On the Stratus Party Line

The bitter municipal aftertaste of the Stratus Properties deal may linger for some time, if the angry rebound calls to "Naked City" are any barometer. During and since the negotiations, several tipsters have rung our bell with "Seen About Town" stories -- complaining that instead of hard-bargaining for the citizens, the city attorneys, staff, and even council members had become entirely too cozy with Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong, attorney Steve Drenner, and other insiders. The reported soirée sightings have ranged from the Magnolia Cafe to Jeffrey's -- the latter most recently on Monday, Aug. 12, when Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and husband Jack were spotted huddling congenially with a few assembled Stratusites.

The next night, the happening place was Sullivan's, where a private party of a couple dozen folks at the Ringside room's curved bar at least briefly included Armstrong, the Goodmans, and City Manager Toby Futrell. Commented one onlooker: "I don't know who paid for the party, but it was unseemly, to say the least. To me it seemed like they were helping Stratus celebrate its victory."

Jackie Goodman did not return our call for comment, but Futrell responded that the gathering -- at which she stopped briefly between other engagements -- was "nothing about celebration." "I even hesitated dropping by," she said, "because I knew this was going to be an issue." She described the evening as including about 30 people -- from Stratus, the neighborhood groups, environmentalists ("all the stakeholders") -- simply marking the end of a long and difficult project and "thanking each other for all the hard work." Asked who sponsored or organized the event, Futrell said everyone paid his or her own way, and "I'm not sure I'd put a label on whose event it was."

Futrell said the Stratus project involved more hard work -- and more public and private tension -- than any she has worked on at the city, including the "very difficult" 1998 annexations. "This one felt different," she said. "It was more emotional and more tense. I know everyone doesn't agree with me, but to me it felt more bitter and more hollow. It was the first time I'd felt that I could [try to] share information and couldn't even be heard."

Futrell said she had underestimated the amount of "work, struggle, and pain" it would take to achieve consensus on the Stratus project, and that she's saddened by "even the perception that there is something beyond a business relationship" between city staff and Stratus. "We fought hard for the city, but we tried to maintain sound relationships on both sides of the table. It was a working relationship," she emphasized, "not 'cozy.'" And there had been so much work, by so many people over such a long time, she said, that the Sullivan's gathering was only "a lot of people saying thank you to one another."

That's our report from ringside.

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