May Day

"Good morning, Mr. General Secretary. We are glad you could attend our meeting."

"Nyet! A modern Russia demands new titles for its post-revolutionary leaders. We must trust capitalism to lead us. Please address me the way authority figures are spoken to on successful American television programs.

The limits as to how much damage a single council can do to a city is fast being stretched in Davenport. Area developers are in full swing
to put upwards of 400 acres under development (additional acreage has just been added to the mix in the past few weeks, and that is not the end of it?look for even more petitions in the coming weeks, including the commercial parcel of Jersey Farm Partners lurking in the background), all of which is intended to funnel onto 53rd Street. The potential danger relative to traffic and congestion is staggering, as is the frightening lack of planning.


What can the public do? Understand what is at stake. This council adopted a pseudo-philosophy of "Let developers pay for development," but they are only practicing what they preach to a point. This Wednesday, May 2nd, the council will vote on the third and final consideration for the rezonings that will allow the Super Wal-Mart project to move forward. To date, there is no signed written development agreement formalizing, let alone detailing, all the promises made by developer THF Realty. So the rezonings could very well pass without a completed, formalized agreement of all the terms, including who pays for what, and when, and accounting for certain contingencies should things change, etc. What savvy businessperson would give up property for a particular use, when all the conditions of the use and payment terms were not clearly and specifically defined in writing? Yet this is precisely what this council has done from day one.


Furthermore, should any terms finally get inked, this council will have less than a day to review them in their entirety. This does not allow sufficient time for negotiation or refinement, let alone a sound understanding of all the legal ramifications.


The Davenport City Council defends their support of the rezonings and subsequent actions based on the perception of an increased tax base resulting from the development of such entities as Super Wal-Mart. However, because no economic impact study has been done, they cannot substantiate their rationale. Could it be that they just don't want to know? It certainly appears that way since they are unwilling to insist on the processes that would provide this critical information. The larger consideration that never gets discussed is that any profit from these mega stores leaves the area. While there might be a slight gain in tax base from a new super center after the loss of smaller merchants is accounted for, the revenues of these retailers ultimately leave the area to wherever their corporate headquarters are located. Contrarily, local merchants' profits stay right here because this is where they live. Who is bothering to measure the significant economic impact created as a result of losses of local merchants' profits that would have accrued to our community? Once again, no one at city hall is looking out for the local merchants, who are the true backbone of this community.


Beyond THF's rezoning petitions, there are side deals being made concerning the current Wal-Mart store, road improvements to the Elmore Avenue/53rd Street intersection, and the creation of no less than two Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement Districts (SSMIDs) to provide a revenue stream to THF Realty to pay for infrastructure improvements?another area of inadequate terms and conditions spelled out in the SSMID petitions, not to mention questionable time frames and projections. These two petitions have no business moving forward on such a fast track, and they are arguably outside the parameters of due process as stated by the state law that governs how SSMIDs are to be enacted.


The two rezonings that THF needs to move forward with its Super Wal-Mart plans are scheduled for final voting on Wednesday, May 2nd. The council will take their final vote on the SSMIDs the following cycle, Wednesday, May 16th. If the rezonings pass, but the SSMIDs do not, then THF Realty will come back to the council for reconsideration of their rezoning petitions, to return the properties to their original zoning of agricultural. Alderman McGivern has enthusiastically promised to champion that cause, as well. Wouldn't it be grand if this young alderman fought as valiantly for the moral obligations due Davenport taxpayers as he does for the legal positions of out-of-town developers? THF insists that they cannot proceed with the Super Wal-Mart if they do not get the SSMIDs. That declaration alone should be a fire-engine-red flag for this city council, especially since Davenport is setting a highly controversial precedent should they establish SSMIDs for the benefit of a single property owner/developer. How have other Super Wal-Mart's developed elsewhere? The answer is sometimes on the backs of taxpayers using other public financing mechanisms, such as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). However, in more conscientious communities, the Wal-Marts of the world do business the old fashioned way?they pay for development of their own stores and the necessary infrastructure improvements themselves, without public assistance. Imagine that!


The final insult to Davenport taxpayers is the brainchild of Alderman McGivern, in which the city has an option to purchase the "dark" Wal-Mart store two years from now, after the store has been vacant, deliberately creating planned obsolescence on that block of Elmore Avenue. It is a common strategy of Wal-Mart to hold onto its abandoned stores so that no other competitor can occupy them. If Alderman McGivern wants to create incentive to protect against a deteriorating commercial neighborhood as he claims, then ink an agreement with the owners of the current Wal-Mart property that demands they accept any fair market value offer that is forthcoming for this dark property. This is a far better strategy than tying up taxpayers' money and forcing the city into the real estate business. Otherwise, what incentive does Wal-Mart have to sell before the two years is up, especially when the whole scheme fits perfectly into their strategy of "dark" stores, and they have a guaranteed buyer at the end of the two years at a fair market value?


The systemic problem is really the mindset that prevails with this current council. No better picture of their individual philosophies can be had than their various statements during Monday evening's Committee of the Whole meeting, April 30th. Alderman Englemann, obtuse as ever, claimed that while he had concerns about sprawl, this was a "market driven economy" and this is how people buy here. In other words, developers dictate to the likes of Alderman Englemann how development will occur in Davenport. News flash Mr. Englemann?nearly all American communities' economies are market driven. But in many of those communities, the local municipality dictates how development occurs so as to serve the interests of the entire community and not just those of a few market-driven developers. Please get a clue, Mr. Englemann, then pass it along to your fellow aldermen, most especially Aldermen Sherwood, McGivern, and Brown (if he is awake).


Alderman Sherwood appears clearly misguided in his conclusions about what is constructive v. destructive to older neighborhoods, especially where sprawl is concerned. To claim that new development of mega stores north of 53rd Street helps to support improvements in our older neighborhoods by accounting for 2% of the increase in our tax base is pure spin on Mr. Sherwood's part. He further aggravates the issue by declaring this kind of development as "the difference between growth and smart growth, and this is as smart as we can make it." Well, it may be as smart as he can make it, but many of us beg to differ.


It has been repeatedly demonstrated to this council that Davenport's population growth is stagnant, meaning no growth. Translation?the new jobs created by Wal-Mart will have to be filled by taking other merchant's existing employees. It is robbing Peter to pay Paul from a job-creation and employment standpoint. If merchants can't populate their businesses with employees, then they fold. Which means the whole tax base is decreased in terms of property taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, user taxes, and any other applicable taxes that are affected as a result.


Finally, as for bragging that most of the public's concerns relative to the Super Wal-Mart development and the creation of SSMIDs to pay for public infrastructure improvements required by ordinance have been addressed, I respectfully refer readers to last week's list (published in the Reader) of unresolved issues. In truth, only the first three of the seventeen concerns listed appear to have been mitigated, not entirely resolved mind you, and even this is questionable because the physical documents have not been finalized or reviewed by the council. The council won't get final review copies until Wednesday, May 2, just hours before they are scheduled to vote on these items. Could this be on a faster track? Crashing and burning is the predictable, if not inevitable outcome for such haste.

The grass on the field is still wet from a rainstorm earlier in the day. Good thing the skies have finally cleared, because there's a ball game scheduled tonight and I happen to know the starting pitcher personally.

During the past year, literally hundreds of Iowans have told me they want to support the cultural environment in Iowa. More than 200 of you did just that when we marched to the Capitol on February 22 in support of Cultural Advocacy day.

Last Monday night, April 23, Quad Cities Interfaith hosted a remarkable documentary film, produced by Micha Peled, on the impact of Wal-Mart stores in communities. Only three Davenport aldermen bothered to show up: Aldermen Hean, Sherwood, and Englemann.

The businesses on River Drive and 2nd Street need your help!!! The flood is coming and there is a lot of work to do to save these properties and businesses from the ravages of flooding. Businesses such as MidAmerican Glass (call Michelle Magyar?they are located at River Drive and Sturtevant); the Peterson Paper Building (call Internet Revealed or the Reader); Trissell, Graham & Toole; the QC Steamwheelers; Peterson Hagge Furniture; the old Silvia's building; the Rummage Closet; and the Redstone are but a few examples of those properties in trouble, which need all the help we can get sandbagging and building water barriers. We would be grateful for any amount of time you can give. We have a monumental job in trying to prevent and mitigate the damage the flooding does to these riverfront properties. From our hearts, thank you in advance for your efforts on all our behalves.


Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement Districts for New Development Not Necessary


This week, the Davenport City Council will vote on the "First Consideration" to approve the creation of two Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement Districts (SSMIDs)?one south of 53rd Street and Elmore Avenue, and one just north of the same intersection. These SSMIDs will allow a single developer, THF Realty, to use a public financing mechanism to pay for infrastructure improvements it is required to construct as part of the privilege of developing property in Davenport.


However, nowhere in the state of Iowa, and perhaps the entire nation, has a SSMID been created for the sole benefit of single for-profit property owner to pay for infrastructure obligations that strictly benefit new development. SSMIDs were designed to help eliminate blight and provide a means to improve established, albeit deteriorating, neighborhoods. Once again, the Davenport City Council has decided to subvert the intent of a law that should be used to help poorer neighborhoods redevelop. Instead, they are twisting the law's purpose to serve the unobstructed greed of the few they serve.


Even more objectionable is that the Davenport City Council is proceeding with these SSMID considerations (the law requires approval of three considerations before passing) outside the law. In order to approve a SSMID, the proper zoning must be in place first. This is not the case with THF's property. The law states that SSMIDs can only be created for properties zoned commercial. Much of THF Realty's property is still zoned agricultural and only a portion has a type of commercial zoning in the form of a Planned Development District (PDD). (It is interesting to note that the Comprehensive Land Use Plan [CLUP] calls for the PDD to be limited to office use, not retail. In order to put in the Super Wal-Mart, the council must waive the restriction and allow for rezoning of part of THF's property to commercial. It is hopelessly hypocritical on the council's part to allow this variance, especially when they used complying with the CLUP as the very reasoning to deny developer Niky Bowles her rezoning request.)


Currently, the council is in the process of approving THF's two rezoning petitions. Aldermen went so far as to simultaneously hold both public hearings on the two SSMIDs before they have even finished fast-tracking the necessary rezonings. This conduct is deliberately circumventing due process and stretching the limits of the law. Now the public hearings will have to be rescheduled once they have the proper zonings in spite of their obtuse behavior.


At the same time, they are moving forward with other rezoning petitions, including Jersey Farm Partners, that will constitute aggregate development of nearly 300 acres of land north of 53rd Street, creating traffic that will all funnel onto 53rd Street within the next few years. There isn't a visionary on this council, with the possible exception of Alderman Hean, who bothers to contemplate the enormous burden and potential danger that they are deliberately perpetrating on the citizens of Davenport. And who is going to stop them? How can we demand that these individuals engage their questionable intelligence to oversee these issues competently? Why are these potential dangers so hard to perceive for this council? Why don't they care about the unanswered questions? Why aren't they taking their stewardship seriously enough to thoroughly examine the development projects before them? What are they afraid of? And how are these various developers able to so completely mesmerize (or is the operative word intimidate) these individuals?



Meanwhile, the highest priority campaign issue that most of these councilmen promised taxpayers was more open government and the protection against the abuse of our tax dollars through manipulation of such things as TIF, which they utterly betrayed when they granted TIF to Sentry Insurance. Now here we go again with the creation of two SSMIDs for the benefit of one large developer, yet another betrayal of the public trust and the intent of a law that was supposed to help eliminate blight and give neighborhoods a helping hand. Beyond that, this council went so far as to actually impose a policy of censorship against the public by not broadcasting the "Public with Business" segments of all council meetings?an unprecedented action by any Davenport council. And isn't it ironic that the sole reason for censoring "Public with Business" was to silence one particular citizen, Niky Bowles. To that end, the council's censorship policy has been a dismal failure. In fact, Ms. Bowles has even more opportunity to expose their endless incompetencies. No matter how much the council discriminates against this citizen, they cannot refute the accuracy of the majority of her information. There is comfort in knowing that they cannot censor truth, let alone their own bias and relative bullying tactics.

We have a real crisis in Davenport relative to traffic on 53rd Street. Not only is it becoming increasingly unsafe to traverse that sector of town, but the Davenport City Council has every intention of making matters worse.

Mostly, in this space, we go for laughs. This is a legitimate objective, because everyone needs that cleansing breath of humor after a stop or two on the bus of life, especially when we're the only person behind the yellow line who seems to realize that the driver is a chimpanzee.

All Alderman Brown needs is an ottoman and a pillow during council meetings as he reclines back in his seat, hands behind his head, and appears to be sound asleep. He rarely comments on any of the issues. Yet he is one of four aldermen who have perpetrated destruction upon an individual life at city hall.

Societies ? you, me, our friends and neighbors, or any folks we find ourselves stuck in traffic or a tax bracket with ? thrive on shared experience.

Having something in common is what defines a society, and shared experiences create them ? even small and temporary ones. Who hasn't whooped it up at a baseball game with people we just happened to be sitting next to?



The fruits of a shared experience can be positive even when the experience itself is negative. Some of humanity's most moving moments are when total strangers pull together during a flood or a blackout.



All of which brings us to that shared experience known as: The Economy.



Nothing hits the spot like national prosperity, and most folks had a great time over the last few years watching the stock market "create" wealth, unemployment hover near zero, companies giddily expand. It was one big boom town, with everybody high-fiving each other and racing to buy the next round of drinks.



But, like someone said about the Civil War, they started this one drunk, and they're going to have to settle it sober.



And with each week seeming to bring more layoffs, salary freezes, and disappearing assets, there's plenty of hangover to go around. I got an e-mail recently from a retired man who depended on the go-go market to keep up with his substantial medical expenses. Now, he and his wife don't know how they're going to make it.



All of which would be bad enough if everyone were in the same boat (see "shared experience," above). Americans have weathered recessions, depressions, and assorted panics in the past, with most everyone taking a hit and no one to blame except a run of bad luck, usually temporary.



This time, though, it's starting to look like a few people are doing just fine at the expense of everybody else.



The issue of CEO compensation may be an old thorn, but ? really now ? what's it going to take before shareholders put a stop to the outrageous, multi-million-dollar packages their head guys pull down while they slash thousands of jobs in the interest of "trimming expenses"?



I know, Alex Rodriguez makes $21 million a year. But the difference is, he doesn't take anybody into the batter's box with him. I'd like to see CEOs hit their marks without help from the rank-and-file workers they so blithely lay off.



And if you lost money (or a job) when some skyrocketing tech stock suddenly veered earthward, you'll be interested to know that your experience wasn't necessarily shared with the nice folks who asked you to invest in the first place. According to the Wall Street Journal: "Meet the $100 million club, an elite group of at least 50 insiders at Nasdaq companies who collected immense fortunes. They each sold more than $100 million of stock in their companies....In many cases, these insiders sold near the high points of stocks that have fallen 80 percent, 90 percent, even 99 percent from their peaks....At one company...a single insider collected more money from selling shares during the period than the whole company is worth now."



There was a famous dinner party held during the late 19th Century, at which the wealthy, jaded guests were amused to find their places adorned with sand pails and miniature shovels ? and invited to "dig" for diamonds, rubies, and other souvenir gems before starting in on the soup course. This bit of decadence made news because at the time, a number of America's unlucky 10-year-olds were still digging anthracite out of coal mines.



I'm sure glad those class-conscious days are over.



Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and wgnradio.com. Coming soon: newsjunkie.net.

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