An Indictment: Why wholesale change is needed on the Dayton City Commission

by David Esrati on December 2, 2012

in big ideas for Dayton OH, Dayton Government, Must Read

It is time to remove the Democratic Party faithful from power on the Dayton City Commission. Nan Whaley, Dean Lovelace, Joey Williams and Matt Joseph have sat on a commission that has been blindly grasping for solutions to our fair city’s challenges.

Ask for what their signature contributions over their multiple terms are and be prepared for hearing “well, we didn’t go bankrupt” and “I created a party for college interns” or, “I pushed for bike lanes, and for a land bank” In general, they act as one, unanimously voting to rubber stamp the city manager’s recommendations, without ever a publicly asked question. Still, doing a majority of work in an illegal Monday Wednesday “work session” – these four have entered into one bad deal after another in the name of “economic development” while population continues to slide, as does the standard of living for the remaining residents.

It’s been over 20 years since I first ran for mayor as a naive young man. Then as now, I believe that the key to a great city is for government to do what it’s supposed to do best- public safety, infrastructure, schools, parks and recreation. If we give our residents the basics, delivered exceptionally, they can focus on their own “economic development.” I believe that stock markets and horse tracks are where investors and gamblers go to pick winners and losers- and that tax dollars never should be risked in any way.

Do the basics right and the rest follows. Our current commission fails this test repeatedly. There is no intellectual discussion of options, or even a concrete strategy of how to get from here to there. What we have is an ad hoc series of bets that have failed to pay off every time. This precedes the current commission and stretches back for decades. We have a culture of bumper car drivers- whose sole objective is to slam into whatever is close, failing to see that no matter what- they are still going in circles. There is no path to follow to a well defined future- and there never will be, as long as we continue to allow these party pawns to continue to rule on the friends and family plan.

The misguided failures

I won’t blame the City Commission for the loss of NCR, but, the loss of many jobs to Austin Landing where one intersection is magically better than the five we used to have in Downtown Dayton should be questioned. We have an “economic development director” in Dayton who flat out sells from a position of failure:

“A lot of businesses now want new — their own parking lot, single floor,” said Timothy Downs, deputy director of economic development for Dayton. “That’s hard to come by in the city of Dayton. We simply don’t have cornfields to plow into.”

via Development incentives not effective alone – Dayton Business Journal.

Last I looked, Teradata has 4 or 5 floors. That’s a company that started in Dayton at NCR World HQ and walked, not once, but twice for greener pastures with tax dollar support both times. We have to stop regional cannibalization and setting communities against each other to give tax dollars to private companies.  Why Mr. Downs still has a job after this quote is a question for our City Manager to be asking- or for the commission to ask the City Manager. Last I checked, Manhattan has no parking, no single floor offices and parking is $40 a day. They tear down buildings the size of the Kettering Tower to build bigger ones. Small minds get small results.

The Wayne Avenue Kroger: Millions for nothing.

Before Gary Leitzell took office, this stinker of a deal began in a back room. The developer, Midland Atlantic, which held a contract with Kroger to find a 12-acre parcel near the current Wayne Avenue store known by such nicknames as “dirty butt Kroger,” “Freddy Kroger,” “Deliverance Kroge,” and  “Ka-Ka Kroger.”  Midland failed to pull together a deal despite spending tens of thousands in options for the NE corner of Wayne and Wyoming. A local developer, with a proven track record in the area put together an alternative location- focused on using property along Warren Street and the former DMHA Cliburn Manor site. Somehow, he was sabotaged by the powers that be and the city instead stepped in. Threatening eminent domain, despite recent Supreme Court decisions clearly ruling that “economic development” wasn’t enough to warrant the use of eminent domain. Instead, the city chose to rule the neighborhood “blighted” – wholesale condemnation, in an attempt to knock property values down and allow them to force the matter. They went through several rounds of options, putting more money in the pockets of slumlords and residents who had lost any incentive to continue maintaining their properties- further blighting a neighborhood already in distress.

The city also “invested” $800K to purchase the burned-out Ecki building (a building that was for sale for less than $260K pre-fire and pre-fire insurance payment) and then spent more to give us an empty lot.

After “investing” millions of your tax dollars- and several years, the city finally acquired the parcel- only to be told by Kroger that they weren’t interested. The assistant city manager, who led this wild goose chase, failed to secure a contract with either Kroger or Midland Atlantic before squandering your tax dollars. She still has a job, as do four city commissioners who would have been fired for incompetence in the private sector.

 

 

 

Sa-Bai: giving it away

The city was sure, long ago, that a convention center and parking garage was the silver bullet to “saving downtown.” In the process, they tore down several grand old theaters and other buildings that would now be cool spaces for mixed use development. In their place, we got a convention center so ugly, that it had to be totally redone, more than once. We also funded the building of a mini-movie theater and subsidized it for years (the Neon). As part of that development, they put in a Greyhound station- which they later decided was bad and shipped it off to Trotwood. Gilly’s has been a long term tenant, Channel 14-16 moved in decades ago providing a quality tenant and the restaurant space once occupied by Chins, Chins and Elbows and then just Elbows- sat vacant until, our current wizards decided to lease the space for next to nothing to a Sushi restaurateur out of Cincinnati for $2 a square foot.

If you were the owner of Thai 9, the Thai and sushi restaurant a block away, you’d be a little put off, having to compete with a taxpayer-subsidized competitor. Luckily, the community knew better and stuck with the local guy who had given them something to cheer about without a government handout. Just this week- a new sign went up in front of Sa-Bai- $1 sushi.

This isn’t economic development- this is unfairly giving our tax dollars to one business that adversely affects another.

You wouldn’t want any of these commissioners renting your house for you. Their idea of being a landlord is paying the tenant to live in your house, while making your neighbor’s house worth even less- and charging you a premium to do it.

Real estate speculation: $900K for 2 buildings with no plans

The predictions are always grave. We’re going broke. Tax revenue is down, money from the state’s local government fund is down, population is down, property values are declining and our housing stock is aging. In the meantime, labor and pension costs are up, deferred infrastructure maintenance bills are growing, our public safety forces are at all time low staffing, despite increases in property crimes and arson.

Our commission, instead is buying up real estate without a public purpose. Just recently, buying buildings on E. Third Street and on Wayne avenue for $450K each. A reader from out of town pointed out, that while the city spent close to a million dollars for 2 vacant distressed buildings with environmental issues, other buildings, with tenants and generating revenue are going for much less. Please note, that the number one address for class A office space in Dayton, its tallest building- the Kettering Tower recently sold for only $1oM.

Why are we buying vacant, buildings without a plan? Wouldn’t you rather have a cop to investigate your break in, a fire fighter to put out the fire or your road paved or a park maintained? Isn’t that why you pay taxes? Or is it so the city commission can play monopoly with your money?

IRG and the UPS building

I’ve written extensively about how bad this deal was. UPS had the old Emery freight facility at the airport under lease until 2019. They were committed to paying us millions each year and maintaining the facility as turn-key ready for an aviation use. A local developer had approached UPS about putting a solar power generating system on the roof to help subsidize the lease and possibly use the facility to grow a green energy supply business. The city got wind of this and the former airport director wrote a very one sided deal to let UPS off the hook and bring in the industrial vultures known as IRG to “market” the property.

We gave up 7 years of $2 million a year for a one time $7 million payment, turned around and gave half to IRG and smiled. Mayor Leitzell’s was the only no vote. The former airport director left town with his boyfriend, a subordinate at the airport. The new no-money down owners, who started out with a $3.5 million gift and then proceeded to scrap out everything of value including diesel generators, a stainless steel fuel farm and a conveyor system that the taxpayers had built for Emery that cost upward of $20 million- putting millions more in IRG’s pockets.

The oddest thing was that a local business tried to lease the space that IRG was supposedly “marketing” and they were rebuffed.

The owner of a Tipp City manufacturer recently offered Industrial Realty Group $3.5 million to buy part of Air Commerce, the former Emery/UPS building near the Dayton International Airport.

The offer expired Nov. 16 without response from IRG, according to Albert Naggar, chairman and owner of Process Equipment Co. Naggar still wants to consolidate his company’s four area facilities, but not into a newly built campus, as he originally proposed.

via Developer lets $3.5M offer on Air Commerce expire | www.daytondailynews.com.

What was the real reason for the bad IRG deal in the first place? Why did the former airport director write the bid for IRG? Why would the city give up the opportunity for a guaranteed lease- while maintaining a value asset in go-ready state? The only possible answers would come from an FBI investigation. The corruption is costing our community daily.

Besides mismanagement, what else?

The list is long, but, the above should give you a clue as to why the four horses of the apocalypse need to go. But if you need more reasons, let’s look at the very obsolete processes we use to put people in power and keep them there. The City Charter is an odd bird, and hopelessly out of date. Please explain why you only need 50 signatures to run for Congress, but 500 to be a Dayton city commissioner. This process has managed to stop more primaries than you’d think. It is a barrier to office, and it’s funny, how the party-endorsed candidates’ petitions always check out (usually because employees of the Board of Elections who are all patronage jobs supplied by the party) check petitions out on their “lunch break” for party candidates. The standard in the Ohio Revised Code is 50. Nowhere else are you required to have the petitions notarized- as if the notary has any proof that the signatures on the petitions are valid. All of this is immaterial, when the other rules in the charter are applied randomly. Several times Dean Lovelace has missed well over the 5 meetings in a row that call for a special election – they refuse to act. Either the Charter is the law- or it’s not.

To change the charter, citizens must gather 10% of the “registered voters” in Dayton’s signatures to place an issue on the ballot. The commission only needs three votes to do it. To recall the members of the commission requires 25% of the “registered voters’” signatures. The problem? According to the census, there are 108,000 people over the age of 18 in Dayton and eligible to vote, according to the voter rolls, we have 101,000 voters. You heard that there are some districts in Ohio that have more “registered voters” than people? Same problem- voters are being counted that left the city long ago toward that number- including a whole bunch of UD Students. The proper thing to do is to change the standard to a percentage of people who actually voted in the last election, but, even that is beyond the vision of the knuckleheads we’ve elected. Until you vote three people who put the people first onto the commission, your ability to petition government will remain nonexistent.

Mayor Leitzell claims to be willing to change the charter- or at least put the questions on the ballot, but believes it’s impossible without 2 other competent commissioners. In this next election, if we have enough people run, the splits could knock out Williams and Whaley from even appearing on the November ballot. If you are interested in being a part of this, you will need to start circulating petitions now. I will help you with the process. Lovelace will resign in the next year- or I will file suit to call for the charter to be followed-  or tossed out. We will need good candidates to make sure that Whaley, Wagner or Williams doesn’t re-appear on the commission because there wasn’t anyone else to step up.

I submit this indictment for you to review, evaluate and share with your friends. If you want to see a Dayton that is a place where opportunity isn’t dependent on political payola and the will of the party, it’s your job to help make sure that the end of the private party political process ends in 2013. Thank you.

 

 

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

truddick December 2, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Well, David, you analyze the results but not the process.

We have a one-party commission (and school board, and county commission…) because it’s not one-man (pardon the gender-specific language) one vote.  It’s one man, vote for every open post.

We can resolve the twin problems of one-party control and gerrymandering if we simply declare that all levels of government are elected at-large, with each voter given only one vote for each category of office.

In the Dayton or Montgomery County races, for example, a voter would only vote for one school board, city commission, or county commission member–regardless of the number of posts open.  Currently every voter can vote for someone for all open seats–and so a Democratic voter naturally votes the entire endorsed Dem ticket, and they all win.  Give each voter only one vote for commission, and Dems probably still dominate–but a single Republican, or maybe even a well-organized third-party candidate, can get in

In the same way, if every Ohioan got one vote for state senate and house–and could vote for any candidate state-wide–then probably we’d get a mix of Dems and Reps, with maybe the odd Green or Libertarian tossed in–each major metro area would probably have a favorite son/daughter in the capitol, with a few stalwarts who appealed broadly to the rural community.

Such a system would save us the dollars wasted on court fights over districting, would remove the distractions, would give a more accurate representation of the will of the voters of Ohio.  Would require a constitutional amendment probably via referendum, and the costs to engender passage would be massive since it would require educating voters. 

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David Esrati December 2, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Another option Truddick is to have the commission elected in one election- with no definition of seats or mayor. Using instant run-off ballots, voters are asked to rate the candidates in order. The Mayor would be the person who got the most votes in each cycle.

Agreed that your system would improve the state senate and house options- but the cost of analyzing and voting for that many candidates would be huge.

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Gary Leitzell December 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Two corrections David. The work sessions are on Wednesday either before the evening meeting or after the morning meeting. They are open to the public and the media is often present to report on the information. I have never seen you attend one of these. Maybe you showed up on a Monday!:) The other thing to know is that the population of the city increased after the 2010 census by 452 people. It is not significant but a move in the right direction after 40 years of decline. I suspect this may have something to do with “Welcome Dayton” because the number of Ahiska Turkish families in Dayton has increased by 300 in just two and a half years. When I involved myself with this group in May 2010, there were 150 families. Now there are some 450 families.

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David Esrati December 2, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Mayor Leitzell, thank you for the corrections. That’s good news on the population rise, although I’d say since Joey, Dean, Matt and Nan took office the net number is still a decrease. The “work sessions” are still illegal and should not be conducted. So sayth the charter.

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Mark Herres December 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Thanks for doing the thankless job of being watchdog over our dying city. For the record I”m the guy  who had the vision to create the First Solar Powered Airport in the World at The Birthplace Of Aviation. And that was just using the roof to mount a 10 megawatt solar array. .The building would of become a catalyst for green energy technologies and house the only one of of its kind Global Disaster Relief distribution hubs in the world.. I spent over 3yrs and a million dollars in sweat equity and cash from myself and BDG partners. I never once asked the city for a dime of corporate welfare. With this being said we all know the corruption at  city hall and the end result , F–k the visionary and lets ruin another opportunity for the people of Dayton.
 
The real story behind the Emery building was simple entrepreneur has Idea asked fortune 100 company to let him save them 27 million in on going expenses at the former Emery site .
They say it cant be done because the city of Dayton is incompetent and wont let anything happen there without planes landing fees and income to city,  and the facility  has strict aviation use only guidelines which are in-forced by the FAA.
The Solar array didn’t change anything as far as the use of the building it, only made it become profitable empty. My other proposal was to create the largest Global disaster relief distribution center in the world helping supply FEMA , IMF, Red cross etc. to effectively and timely Ship  these kind of  supplies around the world.  This would of required a fleet of planes and military aircraft which meets all requirements of all parties involved .
 
Remember the business of UPS is shipping products all over the world in a timely fashion what a partner for my vision and a deep pocket to fund it.
 
So UPS agrees to move forward and at the end of there lease sign the building over to BDG for $1.      so what can go wrong ?         nothing if the city greed card hadn’t stepped in in the name of Tim Riordan City manager.    Ups bet me I couldn’t get the city to enter into a MOU on this site and that happened on Dec7 2011 at city hall but once Mr Riordan realized I would get the building for a dollar his dim bulb suddenly got brighter.
 
So enters IRG into the Game  with city persistence knowing they will have to make the deal sweeter to get UPS to drop the BDG Plan which keeps UPS on the hook for  the next 10 yrs.
 End result early lease termination down to 3 yrs pay IRG 6 million to take over air hub  city looses 7yrs land lease rent and gets the building back in 3 yrs empty.
 
So the moral of the story isn’t what you think (little guy finishes last.? ) Know he goes on to receive 16 Patents in the last 12 months takes over a TECH TOWN start up and takes its product An Unmanned drone aircraft to market in assisting in disaster relief for the Special forces of the Military and has been reviewed by the Secretary of Defense.  Did i mention that the Plane is solar powered and contains RFID Technology developed by BDG and former TECH TOWN founder who went without pay from the city for 21 months while running the center. The only thing unmanned in Dayton now is Tech Town .
 
PS. the little guy doesn’t finish last unless he allows it to happen so Mr Riordan turn the lights off when you leave town back to Cincinnati on your second retirement from city hall.
You may also want to watch the new  TV Show Evolution to see the future of your works in this city come to reality . And don’t forget to check off the few days left on your MAYAN calender on your way to the Wine Gallery Bar to celebrate your achievements.

Smackdown!. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

Bone December 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Whaley has half of the auditors office that will be working on her campaign on county time, Esrati you should put your hat in, you could win that race!

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David Esrati December 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm

@Bone- my ht is in. I have petitions. Anyone willing to help get signatures is appreciated. We’ll have the donation mechanism up soon.

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djw December 4, 2012 at 6:54 pm

As part of that development, they put in a Greyhound station- which they later decided was bad and shipped it off to Trotwood.

Yeah, I almost hesitate to ask because the answer is almost certainly weapons-grade stupid, but what the hell is the deal with that? A nice central location, a one-seat ride away from transit destinations all over the county, and they move it way out to the ‘burbs? I know that people like me who prefer to not drive when I go out of town for the weekend deserved to be punished with as much inconvenience as possible, but the extra hour+ that ridiculous location adds to my trip in each direction seems a bit much. It’s especially ridiculous given that the old station space appears to remain vacant.

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Dr. Funkenstein December 5, 2012 at 5:06 am

Nothing is going to change in Dayton.  Who is going to fix it?  The Republicans?  The BOE Director has committed thefts, used county money to have an affair with his wife and hired a rapist just to name a few!!!  The Republican director Smith was being paid by us to keep an eye on the other party and did nothing.  She is either really really clueless (which from what the staff say ispossible) or she is part of the scam.  How are you going to fix anything David?  The Republicans can’t do anything or are in bed with the Democrats but you are going to fix things?  How?

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J Dziwulski December 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Hi David!  Greetings from Louisville (here for the holidays, not permanently)!  Good place to see ideas that could be applied to Dayton if they had the money and leadership to make happen….and it is about vision and leadership…and passion..as much as it is about money.   

I should be more supportive of the commission since they are all Democrats and Im a left/liberal too (though more a social-democrat in the European sense), so I should defend instead of pile-on…but like you I’m not impressed with the local political leadership.  Buisness leadership is perhaps also lacking.  It would be nice if we had some folks who had the passion for their city they way, say, Tom Owen down here in Louisville does, or the old Charlie Farnsley (Louisville mayor back in the 1950s) did.   Gary Leitzell probably does, from what I can tell.

Anyway about that white building on Wayne Avenue you posted about.  I think the plan for that was to tear it down and put in a parking lot to serve the Oregon district…so disagree with you saying there is “no” plan.   Whether thats a good plan is another story.

Putting on my preservationist hat, I blogged on that building a few years ago, that it dates from the 1870s and is probably one of the few industrial buildings surviving from the mid-19th century, so perhaps some value as relic of time important to a city built by manufacturing.   I could see it as good mixed use space, but, like the song goes “if I had a million dollars” (and a really big powerball win), so no, not going to happen…

But I digress .   Good post and I appreciate you are still on the case.  Makes me think of getting back in the game of posting or writing on Dayton…This Decemeber marks my 25 years of moving to the Miami Valley so it IS my adopted home like it or not…

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Clay G. Reid February 1, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Miami Valley Hospital and the University of Dayton have agreed to share the demolition costs of the project, meaning no city tax dollars will be required.

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