Can a politician be more obvious in his efforts to further his own political career than Alderman Roland Caldwell during last Wednesday's City Council Meeting? The platitudes were flowing like syrup on pancakes from most of the aldermen, but especially from Caldwell, who is seeking the Alderman-at-Large seat in next month's special election. Once again, lots of positive rhetoric about future plans for the city, specifically the Vision Iowa Program, should we be one of the recipients awarded monies from the $180 million fund for "image-altering projects."
Unfortunately, there is still not an iota of useful information forthcoming from any of the councilmen that explains the nuts and bolts of any components of the application Davenport plans to submit. I challenge both Aldermen Caldwell and Englemann to demonstrate to the public exactly how the revered "Ag Tech Center" component of the Vision Iowa application can bring about the level of economic impact they claim it has the potential to deliver. I would venture to guess they haven't a clue because they have not been forthcoming with any sound evidence to support their grandiose claims about the "transforming" nature of this particular project. From a purely economic perspective, it takes a lot more than a building and flowery talk about such vision to bring about the kind of revitalization that inspires local investment and incremental development.
What makes this ag-tech center any different than previous visions of an insurance corporate headquarters locating downtown? What is meant by "ag tech" and what kind of "venture capital" is required for such endeavors? Where are the numbers and/or proof of the economic demand? What kind of markets currently exist, where are they located, and why? What indicators show such entrepreneurs' willingness to locate here? What makes this region particularly suited to such industry? Does the fact that we continue to sprawl over the finest soil in the world and plow our precious natural resources under pavement enter the equation at all? None of these questions or any others were remotely broached, let alone answered by ten aldermen who declare the industry's virtue as an excuse to commit our tax dollars without truly understanding its potential or risk.
This being the case, all that has occurred has been self-serving political rhetoric. Alderman Caldwell made sure the public made the connection between the council's voting in favor of the parking ramps as the pivotal decision that made all these VIP projects possible. Support for the parking ramps eventually translated into "astronomical future property values downtown" and "the one thing that can transform the entire Quad Cities." These statements are ridiculous based on the information that has been shared with the public relative to the actual economics of the VIP projects. The renovation of the Redstone as it relates to jazz heritage is yet to be seen in terms of programming and actual collateral. So far, the projects are about flip charts and strategy; there has been zero substantive information shared about the viability of any of it.
Obviously we have some level of confidence in public and private leaders to see parts of the overall VIP application happen, but it is safe to say that the application itself is enormous in scope and varied in its detail, not to mention being crafted under a great deal of pressure relative to deadlines. So my bet would be that the aldermen are not remotely privy to its particulars, certainly not enough to hold the application's components up as the salvation of Davenport. Ergo, the rhetoric is pure posturing and typically vacant. It is nothing more than cheerleading for the audience for the purpose of the upcoming election, with no meaningful information being disseminated for public consideration. If the councilmen were truly informed about the VIP application, they would surely articulate a few probing questions to clarify the greatness of what they are participating in. In other words, they might be inclined to share the intellectual wealth of information about these "transforming" projects. As it is, they are only able to parrot what they have been told.
Regarding capital improvement expenditures, Alderman Caldwell pointed out that the council approved spending of nearly 12 times what the previous council spent on sewer and street repair (up $2.5 million from approximately $250,000).
What he didn't tell us is that Davenport has been woefully under-budgeted for such expenditures and is merely catching up to a level of barely respectable spending, certainly not a windfall. To give some perspective, Moline spent $9.8 million during 2000 for street repair alone. And for the initial nine months of the fiscal year 2001, Moline has budgeted another $3.5 million for streets, $1.1 million for sanitary sewer maintenance, and $1.5 million for storm sewer maintenance. When Alderman Caldwell can say they increased the budget for infrastructure repair to at least $10 million, then he can boast about improved spending policy. When the council can claim that no more sewers are backing up into people's homes, then they can crow.
There is a general excited anticipation about the possibilities should Davenport be awarded VIP funds. However, the only way to secure ongoing public support is to share relevant data about the projects, including goals, costs, marketing plans, successes and failures, who the players are, how the individual projects fit in with the whole vision for Davenport, and any other pertinent information that allows the public to be a part of the process. Our leaders need to recognize the fact that their best ambassadors are their own citizens. But skepticism abounds and questions go unanswered because they remain unasked by those in a position to ask them.
Town meetings a nice tummy rub, but not official
During Tuesday night's first town hall meeting, citizens were appreciative to be able to address the city council about issues that specifically concerned them in an informal setting where they were not bound by an agenda. The issue of living wages is one of the most important of this decade, if not the entire millennium. It directly impacts economic development in Davenport and should be unanimously endorsed and vigorously implemented within our own citywide programs and policies. It was fantastic and encouraging seeing so many speak to this critical issue.
The town hall meeting format is an extremely useful forum. It proved very successful for Mayor Yerington, especially during his campaign. But make no mistake, last night's town meeting was not a part of any official city record, and councilmen will not be held accountable to any discussion therein. This and any future town meetings cannot and do not replace the official "Public with Business" segment of council meetings. To pretend otherwise is pure deception. Hopefully, though, the council found merit in the town hall meeting as a means of more casually and comfortably communicating with their constituency in a public context, and will find it a reliable public relations measure that will cause them to continue to hold them. But not at the expense of "Public with Business" being broadcast on television, which must be reinstated immediately. The council has rules of conduct to control any behavior that is not appropriate during the segment, and we have a mayor more than capable of enforcing it. Let's give him the chance to do so.