Public Watchdog.org

A Busy Evening At City Hall Tonight

10.26.09

It has been awhile since we’ve seen this many significant items on one night’s City Council agenda – or, in this case, two agendas, as the Council will have a “special meeting” [pdf] at 6:45 p.m., followed by the standard Committee of the Whole (“COW) meeting [pdf] at 7:00 p.m.

We sure hope residents show up at City Hall tonight to keep a keen eye on our City government, which needs all the scrutiny the public can give it – especially when it is discussing such hot topics as land grading for residential properties [pdf], the positively scary possibility of issuing bonds to replenish the $4.3 million the Uptown TIF has drained from the general operating fund [pdf], and whether the City should adopt a policy requiring it to be reimbursed for its costs from “special events” [pdf], something we believe is long overdue.

But the agenda item we want to focus on is the planned final vote at the “special meeting” to approve a contract [pdf] to tear out a portion of “Pickwick Plaza” behind 31-33 S. Prospect and restore the parking spaces that were removed back in 1986, when the previous owner of that property leased that area to the City for $1 per year.  The current owner, Winchester Investment Services, LLC, wants $2,000 per month to extend the lease, and the City wisely has said “No.”

According to the City Attorney, the City is contractually obligated only to replace the current features with the plain asphalt parking lot that was there in 1986.  But City Staff – in what seems to be yet another example of standard operating incompetence at the taxpayers’ expense – formulated the wrong bid specifications for that project by adding concrete aprons, a dumpster pad, and fencing, which jack up the cost to the City by over $5,000 (or 9%).

Fortunately, Ald. Frank Wsol (7th Ward) challenged the Staff’s incompetence, and the vote on this was deferred to tonight. 

Regular readers of this blog know that we have not had many good words for Ald. Wsol over the past year or so.  We thought his big new police station plan was ridiculous, his eleventh-hour alternative cop shop referendum question outrageous, and his opposition to a 100% pass-through of water rate increases fiscally irresponsible.

But when he’s right, he deserves to be recognized for it.  And this is one of those occasions.

We realize that $5,000 is not an earth-shattering amount, standing alone.  But it illustrates the positively cavalier way that Staff – in this case, Dir. Of Community Preservation & Development Carrie Davis, judging from all her tap-dancing about this matter under Council questioning, captured at www.motionbox.com/videos/a696d6b31f1fe0c129 – treats our tax dollars; and why the City’s financial condition is so shaky.

We urge the City Council to reject Staff’s foolish recommendation.  And because we’re being told that it’s too late to re-bid and complete the project before the asphalt plants close for the winter (which raises yet another question about Staff competence in waiting until this late in the season, after the lease has expired, before going out to bid), we also urge the owners of Winchester – Tim and Jennifer Perry – to magnanimously agree to preserve the status quo until Spring, so long as the City continues to provide the free snow removal and 12 parking lot spaces as it has been doing.

But whether or not that kind of accommodation between the City and the Perrys can be reached, the City Council needs to give Staff a stern warning that this kind of fiscal responsibility will not be tolerated any longer. 

4 comments so far

How long is City Manager Hock going to allow the incompetence of some of the city staffers to continue? I hope Mayor Schmidt has put Hock on notice… and, as well, that Hock has or will put Davis, Lambesis and a few others of the staff on notice. Shape up or ship out.

before mr. hock puts the hammer down on those others (and they deserve it), he better figure out how to balance a budget using something besides a couple million dollars of worthless i.o.u.’s from one city fund to another.

Juliana Maller appears to be the only sane one in the group. Hock appears to just play the nice, level-headed guy deferring to do whatever the council directs him and his staff. Maybe that’s what a city manager does to stay in their job – just don’t rock the boat. I’d like to see a little more proactive leadership from senior staff providing recommended direction to the council. Right now, it looks more like the blind leading the blind.

Carrie Davis also has a competent past track record…something is odd that she’d put something out to bid that is more than what was needed.

The All On The Road lease is a sweatheart deal…$200/month rent and it includes a parking space plus other services. I would suspect others would be able to make a decent go at a storefront there and pay more in rent. Maybe not, but I was surprised to see what appears to be an underpriced deal.

Off with their heads!



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