Metropolis: Wednesday, July 2, 2003
The Price of Politics

Supporters say Lane’s payback landed on a Latin Arts group.


For years, Fort Worth City Council member Jim Lane said he was ready to step aside to make room for a qualified Hispanic to represent his Northside district. But this year, he chose to run again, citing the need for experienced leadership to deal with budget woes and ongoing development projects. Lane handily won the race, but there are rumblings that he’s seeking retribution against those who opposed him, particularly his strongest challenger, Hispanic attorney Sal Espino.

Several sources close to Espino said he was warned by Lane’s campaign workers before the election that there would be a price exacted for opposing the District 2 incumbent and that, since the election, Lane has been using the allocation of block grants through the city’s Community Development Council to reward supporters and punish opponents.

In May, for instance, Lane moved to withhold a $20,250 grant that had been promised to the Latin Arts Association, an organization headed by Espino. The group’s activities center on the Rose Marine Theater in the 1400 block of North Main Street. The move came after the group’s board voted down a change to its bylaws that would have allowed Rose Herrera and Louis Zapata — both key players in Lane’s campaign — to continue serving on its governing board.

While few would speak on the record, the North Side is abuzz with the rumors. “It’s unfortunate and disappointing, but the controversy is all about personalities and politics,” said one area resident. “[Latin Arts’ programs are] important to the Latino community, and those in leadership positions should support each other, not try to sabotage each other. It’s really bad business.”

Lane agreed that he had opposed continued funding for the arts group, but denied the move was retaliation against Espino. “That’s nonsense,” he said from his Northside office. “[Latin Arts] hadn’t used all their money from last year, and they didn’t apply for any funds in December 2002. Sal was so busy running against me that he probably forgot.” Lane denied pressuring Latin Arts to change its bylaws, but said the original decision to fund the group was based on the presence of community leaders like Herrera and Zapata on its board. Since January, he added, the doors at the Rose Marine Theater have been closed. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said. “There should be people there every day.”

Not true, said Espino. “We applied for a community development block grant in January, and the CDC and city staff recommended its approval. We’ve increased our programming over the last two years, and our education and outreach programs [which include workshops in acting, lighting, set design, and stage management] currently serve 40 kids. The Rose Theater is a jewel for the entire city.”

When her term on the Latin Arts board expired in December, Rose Herrera resigned her position as volunteer education/outreach coordinator, halting the group’s theater skills training program for low-income, at-risk youth. The board then undertook a national search that resulted in the hiring of a professional education/outreach coordinator, Yvonne Duque, in May, and an executive director, Kathy Hernandez, in June. “I just want these people to have the opportunity to show what they can do,” Espino said.

In a June 24 report to the council, City Manager Gary Jackson noted that Latin Arts has properly maintained the theater and that the city has given the group 30 days to provide liquor liability insurance as required by its lease, since liquor had been served on the premises. In the wake of Herrera’s departure and the other leadership changes, Jackson wrote, Latin Arts had failed to meet its program goals for the fiscal year ending May 31, completing only 18 of 22 training sessions, two of four theatrical performances by program participants, and none of four workshops required by its block grant contract.

Activity at the theater in the first five months of 2003 was undeniably limited, but the doors were hardly closed. Since February, Latin Arts’ activity calendar has included a play, El Presidente y la Mascara de Oro; a mariachi tribute to Cesar Chavez; and three consecutive weekends of the Ballet Folklorico Azteca. Last weekend, the theater presented a production of El Tacańo, based on Moličre’s The Miser. A Hispanic Playwrights Festival is planned for later this month. “We’ve always felt we were getting a bang for the buck from the number and breadth of activities Latin Arts has presented,” said Flora Maria Garcia, president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, another Latin Arts funding source.

On the other side of the coin, some Northsiders saw Lane’s actions on behalf of a jobs program as a plum delivered to his supporters. The council member overrode a CDC recommendation to slash by 25 percent the funding for Fort Worth SER Jobs for Progress, an organization headed by Lane supporter Andres Mantecon that had experienced pilferage problems and a lawsuit. Lane said the city couldn’t reduce SER’s grant so drastically unless the group’s federal funding was also cut. “[The CDC] didn’t have a clear understanding of the city’s policy,” he said, adding that SER “didn’t support anybody” in the council election.

City block-grant funding for organizations like SER is generally regarded as seed money, and amounts are reduced each year until the organizations are standing on their own. Deidra Emerson, the city’s grants management supervisor, said that, while 10 percent annual cuts for such groups are more typical, a 25 percent cut would have been “within reason” under city policy.

Espino himself obviously isn’t looking to pick any fights with Lane. He acknowledged that Latin Arts’ funding remains on hold pending negotiations with the city to add performance goals — including quantifying days of operation and activities — to the agreement. “I ran not to challenge [Lane], but to give voters a choice,” Espino said. “I want to continue working with him to benefit the North Side.” After all, Lane’s going to retire from the council someday.

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