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Civic Forensics in Davenport Are a Bust PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Wednesday, 29 August 2007 02:46

It's getting harder and harder to stomach the barrage of misinformation masquerading as journalism in the Quad Cities' mainstream media. Most especially egregious is the constant sin of omission that defines most stories and editorials.

Case in point are the recent Quad-City Times articles on Davenport Third Ward Alderman Keith Meyer's alleged leak of confidential information to the Argus/Dispatch regarding Davenport's latest proposed corporate subsidy in the form of a tax giveaway to eServ for moving its offices from Rock Island to Davenport.

Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin issued a five-page missive that attempts to point the finger at Meyer, but instead only succeeds in demonstrating that he has far too much time on his hands. Revelations include that "staples holding the files [confidential eServ files] together as they were retrieved by Economic Development Program Manager Murray-Tallman are not staples from the stapler in the Community & Economic Development Department, but are consistent with staples from the stapler Council Assistant Webb borrowed from the Legal Department the morning of August 2."

My advice: Don't give up your day job for forensics. And don't think the attempt to throw Ms. Webb under the bus in the process is missed in this "investigation." (For those unaware, Webb recently sued the City of Davenport, and her suit included a complaint against Malin.) All the "evidence" is purely circumstantial and begs the much larger question: What are you really trying to hide?

Perhaps Malin is just getting even because Meyer is objecting to the mayor calling off his annual review, normally scheduled for the end of August. Mayor Ed Winborn is claiming there is no time when all the council can meet. That dog won't hunt, Mr. Mayor.

In any event, the "evidence" indicates to me that Malin and staff need to bone up on Iowa code as it pertains to economic development. According to the Argus/Dispatch, economic-development data that includes the number of jobs, wage information, and project budgets is all subject to open-records law and is not lawfully confidential. It also indicates that Malin "allowed" the file to be copied for aldermanic review, underscoring his own confusion as to who is boss around there.

Couple this with the inane letter from Winborn reprimanding Meyer and imposing sanctions that include following him around City Hall and limiting his access to confidential documents - "You [Meyer] may review such documents in the future only in the presence of a witness of the department head level or above" - and it becomes all too apparent that Davenport's leadership will sink to just about any low to control Alderman Meyer.

Winborn, once again, demonstrates his own lack of professionalism by falsely blaming Meyer for jeopardizing the eServ deal, knowing that 90 eServ jobs have already been transferred to Davenport without incentives. He also knows that there are currently enough votes to pass it regardless of Meyer's objections (which are not about eServ jobs, but about the appropriateness of the proposed TIF and the wish to examine alternative sites, etc.). And he also knows that nothing about Meyer's action is in violation of anything except keeping city hall operations covert-a result for which most taxpayers laud him.

Meanwhile, the Quad-City Times continues to try to discredit Meyer, only to have its efforts backfire. Last week's highly critical editorial by Barb Ickes unwittingly points to several of Meyer's relevant activities on behalf of Davenport's citizens: "He once sent me a series of boastful emails, counting the thousands of questions to which he has demanded answers from city department heads"; Meyer's trips to Rock Island to ensure no bi-state agreements were being breached as they were with the Sentry deal several years ago; and visits to the Bi-State Regional Planning Commission to try to get a read on how many of these new employees of eServ would actually live in Davenport.

These actions represent precisely what our aldermen should be doing. These are important questions and deserve answers before, not after, any tax subsidy is even considered. Meyer obviously goes the mile in trying to get accurate data in order to make an informed decision - activity that should be commended, not condemned.

Such rabid condemnation on the part of the Quad-City Times serves to incriminate itself for its lack of responsibility to the public in conveying all the information relevant to such stories. For example, how did the TIF work out for Sentry? Are taxpayers getting what we are paying for? How does this TIF compare to that for Cingular? When combined with all other current TIFs, what is the aggregate cost versus benefits to taxpayers? In other words, does TIF actually perform?

Or how about this question: How can DavenportOne, which is getting paid $100,000 per year by Davenport taxpayers via the D1 Initiative, claim it is "committing ourselves to revitalizing our central-city neighborhoods. The focus on downtown revitalization must continue" while repeatedly advocating the fast-tracking and corporate subsidy of development deals such as Sentry, Cingular, and eServ to be located in the greenfields? Could it be because history has proved that the real-estate-development leadership of D1 has simply taken turns at the public trough, and D1's true function is a faux cheerleader for inner-city development while providing a real-estate-lead generator to whoever is at its helm?

Or how about the question: Why does Davenport's leadership consider public subsidies confidential? Contrary to much of what is reported in the daily press, most of this information is not lawfully confidential, so Meyer committed no crime. In fact, the city's confiscating Meyer's e-mails and reading them, especially from journalists, is potentially an illegal act in itself.

Perhaps the most baseless criticisms are the various remarks that if Meyer had problems with the eServ deal, he should address them at the appropriate council meetings. Obviously, these folks do not attend many of these. Otherwise they would be aware of the Davenport City Council's preference for fast-tracking such items, and consistently shutting down most relevant questions pertaining to these deals.

In the final analysis, this controversy is mostly to distract the community from larger issues, such as the Isle of Capri's location and subsequent agreements, and to try to discredit Meyer before the upcoming elections. Thankfully, his detractors are entirely transparent. By limiting Meyer's access to documents, they believe they will keep the public in the dark, as well. This will not be tolerated by the public, and does nothing but further prove Meyer's allegiance is with taxpayers, not special interests.

For my part, I can't imagine the kind of fortitude it must take to stand against the constant stonewalling, personal attacks, and political criticisms that plague Alderman Meyer. He single-handedly holds the city administration to a higher standard by just posing the relevant questions. He continues to ask the hard questions in the face of unprecedented disrespect and contempt from various colleagues and many staff members, who view him as a complete thorn in their collective sides.

It is Meyer who consistently seeks the relevant data, who reads between the lines, who seeks accountability, and who gets precious little cooperation. Even those peers who support him let him do the heavy lifting, mostly because they are equally frustrated with the lack of responsiveness.

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