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Exceptional Candidate for Davenport’s Plan & Zoning Gets Tabled! PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 11 December 2001 18:00
Unless the public relentlessly watches Channel 13 to observe the conduct of Davenport’s elected officials, they unfortunately miss those things that exemplify some of the manipulative pettiness that prevails. Mayor Yerington, who is still the presiding mayor for those aldermen who obviously need reminding, petitioned to fill a vacancy on the Plan and Zoning Commission left by Tom Melchert after he resigned due to job constraints on his time. Yerington’s new appointment is Harry Thoman, who according to his resume is eminently qualified.

In fact, Thoman is so qualified, this council should be thrilled that someone with such credentials has come forward to voluntarily serve the community. Thoman is one of less than 30,000 individuals internationally who is formally certified as a Project Manager Professional. He has more than 30 years of project management experience, and is a 3rd Ward resident currently restoring a home in the historic Hamburg District. He says that he has “fallen in love with Davenport and wants very much to participate in its future through good planning and development.” Yerington does not personally know Mr. Thoman, but was impressed by his resume and his eager willingness to serve.

Unfortunately, however, last Wednesday, Alderman McGivern asked to table the appointment for “political reasons.” He stated that because it was a five-year appointment, he thought it better to give the new mayor the opportunity to make the appointment. Translated, Mr. McGivern wants to make sure he gets his own man appointed, especially since he is the possible new liaison to the Plan & Zoning Commission. This Commission is arguably the most important one in the city hierarchy of civic participation. It directly impacts real estate development throughout our community. How convenient for Alderman McGivern to manipulate this new appointment at the expense of proper protocol, respect, honorable conduct, and plain old decency relative to Mayor Yerington.

In keeping with past performance, Aldermen Moritz, Sherwood, and Brown parroted McGivern’s shabby vote per usual. (It must be a great comfort for McGivern to know that Moritz was reelected and will continue to do his bidding.) While Alderman Englemann is showing real possibility as a replacement for either Sherwood or Brown in the voting clique of four, the public can only hope otherwise. Alderman Ambrose is a different story. His vote against Yerington’s appointment was also a political one, as he freely admits. But after further reflection, Ambrose admits he made a mistake and would support reconsideration of the appointment. He states that he did not consider the qualifications of Mr. Thoman, and after reviewing the matter, feels the appointment is a very good one precisely because of Thoman’s credentials.

Meanwhile, on another front is the controversy brewing around the draft committee appointments made this week by Mayor Elect Charlie Brooke. Of the four real estate-affiliated committee appointments available, McGivern has been appointed to all four. They include Chairman of the Community Development Committee, sole representative of the Comprehensive Land-Use Steering Committee, one of two liaisons to the Plan & Zoning Commission, and one of two representatives to the River Renaissance Implementation Group. When asked about the conflict of interest for McGivern because he is a real estate appraiser, Mayor Elect Brooke responded that he had not considered this in his appointments. Brooke said he would reconsider the appointments based on further due diligence of potential conflict. Relative to McGivern chairing the Community Development Committee, his rationale was based on McGivern’s experience as the current chair of this committee. As for appointing McGivern to the River Renaissance Implementation Group, Brooke explained that he took into consideration McGivern’s participation as a delegate to Des Moines on behalf of Davenport for the Vision Iowa application. Brooke claims he was not aware that McGivern was not a strong advocate of a comprehensive land use plan compared to other aldermen who were far more committed to updating the current CLUP. Brooke said he would reevaluate this appointment as well.

At a minimum, the fact that McGivern’s livelihood is dependent on the real estate industry, whether directly or indirectly, is a critical consideration in terms of the appropriateness of his involvement on these real estate-related committees. He has access to various kinds of information about real estate activity and development, which could arguably influence his decisions and participation as an elected official. It would be thoroughly naive to think otherwise. The influence of the real estate community is well represented in McGivern’s voting record, as well as his campaign disclosure statements, in which the real estate community represents at least half of all contributions to his recent campaign. The largest single contributors to his campaign were Foster realtors, Ruhl and Ruhl realtors, Steve Shalk’s law firm associates, and Dan Lubell, who was the largest single contributor listed in Citizens for McGivern’s “Money taken in” report. Mike Staenberg, president of THF Realty (the developer of Super Wal-Mart), as well as Tom Pastrnak, local attorney representing THF, also made contributions. McGivern’s largest expenditures were to Victory Enterprises, the same firm that presented information to the council on home contract sales on behalf of Dan Lubell and First Financial, in an effort to stop legislation that would regulate contract home sales in Davenport. Alderman McGivern spearheaded dropping all such legislation and was successful. Many of us would argue that McGivern should have abstained and remained silent on the issue because Steve Grubbs, who presented to the council and is a principal in Victory Enterprises, which is also the hired consultant for McGivern’s campaign.

These relationships should necessarily be disclosed because of their relevance in terms of an elected official’s performance. And to blanketly assign Alderman McGivern to the only four committees that have a significant relationship to real estate and/or development smacks of favoritism on Mayor Elect Brooke’s behalf. But he should be given the benefit of the doubt. If he sincerely didn’t consider these conflicts, perceived or otherwise, and he is willing to change his appointments to reflect more diversity and sensitivity, then he should be applauded. However, if he chooses to ignore the obvious problems with these particular appointments and sticks with the draft schedule, then he is making an undeniable statement about whose interests he truly intends to serve as mayor of Davenport: those of the developers and the real estate community bar none.

Finally, Brooke ran on a platform of team playing. While committee appointments are the prerogative of the mayor, Brooke’s draft appointments should be considered just a draft at this juncture. If the Mayor Elect is genuine in his effort to build a team, then he will consider these various concerns of his fellow council, as well as public perception. Brooke claimed throughout his campaign that he would establish unity amongst the council, and he can only do so by considering all the aldermen’s positions. Several of the aldermen feel that their appointments reflect a payback mentality for not always supporting the voting clique of four (McGivern, Moritz, Sherwood, and Brown).

Brooke’s draft committee appointments definitely raise crimson red flags, but the appointments are not yet formally made. Brooke deserves the benefit of the doubt until then. Meanwhile, his petition to name Bill Wundrum as honorary mayor is suspect, especially since there has never been such an award in the history of the office. While Wundrum is a fine fellow, the naming of him as honorary mayor out of the gate could be interpreted as different things. Brooke claims it is because he sincerely believes that Wundrum is a good friend to Davenport, deserving of the credit, not to mention it would “be fun to do.” Ahrens characterizes the award as “great because Wundrum has longevity and has asked some important civic questions, such as ‘Hello, is anybody out there?’” Call me jaded, but mine is that Brooke is sucking up to the QC Times, which is also the mayor elect’s prerogative.
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