Eleventh Hour of Frustration Print
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Tuesday, 25 July 2000 18:00
Maybe there is something in the water at Davenport’s City Hall. The new council, men and a woman who were elected on platforms of doing the people’s business, resemble their predecessors more closely than ever. Especially after last Wednesday’s council meeting, where conduct by certain aldermen was less than professional, to put it mildly. During “Public with Business,” an obviously frustrated citizen, Niky Bowles, with her daughter by her side, made a short speech that summarized the “nightmare” that they have endured for the past year due to what appears to be negligence by city staff. Bowles also requested that McGivern and Sherwood abstain from voting on a rezoning petition before council next week of property she holds, due to what she perceives to be a conflict on both aldermen’s parts. In return, Bowles was publicly disparaged by them. Mayor Phil Yerington stepped in to try and stem the tide of harsh criticism hurled at Bowles for speaking directly to the council about her experience, but was unsuccessful.

Bowles originally approached Planning & Zoning last fall with a request for the file on her property (ten acres located at 5015 Eastern Avenue, just south of 53rd Street), including all information regarding the petition for rezoning presented by attorney Steve Schalk on behalf of Eastern Avenue Partners, of which Bowles is a 50/50 partner with Rob Fick. Bowles came forward after hearing that her property was being rezoned without her knowledge or consent.

After Bowles concluded her speech, Sherwood accused Bowles of being typical of citizens who take up too much of staff’s time with their “ridiculous continuous annoyances”—a remark so blatantly anti-public that it was particularly disappointing coming from him. Sherwood further claimed that staff had spent countless hours responding to Bowles’ requests, but didn’t acknowledge that her requests were only partially addressed, as evidenced by the significant amount of documentation now in Bowles possession. It is understandable that the “file” on Bowles’ property is a working file, and that every relative document may not be centrally located in one place for retrieval, so all the more reason to assist Bowles in locating everything she needed, more especially because she also needed the pertinent documents for pending litigation.

To add insult to injury, Alderman Moritz objected to Bowles taking up the “Public with Business” portion of the council meeting to make her complaints, a forum meant for exactly that purpose—to communicate with the Council on public business. Moritz’ position most certainly did not reflect the best interest of the public.

And finally, Alderman McGivern publicly accused Bowles of “cruel” behavior toward city staff and of perpetrating “evil” upon city hall. The real cruelty was McGivern’s own behavior as he publicly condemned Bowles in front of her own daughter, who was reduced to tears as she stood beside her mother throughout this shocking display of disrespect. Bowles, on the other hand, kept her dignity as she articulated her deep dissatisfaction over her experience with staff and council.

McGivern, who claimed he endured a six-month ordeal of having to deal with Bowles, didn’t actually get involved until early May. Sherwood only had three to four encounters with Bowles, tops. Nearly every meeting that Bowles had with a staff member, there were others present who witnessed her behavior during these encounters. None of those in attendance would substantiate Alderman McGivern’s accusations that she was in any way cruel or evil. She was described more appropriately as sometimes having an accusatory tone, of being suspicious of a conspiracy to keep information from her, and at times harshly critical in some of her disposition. She was also described as being cordial and charming. It doesn’t take a behavioral scientist to figure out that, after nearly a year’s efforts, Bowles was supremely frustrated, but relentlessly persistent, so if she veered off the path of polite decorum, who can blame her? All any interested party need do is examine the evidence Bowles has accumulated and follow the paper trail to ascertain what happened. The fact that staff was tired of her requests only speaks to her assertion that she had to repeatedly return for information she should have been given in the first place.

As Bowles so accurately pointed out in her speech during "Public with Business," she would not have been forced to spend the kind of time at City Hall trying to pry the information that she was entitled to by law from staff if they had been forthcoming to begin with. The information she sought became even more critical when she needed it for her court case, which, incidentally, the presiding judge ruled in her favor, giving Bowles complete and total authority over the property in dispute.

More importantly, Bowles’ demeanor during her speech at last week’s council meeting stands as testimony to her ability to control her hostility and remain professional, even after these aldermen verbally attacked her in front of her family. Obviously it will take a lot more than blanket, broad-brushed accusations to undermine this citizen’s confidence in her position. But what about less articulate citizens, who may have a difficult time speaking in public, before a council no less? Can they expect the same reception if their issue is critical of staff or one of their own? Such recrimination is an insult to the public and a disgrace to the office.

Meanwhile, Bowles still has to face the Council at next Wednesday's council meeting, August 2, 2000, when they vote on the zoning application from A1 to C1 on her ten acres just south of 53rd Street on Eastern Avenue. The staff has recommended that the Council deny the petition, citing that residential would be the more appropriate land use because most of the land south of 53rd Street on Eastern is residential. Residential is the same zoning that Bowles' (former) partner had requested for their joint property, and which Bowles objected to, arguing that it did not maximize the property’s value. However, there were no objections to the original application for rezoning to C1 from any of the adjacent neighbors, including Schalk and Fick who own the property just south of Bowles in a separate partnership. Planning & Zoning staff also recommended denial of rezoning from A1 to C1 of the property immediately north of Bowles’ acreage, but because it fronted on 53rd Street, the Council voted in favor of the rezoning to C1. McGivern even acknowledged that if he were allowed to vote, he would vote for the C1 designation just to get Bowles out of City Hall. Looks like he’s going to get that chance in spite of himself.

Finally, Mayor Yerington is obviously not winning any popularity contests with these same aldermen, but his intervention on Bowles behalf during their obdurate behavior must be commended. He has remained steadfast and true to his commitment to be “the people’s Mayor.” Not only was he chivalrous, but he put the aldermen’s poor behavior into the proper perspective – unacceptable on any terms. He acknowledged that most of the council were brought into Bowles' situation at the "eleventh hour of frustration," after most of the damage had already been done. He encouraged the council to listen to Bowles because he honestly believed she had legitimate complaints. Alderman Ambrose should also be congratulated for acting as liaison between staff and Bowles when she required it.
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