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Sour Grapes? Yep, So Pucker Up PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Tuesday, 29 August 2000 18:00
Many citizens believed the well was poisoned long before briefs were submitted on the Davenport School District’s (DSD) Motion for Summary Judgment (SJ) to dismiss the Davenport Historic Preservation Commission’s (HPC) suit to prevent the demolition of the historically significant Crawford’s Sugarbowl.

If Judge David Schoenthaler’s Ruling granting the SJ this week is any indication, I’m inclined to agree. Granting the SJ is the same as a dismissing the suit. The net result is that the DSD will likely waste no time in seeking a permit to demolish the building. But as the Sugarbowl goes, so goes any possibility of redemption of this particular School Board.

As for the court’s Ruling, there is a distinct bias favoring the DSD’s position, while virtually ignoring the basis upon which the HPC’s case is made. To its credit, however, the ruling patently ignored the DSD’s arguments regarding their immunity to the process, but instead dealt strictly with the resolution that constituted the compromise agreement between the DSD and the HPC.

The Ruling states that the parties were in agreement with the terms of the compromise resolution and that the conditions of the agreement were met; therefore, no issue of material facts exists. However, that is not the dispute. The dispute is whether or not the DSD acted in “good faith” relative to the agreement. Nothing in the ruling speaks in detail to that issue. The only reference in the Ruling merely restates case law on the legal parameters of good faith. It does not put into context the HPC arguments that reasonably indicate the DSD’s lack of good faith. Furthermore, the HPC was still in the process of “discovery” to obtain all the documents and testimonies that would establish a complete record of evidence more fully supporting their case. They argued that the court must deny SJ under the circumstances. It is as if the court ignored the HPC’s arguments altogether and focused only on the conditions of the resolutions being met, regardless of how. It is maddening.

The Ruling devotes an entire paragraph to arguing that the agreement only refers to the physical address, 1130 Harrison, therefore the “useable reuse” is not necessarily tied to the building because it isn’t specifically referenced. This legal distinction appears to be a valid one (no matter how detracting it seems from the relative issues), especially if we follow the letter of the law and demand specific language. So why does that same standard not apply to the HPC’s claim that the DSD never actually denied the proposed plan for reuse?

The Ruling finds HPC’s argument that the DSD did not actually deny the proposed Plan of Action for a useable reuse to be without merit. Why not? The language is not specifically exact, as in the Judge’s own example. The DSD’s resolution denies “renovation of the building” versus denying the actual “proposed Plan of Action agreement presented by the Ad Hoc committee.” This determination is not backed up with any context, except to state that the DSD voted on April 24, 2000, to deny the plan and the DSD was not required to approve any plan presented. There is no reference to the HPC’s argument that the DSD introduced new conditions into the mix, then based their denial on said new conditions (namely funds and fundraising). There is no mention of any of the evidence presented by the HPC that showed the timeline involved and the consistent, methodical, and documented lack of good faith by the DSD.

The Ruling defines the “Good Faith Standard,” citing case law, but never puts the standards into context relative to the HPC’s arguments. It focuses on the financial information outlined in the proposed plan for reuse, and acknowledges the DSD’s reasoning that a fundraising deadline needed to be extended. However, no consideration was given to the fact that no original fundraising deadline had ever been formally established, and that those considerations were outside the scope of the committee that proposed and presented the reuse plan. The DSD set themselves up to turn down any plan that might come forward by ensuring that funds would not be available. Regardless, funds/fundraising should not be an issue. This was not part of the parameters of the conditions. How is it that new conditions can be allowed for the DSD, but the HPC, who played by the rules not suspecting the underhandedness of the DSD until it was too late, don’t appear to benefit from consideration? The only reference in the entire ruling to HPC’s arguments was a footnote mention, so to speak, of the DSD going out for bids during March (a month earlier than their “denial” of the proposed plan). Why is this being ignored? How are these actions not evidentiary of “bad faith”? Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am confusing common sense with legalese that is not required to consider such evident facts.

In the final analysis, there isn’t anything really new in the DSD’s resolution to deny the proposed plan and demolish the building. The only good thing to come of it all is that the DSD has shown its slip and now the community is further enlightened as to their ethics. There is nothing in their denial of the plan that varies from their original reasons for wanting to demolish the building in the first place. They obviously went through the motions, and had the Judge been privy to all the nuances that occurred throughout this despicable ordeal, the ruling might have reflected a different disposition.

To pour salt in the wound, the Ruling actually berated the City Council for their sincere attempts to right the wrong of the previous council, where a particular alderman, who just happened to be dating DSD President Hollenbeck, led the efforts to grant the DSD’s request for an appeal of the HPC’s decision to not allow the demolition of the Sugarbowl. That is where all this really started, but the Judge didn’t get to hear all of that chicanery.

The whole thing is unbelievable. Disappointing doesn’t begin to cover it. But if we learn anything from all of this, it is that the DSD needs much closer scrutiny from this day forth. As a community, we need to be equally vigilant about the business of the DSD as we are about the city. There is just as much public money involved and those who administer it behave with the same kind of arrogance and impunity that has prevailed in City Hall. It’s time for a wake up call here, as well.

So perhaps the even bigger disappointment is the community’s response to the upcoming School Board elections on Tuesday, September 12. The two new candidates (purportedly handpicked by the current School Board) are running unopposed. Once again, the public is so complacent; they are perpetuating the legacy of a School Board that operates in a vacuum, basically unaccountable, under the guise of stewards of student’s interests. To claim that shelter and restroom facilities have no educational benefit to students is pure posturing. Such accommodations certainly appear to benefit students in every other conceivable situation.

Last November, this community sent the clearest message imaginable when it ousted seven of the ten aldermen. Yet when it comes to the School Board, an entity in charge of an equally large budget (in other words, an equally large portion of our tax dollars), we sit on our fists and accept the mediocre governing of people who basically follow the status quo.

I personally attended a regular school board meeting a little over a month ago, where Board members Hester and Lowe were visibly and vocally upset with Supervisor Blanche and President Hollenbeck over an agenda item that had been “railroaded” onto the agenda at the eleventh hour. The item concerned approximately $300,000 for the purchase of computers for the schools, but Hester and Lowe had no prior information upon which to evaluate the requisition because it had been placed on the agenda at the last minute, so to speak. Yet they were being asked to vote yes for it that very evening. Both Hester and Lowe made heated little speeches over their indignation of such practices. The prudent thing would have been to table it until they could get more information. And neither Blanche or Hollenbeck responded to their concerns. To Lowe’s credit, she had the integrity to vote no, unlike Hester, who voted yes even as he complained about the process. How bad is it when an elected official actually stands up with a passionate opposition to some business, has the guts to pontificate about its underhandedness, but then goes right ahead and votes in favor of it anyway? The School Board elections will take place on Tuesday, September 12, 2000. Take the opportunity to at least make a statement. Write in your choice rather than voting for the ballot of the status quo. But even if you vote for the status quo, at least VOTE!!!

The City Council has the right to appeal the court’s decision and should do so on the merits of historic preservation alone. Beyond that, however, to let this decision stand is abdication of their responsibility to protect the City’s municipal authority governing zoning. If our ordinances don’t have teeth, then what? The ordinance was basically set aside in favor of a “compromise resolution,” and that was the HPC’s real mistake. They should have stuck to their guns and demanded that the DSD show financial hardship because it was the only term by which that previous council could have granted an appeal. I do believe that the compromise agreement would have been a worthwhile document if “good faith” had been present, but it was a faulty document where “good faith” was absent. And absent it was in this case. So call me sour grapes, but we had all better pucker up if we allow this kind of behavior to continue.
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