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.
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.
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.
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?