Because of their nature, public manipulation campaigns are difficult to identify on the onset because there are many pieces at play through a long period of time. Lately I have been noticing the issue of a possible waterpark bubbling up through online and begin to manifest itself at city council and then on through KVIA. At this point, I do not know who is behind the campaign to discredit a possible joint venture between the city and Hawaiian Falls. However, I have noticed how the campaign to manage public perception has been developing publically since August 6, 2014.
In the following write up I am going to share with you how the public is being managed by someone in what I believe is an attempt to control how the city moves forward on a possible waterpark for Cohen Stadium. However, before I get into the details of what I know at this point I must point out that this post has nothing to do with or about the viability of a waterpark for Cohen Stadium or the possible expenditure of taxpayer monies towards a waterpark. This is because no one has a complete understanding of what the city intends to do and with whom.
Therefore, it is premature to comment on whether it is a good or bad thing for El Paso. What I want to focus on today is what I have been noticing the last few months and I how I believe it is a concerted effort to manage the public’s perception of the project and possibly lead the city towards a resolution for the benefit of someone.
It started with three blog posts by the Maxpowers character about Hawaiian Falls lobbying the city for a public/partnership waterpark in Northeast El Paso. It caught my attention because the blogger usually focuses on the personalities of politicians and his posts are universally attack pieces about certain individuals. The Hawaiian Falls piece seemingly came out of nowhere and caught my attention. I have written previously about how the blogger works on behalf of the Forma Group and as you know the Forma Group are lobbyist for certain political figures. In essence, they manipulate public perception for their paying clients.
As a result, I immediately wanted to know what the connection is between Forma Group and Hawaiian Falls. Therefore, I filed a few open records requests looking for more information. In my September 10, 2014, post titled “The Politics of a Waterpark for the Northeast”; I detailed how the process to bring a waterpark to El Paso has being progressing. You can read a complete synopsis of the public discussion about a waterpark for Cohen Stadium there. For the purposes of this piece I’m going to point you towards the who, what and how of the public perception manipulation campaign that has so far resulted in KVIA reporting “mysterious flyers” showing up on the eastside of town last weekend.
The campaign started online with three posts on a blog, first on August 6, then the 13th and finally the 21st of this year. The gist of the posts was that El Paso was about to embark on a waste of taxpayer dollars to fund the waterpark. What was interesting, to me, about the three posts is that it referenced open records requests. This is highly uncharacteristic of this blogger and therefore I inquired about who had requested the documents being referenced.
As far as I can ascertain the open records requests being referenced seem to have originated from an open records request filed by Conan Edwards. Edwards had filed at least four, possibly more open records requests in regards to Hawaiian Falls. He is the marketing manager for Wet ‘n’ Wild Waterpark and therefore it makes perfect sense that they would be trying to get as much information about a possible competitor as they can through open records requests. How his open records results ended up with the blogger is yet to be determined however, it makes sense that Wet ‘n’ Wild would look to a lobbying firm to help them counteract possible public funding for a competitor by the city government.
Shortly after the three blog posts there was some scattered social media attention but there was no traction to the issue in the community political circles. However, at least one email from the city communication’s manager was forwarded to Tommy Gonzalez notifying the new city manager about the issue immediately after the first blog post was published. Although, the initial Hawaiian Falls initiative seems to have floundered at the city since Joyce Wilson and Leila Melendez are no longer at the city, there appears to be a new initiative in play that involves the city issuing a request for proposals.
On July 1, 2014, the city issued a request for “qualified developers to design, construct, manage, and operate a water/aquatic adventure park” to be located next to Cohen Stadium. The city has now closed the request and is ostensibly evaluating the responses it received. Early indications are that Wet ‘n’ Wild did not submit a proposal but Hawaiian Falls did.
On September 23, 2014, Traci Presley went before city council, during the call to the public, and referenced the blogger’s website and asked city council to ensure they don’t waste taxpayer monies. Presley did not articulate her interest in the issue nor did she identify whether she was acting on someone’s behalf. As far as I can tell, Traci Presley is a psychotherapist in El Paso. Prior to this public soliloquy, I had never heard of Traci Presley’s involvement with politics in El Paso. Like the initial blog posts, Presley’s presentation before city council seems to be out of character for her as well as those involved in the public discussion about this matter so far.
On October 3, 2014, KVIA’s Andrew Polk reported that “mysterious flyers” began to appear in the Eastside of town. According to Polk, the flyers do not identify the sender or the individuals paying to disseminate them. However, their message is clear; the city “has a plan to build a waterpark” next to Cohen, that it is a “risky” proposition for the taxpayers and that it will use tax dollars. Clearly, it seems there is a concerted effort to derail any attempt by the city to enter into a public/private partnership project with Hawaiian Falls.
The obvious group behind the effort to derail a waterpark in the northeast would seem to be Wet ‘n’ Wild. However at this point we do not know that. It is important to note that this effort is not a simple neighborhood grassroots effort organized to oppose expenditures of taxpayer resources. It is, instead, a sophisticated public manipulation campaign designed to organize opposition against Hawaiian Falls.
As I wrote at the onset of my post I do not have enough information to comment on whether it is good public policy to expend taxpayer funds on a waterpark for the northeast although it appears that it is not. The purpose of this post is to document for you how the public is being manipulated into opposing Hawaiian Falls through an organized campaign. This is not a simple campaign and therefore there are expenses that are being paid for by someone. We will know more as the issue continues to develop and the city makes a determination on whether and how it will proceed on a waterpark.
In the meantime, keep your eyes on how the public’s perception is being manipulated to control the outcome of a public policy initiative. The question is who is paying for such manipulation.