to folks in the city, she's doubling down on her aversion to striking a deal that can put the lawsuit behind her and get the complex development moving again. “This [lawsuit resolution] is clearly personal to her,” a lifelong Irving businessman told me from his Las Colinas office this week. “We all think the complex is a good idea, it will help the city, and Irving is really suffering right now. But she can’t get past her personal hatred.”
Look, maybe she’s right. Maybe everyone against her is evil. Maybe the longtime, respected Irving city manager is set to leave not because Van Duyne is being unreasonable, but because he would just rather live in Nowhere, Florida, and make a lot less money. Maybe the Irving ISD chief is participating in online interviews to move somewhere else because he can’t handle’s Van Duyne’s awesome vision for the city. (Avi Selk does a great job covering what he suggests is "a reality show" in Irving on the paper's blog.)
But I think a mayor committed to doing what is right would be looking for an equitable solution, because you can’t naysay your way to prosperity. Will it be tough to find an answer to which all parties agree? Will she have to swallow some pride? Of course! It’s a freaking tough job! But that’s what leaders do.
All I know is, if this were happening in Dallas, the paper that endorsed the mayor would be asking some tough questions right now. Like, what in the sweet hell is going on in Irving?
Steve Blow asks the same question, but he’s talking about DISD. I’ll have some thoughts on this tomorrow.
We call this the “Strip-club DJ at 1:55 am model.”