Case in point was the renovation of the Adler Theatre as part of the Vision Iowa project. In fact, the Adler renovation will displace some residents who live in the Mississippi Hotel because the theatre is in the base of the hotel and will expand into an area where several apartments exist. The number of occupants is small, and they will be relocated to other apartments in the hotel. Regardless, when concern for this was voiced, Howard declared that the citizens were misrepresenting the issue of displacement by presenting false information, revealing her lack of knowledge of the project.
The second incident involved a reporter, whose comments Howard censored because he objected to DavenportOne's expenditures of taxpayers' money. She claimed the issue open for discussion was about three Vision Iowa finance agreements, not about DavenportOne. The reporter pointed out that DavenportOne was one of the parties to the agreements, so once again Howard misstates the situation. While it is ethically and professionally inappropriate for a reporter to take the podium during public discussion to create his/her own news, this was not the ground upon which Howard censored this person.
Throughout the meeting, when citizens' comments didn't favor the issue, instead of allowing people to voice their concerns and possibly learning something, she repeatedly chose to censor them. Nothing is more undemocratic or insulting to our republic. Such conduct by an elected official is intolerable, and the public deserves Alderman Howard's immediate replacement as mayor protem. Meanwhile, the council passed the three financial agreements that comprise the structure of the Vision Iowa grant without a word of discussion?no information or explanation was forthcoming explaining to Davenport taxpayers what we are committing to. These are historic agreements having tremendous impact on our community. The public deserved at least a thorough summary of the agreements. When questioned about the agreements, the council deferred to others. But as one citizen put it, we have a right to direct our questions to the council, not other parties. It is the aldermen whom we elected, so it is the council that we expect answers from. Unfortunately, my guess is that the majority of the aldermen have no real clue about the agreements' contents.
Protest Rates for Development Fallible
During last week's council meeting, the council was asked to vote on HyVee's redevelopment project, which would significantly enlarge the vacated Eagle location at the corner of Lincoln and Locust streets in west Davenport. One resident alerted the council to the erroneous protest rate relative to the HyVee's proposal, but the council willfully ignored it, voting to approve the project in a manner that tramples upon the representative form of government each alderman is charged to protect. Disgrace defines this council, once again.
Whether HyVee's proposal is appropriate for the neighborhood is at issue, not the merits of HyVee as a company. Why is this council so deliberately obtuse? The aldermen repeatedly praised the development without once explaining why it was a good thing. When citizens expressed concern, it simply did not compute with these aldermen. They plowed ahead with their empty declarations of merit without any attempt to analytically discuss the pros and cons, or address any of the substantial problems brought to them by the public regarding the development.
This modus operandi occurred again and again. One resident listed a host of unresolved issues relative to a multi-housing project in her neighborhood that were critically important to the neighborhood's quality of life and property values, yet the council also approved it in spite of the well-documented information to the contrary. This disregard is a complete abdication of the process. The logical response to development problems as they are identified, such as the HyVee project possibly not complying with the Highway Corridor Overlay District development specifications (HyVee is asking for special dispensation from having to conform to these established standards), is to acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns and move to resolve them first, before a vote is taken.
Michelle Magyar, spokesperson for Citizens United for a Responsible Vision (CURV), made an astute observation about how the council makes its decisions on whether to approve development projects: "Using the 20-percent protest rate as the basis for your decision is to perform well below our expectations of you as aldermen. The criteria for approving a development proposal should be a) does it enhance our quality of life? Quality of life is not a fluffy concept, it is our number one goal [as stated in the posted goals in chambers]; and b) the cost-benefit relationship."
Yet nearly all discussion revolves around the protest rate versus the economical viability or sustainability of the project. Cost-benefit analysis is still not implemented. Why not? Where is city administrator Craig Malin's leadership in setting this basic standard, one that he espouses as essential to sustainable development? Alderman Ambrose claims that HyVee is "working hard to address citizens' concerns." If this is the case, then why is the council not obliged to wait for satisfactory resolution before they approve the project? Why does it invariably insist on putting the cart before the horse?
To add insult to injury, we recently learned that the methodology the city uses to calculate the protest rate has serious fallibility. While city administrator Malin should be applauded for addressing the problem in the light of day, and obviously moving to correct it in the future, what about development in the past that may been approved based on protest rates that were in error? Is this as serious as the 80-plus erroneous zonings that were exposed last year, requiring state intervention to correct? What recourse do residents have if protest rates were indeed calculated incorrectly, resulting in development that might not otherwise have occurred?
Davenport School Board Defies the Public Again!
The Davenport School Board's Monday vote of 6-1 to close Grant and Johnson elementary schools surprised few parents. In its chronic arrogance, the board voted to close the schools in spite of a valiant effort on the part of parents and residents that exposed the school district's financial rationale for the bunko it is.
After attending the public hearing on April 15, it was painfully apparent that the members of the school board are ill equipped to deal with the complexities of the information before them, evidenced by the glaring lack of substantive questions asked of the task force and parents when they presented the board with viable alternatives to the closings. This includes Superintendent Jim Blanche, who could not respond to any of my specific questions about the erroneous data the district repeatedly supplied to the parents.
Is the decision to close Grant and Johnson final? Thankfully no. The parents still have their appeal to the state's Department of Education, and it will be heard early next month. Nothing can change the fact that the school district did not comply with the state's Barker Guidelines, which specifically mandate that "open and frank discussions" with the public be held before any decision to close schools is made.
It will be up to the state to hold this district accountable. Meanwhile, the parents uncovered possible faulty accounting and misleading financial reporting by the district. As a result, citizens are organizing to take back our district. The current administration is unresponsive, and quite possibly incompetent. This goes for the current school board, as well. They have proved themselves to be nothing more than rubber-stamping advocates for the district's agenda. Several board members made feeble attempts to rationalize their votes, but only further exposed themselves as unqualified to make these far-reaching decisions. Not only did school board members contradict themselves, they made claims that were misleading and misinformed about the alternatives presented by parents, and about the overall impact on the district's quality of education (see page six for story). More importantly, their statements were not backed by a shred of science or evidence that they truly engaged in any kind of productive analysis.
I predict that time will reveal this administration's knowledge and perpetuation of deeper financial problems. If anything has come out of this exercise, it is certainty that our school district is being mismanaged to a degree none of us is yet aware. What the community has become aware of, however, is the district's undisclosed intention to implement the RDG Long-Term Facility Plan, which Superintendent Blanche continues to deny the district is following. This is curious indeed because the actions the district has taken relative to its facilities are the same recommendations made by RDG. When asked why the district's actions mirror the plan's recommendations, he claims it is "just a coincidence." This response is beyond contempt. Meanwhile, the next phase of district expenditures include improvements to Fillmore, Madison, and Monroe?all further recommendations in the RDG Plan. Just coincidence?