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

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.

  • Sabai banner offering $1 sushi- a sure sign of impending closure
    Sushi for $1 almost guarantees they will be closed in weeks.
  • 601 E. Third St. a $450K purchase by the City of Dayton with no plans
    $450K to purchase it, no plans in sight.
  • Wayne ave vacant building purchased by the City of Dayton without a plan
    Another $450K purchase without a plan

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Grand theft taxdollars

Aaron Sorkin writes television shows that force me to have an emotional response. I remember scenes and monologues from his shows, from others, I’m lucky to remember a good line or two. He speaks about things that are seemingly obvious, but in a way that makes them seem like an epiphany of the surreal. The only problem is that they are plain hard cold facts.

An old one from the West Wing, delivered by Dayton’s own, Martin Sheen:

And a recent one, from Newsroom, delivered by Jeff Daniels:

And from the latest Newsroom, where he poses the idea of a political debate where the politicians should actually be held accountable for their answers:

All of these political discussions go deeper than what most are willing to admit in this country- that we have real problems, and no real answers. We refuse to challenge, to poke, to prod, to ask the questions why?

So, I think to myself, what would Aaron Sorkin do with material from Dayton Ohio? Stories that on the surface would seem ludicrous to any intelligent person, but seem to pass for standard operating procedure in Dayton. I wonder why I even care to continue to write about them. And, I wonder why you continue to read. This community seems entirely OK with allowing its tax dollars to be given away to anyone any politician chooses, with little chance of questioning, never mind liability.

I guess I should go back to my very first campaign pieces, that I still have quite a few of. 20 years later, the questions I tried to address are still questions today. Why do we stand for such a racially divided and economically divided city? How do we accept tax dollar giveaways of epic proportion, while being told we’re broke? Oh, if I were only Aaron Sorkin and could tell the stories with the veracity of a Martin Sheen or a Jeff Bridges.

Photo of the SW corner of the Arcade complex with the windows fallen out

The arcade is losing windows- long after millions of tax dollars were poured into it.

Where else does a private businessman hand a check over to the Chief of Police for $100,000 to get him to resign? Where else does the same businessman get to buy a landmark that the city poured millions into – only to board it up and let it rot?

Now, we’re sitting by laughing at a naive man from outside our community who had a dream and bought it- and is now having to deal with windows popping out and falling on the sidewalks, while we are still telling him that his bad investment is still worth a fortune in taxes?

This was the first time I saw public money invested into a project, being handed over to a private company, without a fair and open bidding process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last. And, despite huge investments in tax dollars, the price the city settled on was a paltry $36,000. Somehow, to anyone observing this transaction, it would seem that this would become the taxable value- but, somehow that’s not the way things work.

Now, we’re looking at the building and thinking- how much will it cost us to tear it down?

When it comes to livability, cities are often evaluated by their schools, their libraries and their parks. In Oakwood, they do an amazing job- being the only community to do all three. In Dayton, we can’t claim our schools or our libraries- and we’ve been backpedaling away from our parks as fast as possible.

The former Bomberger center- now the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center

The former Bomberger center- now the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center

I drove down I-75 S today, and looked at the ball fields on the old McCook field site. At least they still look like ball fields unlike the one at the end of my street visible from u35. The only thing missing- not a soul was playing. I have an old friend from college who used to work for the city in parks and rec- and I remember going to see her there and at the Burkhardt Center- and they used to always be packed. Now, Burkhardt center, much like many others is growing weeds and graffiti. The former “Bomberger Center” which belonged to the taxpayers- and had an outdoor pool- was handed over to some immigrants. Not that I’m against immigrants, but, this was ours for us. We paid for it. I don’t recall ever seeing a “for sale” sign posted- or a request for proposals so it could be offered for the highest and best use.

Just last week, the City Commission voted to spend $450,000 to buy a private piece of real estate. Did they have a public use? Was there a question? We can’t keep our pools open, or our rec centers, but can by a building that a business needs to unload so they can buy another one.

For years, we’ve paid through the nose to support Sinclair Community College. A grand asset to our community. It’s the only institution of higher ed owned by the public in the State of Ohio with zero debt. For years it’s tuition was so low that it made sense to move into Montgomery County and become a resident just for the savings. As the costs of other schools have skyrocketed, Sinclair is still a great deal- however, a few years ago, they decided to start a branch campus in Warren County. Why did we invest so heavily in Sinclair as citizens of Montgomery County- only to see our investment in a competitive advantage shared with a county that hasn’t paid a dime in tax toward it? And, yes, Sinclair’s tuition has gone up for those who paid for it.

IRG scrapping the fuel farm at DAY

Our tax dollars helped build this fuel farm, now we’re paying a vulture to scrap it and steal our money

Out at the airport we had a sure thing- a lease with UPS until 2019 for the old Emery Air Freight hub. They had to keep it secured, operable and in tip top shape. They also had to pay the city around $2 million a year in lease payments above the cost of keeping the building intact. For some odd reason, our former airport director went out and actively sought a deal to give away the building and the continuing income of millions of dollars- to IRG of California. A local business that had been working on a plan to use the building was shut out, and the city took about $7 million from UPS to let them out of their lease early and turned around and handed half of it to IRG. What did IRG have to guarantee or invest? Not a dime. Sounds like a crazy deal? Nope- it’s just Dayton as usual. They started by selling off 4 huge diesel backup generators that we gave them- clearing a few million more. Then, they started scrapping the $20 million  conveyor system in the building and last Thursday, a backhoe started to tear up a multimillion dollar stainless steel fuel storage facility. In scrap value alone we’re talking a few more million.

The former airport director left for New Orleans after writing the contract to do the deal, and his lover, the former financial controller for the Airport left to follow him a few days after the deal was completed with IRG.

Millions in tax dollars given away. Not much left to put nets up on the baskets at parks throughout the city. What’s left of our tax base is now being shuffled around in the name of “economic development.” We’ve seen at least 3 major businesses move from one tax supported deal to another tax supported deal down at Austin Landing- where they have a dual tax structure, something that may not exist anywhere else in America. Yes, here in Montgomery County, we have the people who work at Kohl’s paying 2.25% in income tax on their minimum-wage jobs- while the big donors to the political elite who work at Teradata and Thompson Hine a stones throw from Kohls- are income tax exempt. Why even try to hide the graft and corruption anymore? We’ve been doing it out in the open for so long we don’t even know to scream STOP when we see it happening right in front of our eyes.

If you break into our county prosecutor’s home and steal a few things you will get five years in prison. If you break into my office- and cause $8K in damage as well as kill three days of productivity- you get a slap on the wrist.

To those who know about what really goes on in Dayton Ohio, it would make great story lines for Aaron Sorkin, but when told by me, it’s just me being a complainer.

I call it grand theft tax dollars because that’s what it is. The question is, when will you start to realize it?