$100,000 donation was attempt to derail upscale development of Lake Crook, Swint says

Members of the Paris City Council have gotten the message:

Last month’s $100,000 donation from Dr. Richard Swint and his wife, Susan, was NOT the ringing endorsement they thought it was of the city’s plan to turn Lake Crook into an upscale retirement or resort property.

Just the opposite.

Dr. Richard Swint is shown during his talk on Friday to the Paris Rotary Club about his ideas for turning Lake Crook into a nature park that would attract visitors from throughout the state. (eParisExtra photo)

Dr. Richard Swint is shown during his talk on Friday to the Paris Rotary Club about his ideas for turning Lake Crook into a nature park that would attract visitors from throughout the state. (eParisExtra photo)

Swint acknowledged Monday night, during a 20-minute presentation to the council, that his intention was to stop the council’s plan in its tracks.

Four weeks before the Swint donation, the city council had unanimously approved a comprehensive Lake Crook Redevelopment Project representing months of work by city planner Alan Efrussy.

Mayor AJ Hashmi has called renovation of Lake Crook “probably the third biggest project” the city has ever undertaken — behind the bond issue to replace the city’s deteriorating water and sewer lines and extend infrastructure to the airport.

With his $100,000 check, Swint had attached a letter that said the donation comes with the requirement that the City of Paris undertake the restoration of “Lake Crook Park” without hiring any consultants, planners, or architects.

The council apparently didn’t realize Swint opposed the council’s plan to turn the lake into an upscale retirement or resort community until the “Paris Texas Chamber of Commerce” sent out a mass e-mail declaring that that the city was now obligated “forever more” to abide by the Swints’ wishes where Lake Crook is concerned.

“By accepting the Swint’s $100,000, the City of Paris has agreed to the terms contained in their letter to the Council. It is an agreement that the Lake Crook property will never be sold, bartered or given away.”

The “Paris Texas Chamber of Commerce,” headed by Jake Street, a former chamber of commerce director in West Texas, is not to be confused with the larger and more established Lamar County Chamber of Commerce.

“The reality is, now and forever, that Lake Crook has been saved for all the citizens of Paris, by the generosity of Doctor Richard Swint and his wife, Susan,” the January e-mail said.

Mayor AJ Hashmi

Mayor AJ Hashmi

In a memo to council members, Hashmi wrote that the council might want to revisit acceptance of the Swints’ donation.

“Some of us may think that when we refer to Lake Crook Park, we are talking about the actual area where there was the old pier and the band stand. … My understanding now is that it applies to the whole of the lake and the surrounding areas,” the mayor wrote.

During a 20-minute presentation to the council Monday night, Swint said: “I do mean all of it.”

Hashmi said he plans to put the matter of the Swints’ donation back on the agenda for the council to revisit “… so that everyone on the council fully understands the limitations of this donation.”

The mayor said the council might want to reconsider accepting the Swints’ donation because the council’s action “may influence what future councils may or may not be able to do.”

That prompted Street to send out another e-mail on Tuesday.

“And now the mayor and his supporters say they won’t abide by the agreement they made when they accepted the check and the terms for it? Well, duh. That was the purpose of the Swints’ restoration fund check,” Street wrote.

“After the fact, how can those at the city now claim that they did not read the check’s accompanying letter or did not understand it?” Tuesday’s e-mail asked.

An early dream of Hashmi following his election to the council in June 2011 was to secure a major developer committed to redevelopment of Lake Crook.

From left, Mayor AJ Hashmi, city planner Alan Efrussy, city manager John Godwin and city engineer Shawn Napier stand in front of a mock-up of Lake Crook in January 2013. (eParisExtra photo)

At the January 2013 meeting, Hashmi had a mock-up on a table for a people to look at. It showed a hotel in the peninsula that extends out into Lake Crook. There were also both residences and retail establishments with lakeside views.

There was also a bicycle/walking track around the lake, a golf course, and a hunting/fishing area.

In that January 2013 council meeting, the mayor mentioned that he had been approached by someone interested in developing the area around Lake Crook into a hunting and fishing resort.

“Mayor Hashmi, who are your acquaintances that are interested in the park?” Swint asked Monday night.

“Are you questioning me?” the mayor asked.

“Yes,” Swint replied.

“I’m not answering that question,” Hashmi said.

“OK, you can do that,” Swint said.

“It’s your presentation, so please continue,” the mayor said.

(Hashmi said privately after the meeting that it would be counter-productive to divulge the names of individuals or companies who are considering a move to Paris, because it result in competition from other communities.

Swint said after he read the council minutes on adoption of the Lake Crook Development Project, “I talked to some of the council and asked them if they had anything in the plan to sell and/or lease the property, and the understanding was, ‘No, we haven’t voted on anything for selling the property.”

Swint then read from a document titled “The Lake Crook Planned Development District.”

This was the scene in January when council members came down front to receive what they thought was a contribution for rejuvenation of Lake Crook as an upscale retirement or resort development. (eParisExtra photo)

This was the scene in January when council members came down front to receive what they thought was a contribution for rejuvenation of Lake Crook as an upscale retirement or resort development. (eParisExtra photo)

“It says, ‘Paris officials will initiate a marketing program to encourage private and public sector developers to invest and develop in the Lake Crook Planned Development District.’

“At least one council member did not understand that he had passed something for marketing the property, but it had been done. I think we need a council member to make a motion to rescind that order,” Swint said.

He called Lake Crook “a genie in a bottle — a genie that hasn’t been opened up to the public. This genie, if you wake it up, can produce enormous enjoyment for the people who would come here for a natural park. We in Lamar County have something unique here. If you take this park … and make a retirement community, I would point out that all of us who are retired are dying. A retirement community is a dying community.”

Swint added: “Now, given that Mayor Hashmi has recognized this genie, and that some person he knows has recognized the value of Lake Crook Park, I would invite them to come build whatever they want to in some area of Lamar County.

“But I would invite the council members to please consider a public vote, and consider how the value of this park could have to this area when it has been so neglected for all these years.”

 By Charles Richards, eParisExtra


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About the Author

Charles Richards Charles Richards moved to Paris in 2004 after retiring from a 40-year career in journalism – the last 26 years as a news writer and sports writer with The Associated Press in Dallas and Washington, D.C. In mid-2004, The Paris News coaxed him out of retirement, and he began covering the police, court and regional beat for The Paris News. Then in early 2005, he was switched to coverage of a sharply divided Paris City Council. He was appointed by the City Council in 2006 to the 12-member City Charter Review Commission, which extensively rewrote the outmoded document. His writing awards include two first-place awards in statewide competition for feature writing. The most recent was his 2005 story on a Paris doctor’s startling use of leeches in a successful attempt to re-attach a man’s severed ear. Over his career, Richards’ interview subjects include Alabama Gov. George Wallace, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, David Koresh, Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali and numerous other political and sports figures. He is an alumnus of Texas Tech, where he was editor of the school newspaper. He lives in Paris with his wife, Barbara, who is retired after 30 years as a teacher and high school counselor.