Martinez: Planning a park in the dark

December 11, 2012 

When my wife catches me doing one thing after saying the opposite, I have a well reasoned reply: “That’s different.”

That same rationale must explain the silence from good-government types following the railroad job engineered by Gov. Bev Perdue that resulted in a sweetheart deal for the City of Raleigh to transform the state-owned Dorothea Dix property into a park.

Let’s review. On a Friday afternoon, Perdue announces the 99-year lease deal with Raleigh. The following Monday, some of the area’s business elites announce a $3 million pledge to help pay for the park’s master plan. On Tuesday morning, the Council of State approves the deal on a party-line vote. That afternoon, the Raleigh City Council approves the lease, which few have seen – and it does it in closed session.

The Dix deal has all the elements good-government types decry – last-minute agreements crafted with no public input, million-dollar contributions from the monied elite and elected officials mocking the spirit of transparency by voting behind closed doors. All that’s missing is the smoke-filled back room.

Yet, other than Americans For Prosperity, nary a peep of protest has yet been heard from so-called reformers such as Democracy North Carolina, Common Cause and the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government reform, to name a few.

Apparently the Dix deal is different.

That’s because there would be howls of protest had Gov-Elect Pat McCrory used the same process to seal a deal with the Republican-led Wake County Board of Commissioners to develop Dix into a property that returns real money to the state. Then imagine a $3 million pledge from Art Pope (who helps fund a think tank for which my wife freelances) to defray development costs. Do you really think these groups – and others – would stay quiet?

So what’s the difference? Could it be the backers of the Dix deal are Democrats? Could it be that a park favored by Wake County’s progressive glitterati is above reproach?

I don’t know, but these and other questions deserved – at minimum – a public hearing to shine light on the lease and the development. Senate President Phil Berger vows to examine whether this deal can be reversed legislatively. Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the City Council should save him the trouble by revoking the lease and crafting a new proposal in public.

Or ... the mayor could redefine park to really mean sports arena and move full speed ahead to replace the aging PNC Arena. After all, the public good that accrues from a sports arena is so overwhelming, public scrutiny and transparency would only delay tip off.

Sports arenas, you see, are different.

Now that the two have left the building, let me tell you what I really think about Steve Ford, former editor of this section, and Allen Torrey, former opinion page editor.

Over the years, there have been attempts to have me thrown off this page. Each time, Steve Ford stood by me, but not from a blind “my guy, right or wrong” perspective. Steve listened to the concerns of those who complained, and, at times, I had to answer their concerns. I never had a problem with that because I was confident both my detractors and I were heard and treated fairly. Steve always placed fairness above expediency, and for that I will always be grateful.

If newspapers had the equivalent of hazardous duty pay, Allen Torrey would have qualified. He was the person stuck with editing my copy. That was not an easy task in the early days, and Allen was always there with a helpful hint, such as the time he told me “try using English.” It worked.

More importantly, Allen was never shy about challenging the intellectual points in my work, and, in nearly every case, those challenges resulted in better written pieces with stronger arguments.

I am indebted personally and professionally to Steve and Allen and will repay that debt with mandatory contributions to their Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Enjoy your retirement, gentlemen.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and

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