Kiefaber to Bill Henry: Open Letter Regarding Senator Theatre Auction

UPDATE #3 (July 7, 10:17pm)

Councilman Henry responded in writing, via email to Mr. Kiefaber’s “Open Letter”.
Last evening he requested use of The Senator email listserv to do so. Does a written response underscore the point of the marquee message ( the councilman refuses to meet with theatre supporters face-to-face to discuss the issue)?
Now, Mr. Kiefaber has formed a rebuttal to the councilman’s response (scroll past the councilman’s blue text to read).

Please read all carefully before drawing your own conclusions!

Everyone is invited to comment.
, general name-calling and unfounded accusations will not be allowed to appear.

Keep in mind, this is ultimately about what will become of our beloved Senator Theatre.

Stay tuned for any further developments…

* * *

Sent out Monday evening via The SENATOR’s email listserv:

* * *

An open letter to 4th district
councilman, Bill Henry

July 6, 2009

Dear Councilman Henry:

I was hoping that your call today was for the purpose of discussing the alarming upcoming city auction of The Senator Theatre and the BDC’s misguided Russian roulette approach to the theatre’s uncertain

While I understand your concern over the marquee message currently displayed at The Senator, our assertion that you have declined to date to address the murky situation in an open and transparent manner is the truth. If it hurts to see the truth displayed on The Senator’s marquee, then do something about it beyond simply ordering it to be removed.

Your stance of avoidance in refusing to agree to meet at The Senator with your constituents and other concerned citizens is unacceptable. Running out the clock and ducking the issue at this juncture is a dangerous and irresponsible course of action. It’s not how you represented yourself to the community to obtain office.

We sincerely feel that your representation of your constituents regarding The Senator Theatre and its uncertain future has been abysmal to date. Aligning with the BDC and The Mayor’s Office and overtly shilling for their potentially disastrous, disingenuous approach, rather than responding to community and constituent concerns over this matter, does not reflect your avowed platform and values when you requested our support.

In response to your specific request, The Senator’s marquee once prominently displayed “ELECT BILL HENRY”, in the largest font possible. We agreed to display that message to all concerned in good faith, based on your words and promises to the voters and to us. Your subsequent actions however, have proven otherwise. What counts with us is your actions and not your words, and as a result we have come to regret our past support of your candidacy.

Ducking the last pivotal town hall meeting over The Senator Theatre crisis called by Senator Joan Conway, while choosing to take calls from the town meeting perched on a barstool at Zen West, did not go unnoticed. Neither did your celebration with the Mayor’s office insiders and BDC representatives at Zen West immediately following the town meeting you were too busy to attend.

I note this behavior because from our perspective it’s indicative of the cavalier manner that you have been conducting yourself throughout this crisis regarding The Senator Theatre and its perilous future.

Enough is enough.

As a result, we will not acquiesce to your demands to remove the critical message on our marquee, which from our perspective reflects a growing understanding of your allegiance to others and not to the community. It tells it like it is.

It is also unfortunate that you still refuse to meet with the community at The Senator Theatre, despite our standing offer to schedule a timely gathering with your constituents, based around your busy schedule.

Please also note that our refusal to remove the message displaying your name from our marquee does not justify hanging up abruptly. It’s counter productive to an expeditious resolution of the critical issues at hand.

Emotions aside, we look forward to working with you and representatives from the city to explore timely alternatives to the city’s auction, alternatives that will avert the unacceptable risks the auction represents. Your leadership is sorely needed to help fulfill the mandate formed in the past two years among our extended North Baltimore communities to insure that The Senator makes the critical transition to not-for-profit ownership.

Not-for-profit ownership of The Senator is the community’s mandate that has been achieved in scores of other communities nationwide to preserve, protect and enhance the uses of their beloved historic theatres. It’s a mandate that can and should take place at The Senator Theatre.

The “cliffhanger” situation at The Senator Theatre can still have a happy ending, and we encourage you to meet with the community and recognize the wisdom of this approach before it’s too late.

Tom Kiefaber

* * *

RESPONSE by Councilman Bill Henry
“An Open Letter Back to Tom”

Tom –

I was unable to attend Sen. Conway’s meeting due to a prior commitment; perhaps if I’d received more than a few days notice, I could have adjusted my schedule, but that is water under the bridge. I tried to get there in time, but it was ending as I arrived, so I joined several of the attendees at Zen West so that they could brief me on what happened while it was still fresh in their minds. I did, as you know, attend several prior “town hall” meetings at the Senator, last year and earlier this year.

Also, I attended last month’s York Road Partnership general meeting – as did Tom Kiefaber – where this issue was discussed at length among as many if not more members of “the community” as there are on this distribution list. The YRP, by the way, represents far more members of “the community” than have attended all of the town hall meetings combined.

Furthermore, I have returned all phone calls and emails by members of “the community” who had questions or concerns about the situation or my position on it, not to mention discussing the situation at numerous individual communitu association meetings and with numerous individuals at various and sundry times of the day and night, week and weekend.

In short, Tom, any assertion that I have not met with “the community” is an insult…not to me, but to all of the people I have met with, who for their own reasons were not at one particular meeting called by our state senator. Just because they aren’t members of the Senator Community Trust, doesn’t mean they aren’t the community.

I am in the process of summarizing the various in-person presentations I have made and the coversations that I have had explaining why I believe the upcoming foreclosure auction is not to be feared; I will be happy to circulate it as widely as you can help me do so. I will be happy to call my own town hall meeting to discuss next steps after the auction is concluded.

Tom, you know that I have never shied away from answering questions. If you or anyone else on this list has questions, I am happy to answer them, fully and candidly. If that is what you wish, I will be happy to provide them. If what you wish is a media event that cuts into the time I have to meet with other associations and deal with other community issues and problems, that’ll have to wait a couple weeks…


– Bill

– Sent from my mobile device, which has no spelling or grammar check capability –

* * *

An open letter to 4th district
councilman, Bill Henry

July 7, 2009

Dear Councilman Henry:

I received your response to my July 5th open letter, and your request for unfettered access to our entire email list serve in order to respond.

The blunt answer to your inquiry is no.

As my earlier letter stated, there are increasing concerns emerging among your constituents and the city and county communities surrounding the theatre and Belvedere Square over the upcoming public auction of The Senator on 7/22, and its aftermath.

The message “BILL HENRY WON’T MEET WITH THE COMMUNITY ABOUT THE AUCTION” on the front of the Senator’s marquee was pointedly displayed to alert the public of your ongoing refusal to agree to meet at The Senator with the community and explain what’s taking place. The Senator’s marquee also expresses a related community sentiment that reads: “THE CITY’S AUCTION OF THE SENATOR IS RUSSIAN ROULETTE OR A RIGGED SHAM”.

The historic theatre’s marquee is one of the few active channels with the public we have left as The Senator is headed to a little known, barely understood and potentially disastrous city public auction in two weeks time. It’s an alarming situation that has apparently sent you and your associates to ground and it appears that you’re simply dodging the crucial issues and running out the clock, while demanding that the critical marquee message be removed immediately.

Beyond the marquee, The Senator’s extensive e-mail list serve is our most effective method to disseminate information and communicate laterally to a large recipient base nationwide. You and your colleagues at the city and the BDC are not hindered in this way and you have readily utilized the local media in ways that have served to undermine my credibility and confuse the public, but have unfortunately not defused a needlessly explosive situation at The Senator Theatre.

As our sole 4th district City Council representative and our self-appointed single community representative that participated in the private Senator Theatre steering committee discussions and deliberations, you’ve represented the city’s position in this matter. Until recently when conflicts of interest and inconsistencies became apparent, you cheerfully assured the public through regular media appearances that the city’s upcoming auction of The Senator was a well though out and necessary step on the way to save Baltimore’s irreplaceable landmark theatre.

Until just a few weeks ago you were the city’s high-profile point person representing the position of the BDC and the mayor’s office and making effective use of the media to calm and reassure the public that the rapidly upcoming public auction was a necessity and that good things would result for the community.

You’ve been an enthusiastic advocate through the media and in public and private meetings across North Baltimore for the city’s position regarding a Byzantine plan concocted by Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank and the BDC. The mantra repeated to the media and the community was that the outcome of the city’s public auction was under control. You regularly assured all concerned that the city was going to soon own the theatre and you and the city will control the process of choosing the new owner or tenant to fulfill your personal commitment and your desire to “save The Senator” on behalf o the community.

In your talking points throughout this period, your mentions of the problematic and pivotal public auction were all minimized or skipped. As a result, the public’s perception is that The Senator is already owned by the city and that select members of the community will determine what to do with it. In that context, you have also gone as far as to publicly reference Buzz Cusack’s avowed interest in owning the theatre, perhaps with a BDC encouraged purchase of the iconic landmark Senator Theatre and it adjacent cafe space, subsidized by the city and the seizure of my residential Orkney Road property.

You were also one of the key Steering Committee members identified to the community, who endorsed the report’s misguided assessment that no one will outbid the city’s 950K position at public auction. The related conclusion by the committee is that therefore The Senator Theatre cannot become a non-profit facility, because it would require ongoing subsidy by the city. yet you are also well aware that the local consultants you steered our way in 2008 determined along with the community that historic facilities with the attributes of the renowned Senator Theatre are readily capable of achieving sustained funding without requiring the city to continue to foot the bill once the theatre achieves non-profit ownership status.

There are alarming contradictory factors and conflicting agendas inherent in the overall situation that need to be faced head-on and clarified now before the upcoming auction takes place. In this light, we feel strongly that you have a compelling and immediate need to demonstrate your political leadership and we again call for you to meet at The Senator and respond to a variety of concerns raised at an open and transparent public meeting. To continue to dissemble and decline the request in the face of what is unfolding is grossly irresponsible.

After 70 years of community-based family ownership, the crucial determination of what The Senator will become has been effectively taken from my family’s guidance and the community’s mandate for it’s future. It’s probably headed out from under the city’s control as well, in a risky game with potentially dire downside consequences for all concerned. This is unacceptable.

It’s apparent behind-the-scenes that the city’s murky, convoluted plan to utilize an extremely risky public auction process to eliminate the states lien and acquire ownership of The Senator on the cheap has too many unethical goals. It has now jumped the tracks and is headed to the cliffs at high speed. After the auction, if it takes place, the result will in all probability be sadly headed through the courts, in a drawn out, slow motion process.

Under these circumstances, rather than posture and seek access to our list serve to possibly obfuscate the situation and delay the public’s recognition of what may occur and what’s at stake, we implore you drop the artifice and agree to meet as soon as possible at The Senator with the public.

You frankly appear to be hiding from your constituents and a confused general public regarding what they need and deserve to know immediately before the final gavel comes down at The Senator. It’s currently a bungled and mercurial situation, Councilman Henry, and the city’s miscalculated efforts to control the outcome have backfired, and now things are spinning out of control. This is not the time to run for high ground in your district.

Weeks ago you completed a mission to lull the public into complacency with what are turning out to be inaccurate and false assumptions. It’s now an 11th hour turning point in The Senator’s rich history, and you will hopefully rise the occasion and demonstrate your leadership by responding to concerns and providing straightforward reckoning of what’s at stake, and where you stand. In Andy Frank’s absence, Mayor Dixon needs to address these issues as well while timely opportunities remain to avert a disaster.

You have not supported the extended community’s enlightened mandate for The Senator Theatre, in collaboration with non-profit historic theatre professionals and the city and state economic development representatives, to transition to not for profit ownership as so many other cities and communities have done successfully with their historic theatres nationwide. That’s what you and The Mayor’s constituents and The Senator Theatre deserve, not the rapidly approaching circus spectacle of an already tainted and risky public auction.

Tom Kiefaber
The Senator Theatre


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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh please, Bill. Yes, Bill Henry has answered every phone call or email I’ve sent him on this issue, and his answers have also been so uninformative, disingenuous and so prone to skating around issues that I’ve given up contacting him, knowing that I’ll only get more BS.

    Just last week, I had to contact him because I wanted him to go on Tom Marr’s show, where he had been invited to discuss the issue with Tom Kiefaber. Bill refused to go on the show, although his excuse sounded quite reasonable, but in my email I asked a question I wanted the answer to, and he didn’t even answer the question in email, much less on the show.

    And back in February, I had a private meeting with Bill where he fed me such a load of garbage in terms of character assassination of Tom Kiefaber that I’ve been on Tom’s side in this ever since.

  2. By the way, did you happen to notice that Bill apparently left Tom K off the distribution list of his response? I forwarded to Tom K, but although Bill was theoretically “responding to” Tom, he didn’t actually send it to him, as far as I could tell.

  3. I’ve attended every public meeting at the theatre since the town hall meeting in December.

    I only recall the councilman actually attending ONE. March 16, held by the SCT.

    At the Press Conference of January 22, I observed him in the concession area BEFORE the event, yet could not locate him during said event. Did he leave?

    I find it odd that a city official, invited to a meeting called by a State Senator states that he can’t adjust his schedule with only “a few days notice”? What was so important that it could not be rescheduled? An audience with the governor?

    While the councilman states that the York Road Partnership (YRP) represents more people than have attended all of The Senator meetings combined, I challenge him to produce records to verify it.

    The YRP may state they represent a large number of individuals in the area, I hear that the number that actually *participate* & on the YRP email distribution is actually quite small given the area (100, maybe?).

    Like I said, I’ve been to the meetings – there have been far more than 100 show.

    Beyond that YRP only represents a portion of your constituents.
    Are you playing favorites? I’ve learned that your response email ‘An Open Letter Back to Tom’ was not sent to the Belvedere Improvement Association, Govanstowne Business Association nor the Homewood Community… Why is that?

  4. I remember him leaving the January 22nd press conference. I’m pretty sure I remember him asking an associate to update him on what happened and then leaving at the beginning of the meeting.

    I’ve now been to 2 YRP meetings, and there were no more than 20 people at either one of them (and both of those times, 2 of the people were me and Tom Kiefaber). I’m also being generous when I say 20 people. More like 10 or 15. The YRP may have a lot of people on their email list, who may or may not agree with the Bill Henry party line that’s usually disseminated through that list, but if we’re comparing email list sizes, if I remember correctly, I think The Senator’s email list is in the tens of thousands. If the YRP “represents” all the people on their email list, does The Senator “represent” the tens of thousands of people on THEIR email list?

    And yes, I find it odd too that a public official can’t come to an imporant public meeting about a key issue in his district with only a “few days notice,” but is seen right after the meeting a block away. Bill also gave what sounded like 2 different excuses for not making the meeting to 2 different people I know.

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