The recurring criticism of the council is the lack of investigation and inquiry relative to the controversial issues that face them. In addition, it is deeply troublesome that no critical debate occurs relative to many of these issues. Deals are obviously made away from the official public forums that constitute the various council meetings so that, more often than not, discussion is marginal at all those levels. Meaningful work is rarely accomplished at the committee level, the precise place where agenda items should be hammered out until all aspects are resolved, disputes are ironed out, and consensus is achieved. The committee meetings should reflect dialogue that helps the public better understand what is at stake. Instead, agenda items simply get pushed along to the regular council meetings for voting, leaving those doing the voting ignorant as ever about the ramifications of what they are voting on. It is a pathetically inefficient way of conducting city business. Last week, a citizen approached the podium during "Public with Business" (after the cameras were turned off) to ask Alderman Sherwood exactly when the public could expect relevant questions about these important issues to be forthcoming from the committee members. Alderman Sherwood's response was that most of the questions and discussions had already occurred behind the scenes, that most of city business did not take place in front of the cameras.
Well, there you have it! This became painfully obvious when there wasn't a single solitary question asked by any member of the committee on the last four of the five discussion agenda items listed. The silence on these issues was deafening. To add insult to injury, Alderman Sherwood actually confirmed what many citizens feared?that the process of open government was being severely circumvented in favor of back room deals and decision-making away from public scrutiny or debate.
It is time to hold these aldermen accountable for their continuous lack of regard for those who voted them into office. Point in case is Aldermen Sherwood and McGivern's justification for the current proposed development of a Super Wal-Mart at Elmore Avenue, north of 53rd Street, claiming that the developer will put in improvements to the Elmore/53rd Street intersection and install a culvert as part of the cost of development. These aldermen are asking the public to believe that these improvements are somehow largess on the developer's part, rather than obligations that come with the development territory. Anyone who develops land in that area would have to provide the same improvements. It just happens to be THF Realty who is currently at the table as the property's owner and proposed developer. To claim that the $2.8 million in intersection and street construction are somehow improvements that we would not otherwise get is utterly deceptive. Yet this continues to be the mantra of these aldermen to fool citizens into believing that these improvements constitute the rationale that this development is in the community's best interest.
And what is the advantage to the community for Jersey Farm Partners to develop approximately 80 additional acres in the same sector for 110-plus residential units north of 53rd Street if Davenport's taxpayers will be forced to put in 67th Street as a result? The bigger picture is that this development is occurring simultaneously with THF's commercial projects, all of which will funnel onto 53rd Street. The council has heard often enough that the fiscal priority should be existing street repair and improvements, as well as existing sewer repair and maintenance, not new streets and sewer systems to benefit a few developers at the expense of established residents and community-wide taxpayers. Imagine the services that would need to be provided for such a dense residential development?where are the resources going to come from, especially when the tax base supporting the area is not new or additional, but stripped from other neighborhoods? Why are aldermen ignoring this part of the development equation? Why has Alderman Sherwood abandoned all the land stewardship principals he so keenly espoused when he ran for office? It is time to ask him these hard questions and not relent until we hear the rationale behind his betrayal of so many of us who believed and supported him with vigor and faith.
Developer Threatens to Sue City for Extortion?
The most recent turn of events relative to THF Realty is the alleged threat to sue the city for extortion because several aldermen are exploring the possibility of different incentives that THF might provide for the privilege of developing in our community. After all, developers for Wal-Mart have done so in other communities throughout the country. To threaten extortion is to fly in the face of current negotiations and to literally bully our council into accepting lesser terms. It is also being alleged that corporate counsel John Martin appears to be making the case for the developers against councilmen's efforts to negotiate in the best interest of the Davenport taxpayers by discouraging any terms that reflect improvements beyond the specific development area itself.
Instead, the clear strategy being pursued is far more geared to Davenport providing incentives to THF for the privilege of having THF develop a Super Wal-Mart in our community. The council is considering establishing no less than two Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement Districts (SSMID) to create a cash flow for THF by rebating self-imposed taxes from those who lease property from THF back to THF to repay them for infrastructure improvements. The council readily acknowledges that certain terms have not been agreed upon to date, yet the council appears to be willing to proceed regardless. This is foolhardy and irresponsible and we need to stop this in its tracks. At a minimum, the full terms of a comprehensive agreement need to be negotiated and completed before this is even voted on, let alone approved.
Which brings into question the overall legality of the process that has thus far occurred relative to creating these two SSMIDs. It can be argued that the council is operating outside of the law at this point relative to THF's two proposed SSMIDs. The state code specifically states that we must have a merit and feasibility study completed by the Plan & Zone Commission relative to both SSMID petitions, and that the property within the proposed SSMID must first be zoned appropriately before a public hearing on the issue can be held?none of these conditions have been met, yet the council went ahead with the public hearings at Monday night's Committee of the Whole (March 19) anyway.
Corporate counselor John Martin issued a legal opinion stating that the P&Z Commission had "substantially complied" with the state statute; therefore, in his opinion, the council could proceed with the public hearing. Since his is only an opinion, while state code is the law, wouldn't logic dictate that we be bound by the latter? This thinking is further supported by the fact that the Merit & Feasibility "study" consisted of the P&Z Commission returning the original staff report submitted to them, along with a paragraph-long letter of approval from the commission's chairperson approving the petitions. This hardly "substantially" conforms to the statute that specifically states the Merit & Feasibility Study must be crafted "with due diligence." Once again, a questionable protocol prevails, supported by legal counsel, to benefit developers' interests over those of the public.
It has been suggested that the protocol followed with these two SSMID petitions is similar and "consistent" with that of other SSMIDs the city established in the past. Certainly we've learned by now that just because things were done a certain way before, does not make it right or correct (the recent debacle with the illegal zonings is proof enough of that).
Furthermore, what many on the council are failing to recognize is that the other three city SSMIDs were established to improve existing neighborhoods, with the participation of multiple property owners whose purpose has been to improve and/or eliminate blight in their district, and where a non-profit trustee governs all expenditures that strictly adhere to identified and approved improvements. No SSMIDs have been created to benefit a single property owner for new development in a rapidly growing commercial corridor that could potentially negatively impact older neighborhoods and smaller retailers. Moreover, at the stated additional tax levy of $4.55 per thousand of assessed valuation, the $2.8 million in improvements should be paid off in no more than 10 years. But the petitions are requesting that the SSMIDs stay in effect for 35 to 38 years. Because SSMIDs can be amended at any time, the tax rebate represents a substantial cash cow for the developers in the future. It could also mean that future buyers of the property will be non-existent because they could potentially go elsewhere for a lesser tax burden, a strategy in keeping with reports of Wal-Mart's infamous planned obsolescence, where they purposely keep their abandoned stores dark by not allowing competitors to buy or occupy their properties for prolonged periods. SSMIDS would deter future users from these properties because of the additional taxes. Such a deal!
The bottom line is that the original intent of SSMIDs, much like TIFs, was to provide a public economic tool for eliminating blight, not as a mechanism to line the pockets of private developers. For THF's representative to claim that SSMID for this purpose is "an opportunity whose time has come" is like saying a bank is ripe for robbing because that is where the money is.
Finally, the two obscene controversial issues at City Hall?1) censoring citizens during "Public with Business" and 2) the abrupt dismissal of city attorney Mike Meloy without any due process after 22 years of unblemished service because several aldermen decided they could?are issues that are not going away. The public will have answers, and with truth being something that refuses to be elusive forever, satisfaction will be had by the public and the proper remedies implemented. There are countless examples of information that isn't being shared with the public because the cameras are still being turned off just before PWB. The newly implemented "Town Hall Meetings," which are terrific in and of themselves, are clearly not a replacement for the forum of PWB because they are not remotely part of the city's public record. To pretend that these town hall meetings are anything else but another forum for public input is bunkaroo. (It is important to note that aldermen Moritz and McGivern were missing from the last town hall meeting, March 12; Alderman McGivern was on legitimate city business representing Davenport as part of a QC-wide consortium in Washington, DC, while Alderman Moritz couldn't manage to get away from work to attend.)
The manipulation of a man's career with trumped-up charges and a lack of due process that had the effect of besmirching his professional reputation after two decades of exemplary performance and not a single disciplinary action against him is the most heinous act I have witnessed thus far from city hall. At Tuesday night's P&Z Commission meeting, they unanimously passed a resolution of exemplary performace, making it the third commission to do so on Mike Meloy's behalf. This is unprecedented support for a city employee whose treatment at the hands of his superior and these several aldermen is abuse of power at its most diabolical. The message needs to be loud and crystal clear that we are not going to tolerate such conduct from our elected officials. Citizens must collectively demonstrate that this issue especially isn't going away by writing or calling the aldermen and expressing their disdain for the unfair treatment of Mike Meloy and his young family. The opposition to these particularly disgraceful actions is mounting, not diffusing. Make no mistake that the entire council must be held accountable to these actions, with grave consequences to their own individual political careers if these travesties are not quickly and appropriately remedied.