The “nonprofit halfway house company” Dismas Charities Inc.’s purchase of a $92,000 luxury suite at the nearly complete KFC Yum! Center is one thing. The fact that Dismas’ CEO, Ray Weis, won’t apologize for the egregious purchase is another thing. Hell, even Dismas’ history of “misspeaking” about the fact that inmates in their program sleep with Metro Government employees is quite another thing entirely, indeed.
But in our rush to pile on Weis, could we be missing a larger point?
From the horse’s mouth, via The Courier-Journal:
“I am not going to apologize for it,” Weis told reporters at a news conference outside the company’s St. Ann’s campus on Algonquin Parkway.
Reading from a prepared statement, Dismas board chairman James Simon said the leases were funded with “invested dollars saved over 26 years from sound operational practices and the purchase and sales of properties.”
Weis said they also might be used by members of its board of director, “who don’t get a dime,” but not by residents of Dismas’ five halfway houses in Louisville. “We are not allowed to have that kind of relationship with them.’
He said Dismas spent additional money to decorate its suites at the football stadium. “We tried to make it very comfortable,” he said, “to reflect who we are.”
In a news release, Dismas said stories in the newspaper had misrepresented the salaries of Dismas officials, but Weis acknowledged that his total compensation — and that of its second-highest paid employee, executive vice president Jan Kempf, who was paid $452,047 in salary, bonuses and benefits in 2008, were reported accurately.
It’s odd that Kentucky State Auditor Crit Luallen has been asked by Weis & Co. to review the investments that led to the lease (not to mention the lease itself) when no one asked her to audit the fleecing of $238 million in public finances that are used to build the Yum! Center in the first place. To be outraged that a nonprofit executive-type will essentially act like a for-profit-type and use public money to privately entertain members of the business community (and to a lesser extent staff members and volunteers) is a perfect example of what the Yum! Center is all about: Publicly subsidizing the rich’s pursuit of pleasure under the guise of “economic development.”
Or, as my high school economics teacher used to say:
The art of ripping someone off is making them think you’re doing them a favor.
Following this vein, it’s also odd that no one has taken umbrage with the fact that innumerable private titans of industry and commerce snatched up the luxury suites like Red Bull-jacked WalMart customers on Black Friday. And why shouldn’t they? Because the word “non” doesn’t proceed the word “profit” relative to their respective roles at their respective mega-companies?
Let’s not be so naive. Spending tens of thousands of dollars on box seats is what these people do, and Allah forbid we suggest capping executive pay during a recession that has seen corporate profits rise to their pre-2008 crash levels even as the number of homeless children in Jefferson County has increased, or home prices remain at an all-time low, or the only private jobs being created are low-wage service sector gigs — just like the ones popping up around the Yum! Center.
For all of the dickishness involved, Dismas’s egregious purchase offers Louisville a valuable lesson in the fallacies of building a Taj Mahal to college basketball, and how building pleasuredomes will yield very little in the way of actual economic growth and social justice in our community. Too bad we’ll be too busy watching the game to give a shit.