Ray Hutchison’s remarkable Arlington legacy

04/02/2014 5:58 PM

04/03/2014 7:49 AM

Some of the work Ray Hutchison did for Arlington as its principal bond counsel for five decades was routine.

Other things he did for the city were profoundly beyond anything that had been done before — and for all of it, we are eternally thankful.

Ray died Sunday at a Dallas hospital of heart complications. He was 81. Funeral services are set for Thursday at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

Arlington’s leaders turned to Ray when there were opportunities to be seized and pathways to be found toward outcomes never before achieved.

His vocabulary didn’t include negative responses. Instead of saying something couldn’t be done because there was no road map to the desired destination, Ray drew a new map.

When Arlington faced the possibility of losing major league status to some other city where a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers might be built, the people of Arlington rose to the occasion and approved a deal to build it where it belonged.

The election in 1991 to authorize financing for the new facility was a triumph in defining the public will. But that was just the beginning of a journey with significant challenges to be met before such a project could become reality.

Voters had overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the city’s portion of the project. But state law didn’t provide any authority for that plan.

We turned to Ray to lead the collaboration among lawyers for the city and the baseball team to draft legislation that would make it possible.

Once a bill was drafted to expand the allowable uses of a local sales tax, Ray’s team worked with Arlington’s representatives in the Texas House and Senate to co-sponsor the legislation.

Getting a majority of the Legislature to approve something their political opponents would declare to be a tax increase was no small task.

It meant the measure would have to be crafted in such a way to assuage those concerns, or no ballpark would be built.

Ray’s careful and artful approach was more successful than most would have considered possible.

The Arlington proposal got unanimous legislative approval and a prompt signature from Gov. Ann Richards.

That revision of Texas law has now been used in cities across the state by voters who have found it to be a winning formula for enhancing economic opportunities for their communities and raising the quality of life for all residents.

But more work remained before construction could begin on a new home for the Rangers.

The team’s owners and Arlington’s City Council had agreed to an innovative public-private partnership, the details of which had to meet each side’s needs and expectations.

Most of all, the people of the community would have to see it as a fair deal delivering on what was promised in the campaign that had won their approval.

It worked out so well that when Jerry Jones came inquiring about a new home for his NFL team, all that was needed was to follow in the carefully laid footsteps of the ballpark success story.

Legendary Mayor Tom Vandergriff often said his quixotic quest to bring a major league team to Arlington would not have succeeded had he not had Ray Hutchison at his side.

Nor, for that matter, would so many of the things that make the city great have been achieved without Hutchison’s wise guidance and counsel.

Arlington, more than any other city in the region that Ray faithfully served, can say with sincerity: Our friend, to whom we owe much, will be greatly missed.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com

About Richard Greene

Richard Greene

With long experience in government including 10 years as mayor of Arlington, an adjunct professorship in UT Arlington's School of Urban and Public Affairs and service as President George W. Bush's regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Greene is an expert on public policy, politics and decision-making on issues facing North Texas.

He has strong opinions about elected officials and those who would like to join them.

Email Richard at mayorgreene@mayorgreene.com.

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