Fort Worth City Council is fractured over arts spending

Time is growing short in the buildup to a May bond election, and Fort Worth City Council members seem determined to find a way to disagree over one of its multimillion-dollar elements.

It’s the same one they’ve danced around for months, funding of public art. While the major parts of the $292 million bond package are in place, it’s alarming to see fundamental disagreement on the relatively small but still substantial $3.58 million set aside for art.

Even more alarming is that Mayor Betsy Price and Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman are pushing major change this late in the bond preparation process.

Price and Zimmerman supported a presentation during Tuesday’s pre-council meeting calling for setting aside about $2.1 million for a citywide iconic piece of art to represent Fort Worth.

Councilmen Joel Burns and Sal Espino said that’s a departure from the way public art funding has been distributed after previous bond elections.

Previous policy called for the art money to be spread out “in those individual council districts disbursed throughout the city so that everyone received a fair share,” Espino said.

Zimmerman countered that spending should go where it can do the most good for the city, not necessarily on a “fair share” basis to all council districts.

He’s right, but the disagreement unearthed in the exchange is not good at this late date.

And the concern seems deeper from Burns, who apparently still feels the hurt of a previous council decision to cut back the total for art funding in the bond package. The allocation had been 2 percent of the bond total but was cut back to about 1.2 percent.

With the cutback, the council is forced to choose between a large, iconic art project or smaller ones throughout the city, Burns said. “If we had left our proposed funding at the 2 percent, we would have had money for both.”

So what we have now is a clear picture of a fractured council. Fractured late in the process of preparing a bond election, on an issue that has been discussed for months.

Somewhere among the nine council members there must be a leader who can pull the group back together.