Saturday, June 18, 2005

Your Scribner Place Flash Card

On the board, July 7, 2005 Posted by Hello

Click on the image above for a more readable and printable version of the Scribner Place, Phase I financing alternatives on tap for the next city council meeting.

And be sure to pick up a copy of Sunday's edition of The Tribune to read Amany Ali's eye-opening defense of a revitalized downtown New Albany.

And many thanks to "concern taxpayer," who for some reason wishes to remain anonymous, for preparing this chart. I, for one, am going to print it out and carry it throughout the next 33 days.

Clouds in My Coffey, and..

With apologies to Carly Simon:

The Hon. Dan Coffey, who represents the 1st City Council District of New Albany, was said to be boasting loudly as he departed Thursday's City Council meeting.

Reports say his boast was something to the effect of "Well, we killed that one, didn't we."

Never turn your back on a "dead" beast, Mr. Coffey.

This beast is a planned unit development off of Kenzig Rd. Though the subject property is not technically inside the boundaries of New Albany today, its proximity to and impact on the city made it necessary for the property owners to seek the approval of the city's Plan Commission in order to develop it.

Under existing law, the landowners are free to develop the hilly acres pretty much at their discretion without seeking any city approval and can proceed to build single-family lot houses. But in negotiations with the planning office and after their own market research indicated a need in this area for zero-lot-line housing units, the landowners sought approval for a PUD (planned unit development).

With some modifications, the Plan Commission gave unanimous approval to the PUD, which would significantly decrease the negative impact on the area and result in $15-$25 million in new residential property being added to the tax rolls.

Mr. Coffey, from the get-go, vociferously opposed the new development, taking the lead position in forcing the landowners to revise the density of the project once again. That downward revision decreased the potential impact of new development, and if you don't mind the loss of tax revenues, then Mr. Coffey deserves much of the credit for that. The landowners, too, deserve credit, for giving up some of the value of their property to accommodate the concerns of their neighbors.

Thursday, marred by the procedurally flawed parliamentary shenanigans of CM Schmidt, the council took a final vote on the PUD application, which resulted in a tie. Therefore, the council took no action.

Accordingly, the Kenzig Rd. development is free to proceed once 90 days have elapsed from the time it was certified to the council on unanimous approval from the Plan Commission.

Seems the beast didn't die, Mr. Coffey.

Mr. Coffey carries a large, thick binder with him to these meetings, although he's seldom seen reading from it. Maybe he should add a book on administrative and parliamentary procedure.

I hear reading really adds to your quality of life.

NEXT TIME: William's Rules of Order, or, It Don't Matter to Me
And coming soon: Coffey Brake, or, If I Could Save Time in a Bottle

Randy Smith,

Friday, June 17, 2005

You Tell Me Which is Best

Mayor Garner's administration, in a mysterious concession to the demonstrated ignorance of certain members of New Albany's city council, presented three options for the financing of the redevelopment project known as Scribner Place, Phase I, at the council's June 16 work session that preceded the council's regular bi-monthly meeting.

Gary Malone of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, advisor to the city for the purpose of preparing to authorize the issuance of bonded indebtedness, made the presentation, which included easily understandable charts and diagrams of the three options.

Having no access to the document presented to accredited members of the press and to each member of the council who was present, I am offering this record from my notes as compiled contemporaneously to the presentation and aided by a slight ability to read over the shoulder of members of the audience who possessed copies of the document.

The bond issue decision will first come to council with the July 7, 2005 meeting. Here are the options presented.

The cost of the project, if it proceeds NOW and on schedule, is $13,261,000.

Construction costs = $8,000,000
Non-constructions costs = $2,800,000
Capitalized interest = $1,300,000
(this is the cost of borrowed money during the approximate 2-year buildout)
Contingencies and the fees associated with arranging the financing make up the remainder of the $13,261,000.


The actual bonded indebtedness under this option (called lease rental bonds), or the amount to be borrowed, would be $12,100,000.

The city would continue to commit $400,000 each year for the next two years.

An additional $361,000 in money from the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County remains from the initial $1 million grant.

This totals up to $13,261,000.

Repayment of the bonds would be made through these revenue streams:
$1,000,000 each year from Caesars/Harrah's
$270,000 each year after '07, for a total annual lease payment (bond retirement) of $1,270,000.

Each year, while awaiting the payment from Caesars, the city would be obliged to pledge $1 million from EDIT (Economic Development Income Tax) funds. Once the payment is received, those EDIT funds would be freed for any lawful purpose the city determines. This is required under all scenarios. Caesars is paying the city. The city has to promise to devote that money to the bond repayment. Only if Caesars/Harrah's reneges on its commitment, which Mr. Seabrook and Mr. Schmidt assure us won't happen, would the city be obligated to expend that $1 million for bond retirement.

As an additional credit enhancement (a safety measure for the buyers of the bonds that would make them feel more comfortable in buying them, and thus willing to take a lower interest rate), the city would have to pledge to repay the bonds from the first available dollars generated by the property tax. As I understand it, the buyers of the bonds want to know that in the extremely unlikely event that Caesars reneges AND the city can't come up with $1,270,000 from the approximately $2.4 million it currently collects from the income tax, that the city will pay what it owes. It is the taxing authority that the city is promising to use in an extreme case. This has NOTHING to do with raising anyone's taxes.

Failure to pledge that the city will pay the bonds from property tax resources (and it will never get to that point, since we have Caesars and then more than $2 million in unpledged EDIT funds to cover the $1,270,000) before it makes other expenditures will result in the city paying a higher interest rate - about 20-25 basis points higher, or .2-.25% more in interest (compounded) on every borrowed dollar. For example, if the city can borrow at 4% with the property tax pledge, it would pay 4.2-4.25% without that pledge. Not to mention, raising the suspicions of every lender and bond buyer in the country.

On $12,100,000 in bond principal over 17 years, that .2-.25% will eat us alive, making the painless pledge of property taxes a no-brainer. Yet, several council members have stated that they will not make the pledge. See the numbers in OPTION 3.

Instead of $12,100,000 in bonds issued, the city would issue $13,025,000 in bonds and skip the annual EDIT payments of $400,000 each of the next two years. This EDIT money could be used for other purposes, despite the fact that it has been committed to Scribner Place all along. In fact, $700,000 had been planned as the EDIT contribution. The mayor has found a way to reduce the annual commitment of EDIT funds to only $270,000 a year under OPTION 1, but this option forces the city to cough up $364,000 each year from EDIT funds for the final 15 years (post-construction) of the bond. To keep it that low, the city would still have to pledge its property taxing authority as a backup - that is, to continue to enhance the attractiveness of these bonds to the market of bond buyers.

OPTION 2 has us borrowing almost $1 million more, spending almost $100,000 more each year, but lets us spend like we're RICH for the next two years.


Under this option, we borrow $13,800,000. We continue to pay $400,000 a year during '06 and '07, and then spend $375,000 each year thereafter from EDIT funds.

ADDENDUM: OPTION 3 would also require the city to fund a debt service reserve fund to the tune of approximately $1,375,000 for the term of the bonds (locking the final year's payment in a vault where we can't touch it).

This is the option where we announce to the world that, no matter how unlikely it is that it would be called upon, this city won't pledge its property taxing authority to back up the bonds. We announce that while we want buyers to buy our bonds and trust us (really!), we know they won't trust us as much and we're willing to penalize ourselves by paying a higher interest rate for the next two decades. In other words, we tell the world "We're stoopid!"


The magical plan where a strong but tiny non-profit agency tries to borrow money, but has to pay a much higher interest rate, thus turning its Y into a much lesser facility, and creating a much more expensive swimming and recreation facility that city residents have to pay a much higher membership rate for. Oh yeah. And one where the city sends a signal that mirrors the Hon. Dan Coffey's brilliant civic boosterism message from today's C-J:

"(Coffey)...said he doubts Scribner Place will attract the kinds of private development Messer, Garner and some others expect.

"He said he doesn't think the market exists in downtown New Albany for such private development at this time."

That's right, Coffey is driving investment AWAY from his council district and from his acolyte Steve Price's adjacent district. Thank you, Mr. Coffey and Mr. Price.

Woo-hoo for the Cappuccino Effect.

Option 3 costs the city $1.7 million more than option 1. End of analysis. Please join our class action suit if you think that's the most moronic idea you ever heard, if you think it borders on criminal negligence to put the city in hock an additional and unnecessary $1.7 million, if you wonder what would induce a council member to handcuff the city so stringently just because some foolish or ignorant constituents are confused, if you think it is the responsibility of elected leaders to explain the facts and tell the truth to their constituents.

No sane person, no sincere person has any reason to equate the pledge with the tax. The pledge is our promise to pay, which we will do in any case. Property taxes don't go up unless you SPEND them unwisely or elect to add new services or lose sources of money. The pledge, if anything, will LOWER our property taxes.

But just wait...when our taxes do go up because of inflation or because the state has pushed the cost of services onto the city and said "you face the voters who are demanding services and you pay for it," some yahoo (or possibly yahooette) will scream "Scribner Place raised our taxes."

Randy Smith,

CFP Sets Interviews for Lawyers

The legal committee of Constituency for Progress has asked me to issue an open call for any civic-minded licensed attorney (no leaglebeagles) or law firm interested in taking on a public interest action with Constituency for Progress as plaintiff to contact me to arrange for an interview with the committee.

Specifically, the committee is researching the viability of a public interest class-action lawsuit against the City Council of New Albany if they choose to endanger the creditworthiness of the city by needlessly adding to the costs of an upcoming bond issue by neglecting to include a pledge to commit the city's property taxing authority and property tax proceeds as an additional guarantee and credit enhancement for the bonds for construction of the redevelopment project known as Scribner Place, Phase I.

Proposed defendants would be the authorizing body of the City Council jointly, and each elected member that may constitute a majority in authorizing the depletion of future city revenues through misfeasance, malfeasance, or gross neglect of their joint and several liabilities to safeguard the fiscal soundness of the city. Interviewed attorneys should likewise be prepared to discuss strategy for defense of SLAPP and similar suits. Interviews will be conducted over the next two weeks. Contingency plans for service of process should be anticipated for the evening of July 21, 2005.

Non-CFP members wishing to join as class-action plaintiffs are invited to contact the legal committee of CFP.

Randy Smith,

Open Letter to Some Friends

Hey, Mike. Hey, Greg.

It’s time to get your hands dirty. You’ve done a great job in a) raising money for the capital campaign to build a YMCA facility at New Albany’s Scribner Place, and b) maintaining a unified front in calling for Scribner Place and a public investment in redevelopment of downtown, respectively.

But it’s past time for you to get your hands dirty. You can’t stay above the fray. You can’t pretend that your causes aren’t political. You can’t be neutral in this fight for the city’s future. You can’t worry about who might be offended.

Each of you has the influence and the organization to motivate hundreds of N.A. residents and business owners to declare their support for Scribner Place.

Do it. Get your phone tree going, get your letter-writing campaign going. Elected officials are reading your perennially smiling visages as weakness. The disaffected, bitter, and ignorant are first being conned by the demagogues, then being used as the excuse for knee-capping Scribner Place.

You can serve your community and your interests, too, by insisting that the city save the $1.7 million, save the $138,000 a year, save the 0.20% in extra interest payments that even some Scribner Place friends are, out of caution, considering as a compromise.

How does paying more for Scribner Place make anyone happy?

There’s a small but vocal group working to actively destroy everything you guys have worked for. They create straw men so they can knock them down and use the furor to justify a vote against SP. They intentionally create the impression that Scribner Place is going to be such a drain on the city, that the funding will be so fragile, that ultimately property taxes are bound to rise.

In essence, the best plan is one where the city pledges its full taxing power as a last-resort backing for the money that must be borrowed. Somehow, that’s being twisted into a story that property taxes are going to be raised to pay for Scribner Place.

That’s what you’re facing. Quit pretending your goals aren’t political. Bring out the big artillery and quit letting other people fight your fights for you. Battle the disinformation campaign designed to torpedo your dream project. If it gets a little bloody, well then, it’s worth it for the future of this city.

For more useful information and commentary during these next critical weeks, be sure to add NA Confidential to your favorites list and check it each day.

Randy Smith,

Public Purposes


The above was an eminently worthwhile resolution on last night’s agenda for the City Council of New Albany.

The resolution would have authorized the purchase of fire-retardant suits for members of New Albany’s narcotics squad. The much-desired crackdown on neighborhood meth labs has put NA’s finest in peril without these suits. Once the need was presented to council, there was universal agreement that we should purchase these suits for the squad.

The resolution did not pass. Mr. Coffey, who was destined to introduce the resolution, pulled it for consideration without presenting it.

I know…you expect me to crack on somebody here.

The new Friends of the New Albany Police Department is a charitable organization whose purpose is to raise money for discretionary items needed by the department that may or may not rise to the level of a public purpose, and to preserve the history of the department.

Word on the street is that Messrs. Coffey and Price made a donation to the “Friends,” funneling it through some unnamed neighborhood association, that, combined with other Friends funds, will cover the full expense of these suits.

Which prompted the funniest moment of the night when CM Mark Seabrook prepared to introduce a resolution to pay for the flood-caused repairs to Clark Street.

Seabrook quipped, “Before I introduce this resolution, is there anyone out there who wants to pay to repair Clark Street?”

By the way, that resolution wasn’t introduced, either, but not because a benefactor stepped up to relieve the city of responsibility for this clearly public expenditure. The city is just waiting for the final bill, which is estimated to be around $17,000. New problems were found and fixed, and it looks like money well spent; likewise, this resolution should pass on a show of hands when it becomes ripe for action.

I heard about the Friends several weeks ago and I support their goals and their formations. I even suggested they create a public membership that will create a bond between the department and the citizens it serves.

Not to diminish the gesture made by the two council members, but what, exactly, about this purchase required charitable donation? Why shouldn’t you and I help pay for required law enforcement equipment, too?
Is this a sincere gesture by the members? It’s undoubtedly boorish to criticize it, but it’s in no way inappropriate to question it, especially if it is intended to be used in a political campaign to privatize this, that, and the next thing.

There are public purposes involved here. The public, through city taxes, should bear the burden. While I’m no less grateful for the gift, I deplore the underlying idea that this isn’t something the taxpayers should pay for.

What’s next? What is the next public purpose that CM Coffey will oppose funding for (no doubt citing the precedent of the fire-retardant suits) and call for some private entity (the YMCA?) to fund expenditures, investments, and even bonds that should, by all rights, be assumed by the taxing authority and its citizens.

That’s yet another example of demagoguery, of appealing to people’s worst instincts.

After all, I don’t drive on Clark Street. So far as I know, I don’t know anyone on Clark Street and I have no relatives on Clark Street. Why don’t the folks on Clark Street pay for it? They’re the ones who benefit from it. If they point out that other people drive on it, let them erect a gate and toll booth to raise additional revenues. Let some benefactor step in and pay for it.

That is the opposite of communitarianism. That is an idea from the pits of hell. Yet that’s the ultimate end of ideas that go something like this:

“The city’s taxpayers are overburdened. Even though police officers who enter into dangerous situations need protection, even though shutting down meth labs is a public purpose, even though my constituents are demanding we get rid of meth labs and slumlords, I think somebody else should pay for it.”

Here’s my response: No matter that you think that’s what will get you re-elected, I’m here to espouse the cause that such demagoguery will be exposed and the people who find such to be the cowardly response of a politician without vision will vote your ass out of office.

Randy Smith,

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Disinformation Rules

We all like to think the best of our neighbors, but the evidence suggests that the Disinformation Brigade is again on the march. Draw your own conclusions about their motivations - I certainly have - but don't surrender your minds to them. Exhibit A: Contrary to reports elsewhere, city council agendas and minutes are readily and easily available to any interested party. You can pick them up in person at the City Council meeting, at the City Clerk's office, or, lo and behold, online at this Web space created and maintained by the office of the City Clerk, Marcey Wisman:

Agenda for City Council meeting

I won't commend Marcey for doing her job, but I will commend her for the way she does it.

Folks, there is no conspiracy to withhold information from you. If you have evidence there is, let me know and I'll fight alongside you to get it. But, as a local columnist demonstrated this past Sunday, an small but vociferous faction in this town is bound and determined to spread disinformation and rumor. Consider the source when you rely on the Web for "information."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Victory! Freedom to Read Amendment Passes by 238 - 187 Vote

In a vote that sends a clear message to the Bush administration that Section 215 of the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act needs to be amended to protect Americans' right to privacy, the House today passed Rep. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) Freedom to Read Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Bill by a vote of 238 - 187.

The Sanders amendment cuts Justice Department funds for bookstore and library searches under Section 215 of the U.S.A.P.AT.R.I.O.T. Act. On Tuesday, the Bush Administration had warned that it would veto the House Appropriations Bill if it included any amendments that would weaken the U.S.A.P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, as reported by the Washington Post.

Monday, June 13, 2005

And Therein Lies the Tale

Once upon a time in a little river town in the Midwest, a strange thing happened.

The folks in this little river town had forgotten how to play basketball. Oh, sure, from time to time a pickup game might break out, but no one in the town really played the game anymore. They just watched the pro teams play.

One day, a man in the little river town decided it was time to bring the game back. After all, the little river town was once one of the basketball-playingest towns around. He said to himself, “We ought to play this game again. It’s not that hard, and it will be good for the town.”

So the man (everyone called him “The Baller”) just started playing. At first, most people just watched him play, but ever so slowly, more and more people began to join him.

He built a court where town ball could be played and each morning he repainted the stripes on the court. He restrung the nets. He checked the inflation on the ball. And each morning he would pass the ball inbounds, and then wait to see who took the pass.

On the best days, another player would take the inbounds pass and begin to dribble, waiting for another player to get open. On the best days, one of the players would sink a basket or make an assist, and everybody cheered.

And on very special days, The Baller would perform a mind-blowing windmill dunk, leaving everyone speechless.

When word got out in the town that The Baller had built his new court and that he prepared it each day for a new game, more and more people came out to play. Even more came out to watch and to learn again just how to play the game their ancestors had played so well.

As he and the other players refined their skills, many people who had never played the game, or hadn’t played in a long time, joined the game.

The Baller was happy. He was very patient with the new players. He taught them the game and explained the rules.

You see, for everybody to enjoy the game, everybody had to play by the same rules. Basketball was a game that had rules. People all over the place played by the same rules, and you couldn’t just make them up on a whim.

Although the rules of basketball weren’t all that complicated, some of the new players didn’t like the idea of rules. When the ball went out of bounds, they would go on as if nothing untoward had happened. When called for a foul, they would cry “Not fair.” But in order for everyone to enjoy the game, The Baller enforced the rules. The Baller called fouls.

But still, he was patient, especially with the newer players whose skills had not yet developed. Because The Baller was committed to the idea that playing basketball would be good for the town. He believed with all his heart that basketball was a game that everyone could play – not just the pros.

One time, a player with the potential to be a very good one broke a very important rule. This player insisted that a basket be credited to him, even though another player from another town had actually shot the ball. When all the other players pointed out that it wasn’t his basket (it wasn’t even his shot), he insisted he had done nothing wrong. It took a long time to get that one straightened out.

But The Baller continued to be patient, even with the player who seemingly couldn’t understand the rules. Because he knew that playing basketball would be good for the town.

The Baller became such a good basketball player that many of the folks in the little river town were intimidated by his skills. He was a very confident player, because he practiced all the time; and he studied the rules like they were a religion.

When a neighbor decided it was time to build a new court for the less skillful players, The Baller thought it was a good thing. After all, playing basketball, he was sure, would be a good thing for the town. The Baller called all his friends and told them about the new court, just as he had done every time a new court was built in the town. He offered balls, nets, and paint for striping. But most of all he offered his encouragement.

He knew, too, how important it was to play by the rules. Without rules, people would give up and stop playing basketball. Being a generous soul, he would stop by the other court from time to time to offer coaching tips or just to watch the players at this new court.

When the ball wasn’t inflated properly, he would offer his air pump. When the builder of the new court forgot to turn the lights on, The Baller would go over and flip the switch so everyone could play.

But, almost from the beginning, The Baller could see that this new court wasn’t playing basketball. No matter how much the builder of the new court insisted that it was basketball, it was not.

At the new court, there was no out of bounds. And then there was. And then there wasn’t. No one could tell if there were any rules because they changed. The builder of the new court decided that the baskets should be lower and that shots that didn’t go in should count for just as many points as shots that did. And as for the rules, well, the only sure thing allowed was if a player complained that rules were bad for the game. The game they played at the new court wasn’t even recognizable. Points were credited to people who didn’t even show up, to people who double-dribbled, traveled, fouled, or just plain missed.

A declaration was made by many of the players that one player, a woman who never even played, should be given ten points, even though she never even picked up a basketball.

The Baller and some of his friends tried to help. They reminded the builder and the players on the new court that you couldn’t call it basketball if you didn’t have a ball. You couldn’t give points to people who never even showed up.

But the builder, jealous of the success and popularity of The Baller, and unwilling to study the rules at all, began to enjoy the praise she received from all the anonymous players who loved playing this game with no rules.

“We have the right,” she said, “to call our game ‘basketball,’ too. We don’t have to follow any rules if we don’t want to.”

And then, despite all her protestations that she had built her court for the playing of basketball and despite her claim to welcome all the people to play, she issued a fatwa against The Baller and his friends.

And although The Baller went on to encourage the creation of more and more basketball courts, and was praised for generations as the man who brought basketball back to the town, the little court where the game with no rules was played withered and died. Its builder came to realize that The Baller had been right. Its builder came to know that her court’s brief popularity came about only when The Baller and his friends dropped by to teach the game and its rules. When The Baller finally acknowledged that the builder had been lying all along about building a “basketball” court, he turned his attention back to those who really wanted to play the game.

And that’s why, today, we can look back and call The Baller “The Builder.” And that’s why today, the builder of that other court where the game with no name was played for a few weeks, is known only as a fraud.

Randy Smith,

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Insight from The Tribune

Tribune City Editor Amany Ali, after a brief sabbatical from column-writing, has come back recently with a flourish.

This Sunday, she reaches for the pinnacle of analytical journalism and, for the most part, reaches that summit.

In her rather awkwardly headlined piece (New Albany has its share of problems), Ali takes on the misinformation being disseminated around town. Those paying attention can provide their own examples and Ali is somewhat cryptic in her examples, but otherwise she pulls no punches.

We're asking The Tribune to post this opinion piece on its Web site, or, in the alternative, to provide the article to us. We'd be happy to offer it as a guest column just to get people thinking about what's really going on in this city.

Here are a few excerpts:

"I have such a problem with misinformation because it often comes from elected officials (Not all elected officials, just a select few). Don't get me wrong, there are non-elected local residents who spend entirely too much time spreading gossip as the truth.

"Anyone who wants to hear misinformation on a grand stage should attend a New Albany City Council meeting. Get there early, and stay late and you're likely to hear more misinformation..."

"...Some people, both elected officials and members of the general public, use City Council meetings as an opportunity to spread misinformation under the guise of a concerned elected official or concerned-taxpayer. Bewildered, I sit at the meetings and wonder why those people wait for council meetings to get on their soapbox. I wonder why they don't pick up a telephone and direct their questions at someone who can actually give them an answer."

To be more precise, this isn't misinformation. It's tactical disinformation, designed to obfuscate and distract the public from the woeful lack of competence of a particular faction of council. It is disinformation designed to create a sense of disgust where none is deserved, to depress voter turnout, and to wrest control of the levers of government through lies.

Frankly, I don't care if The Tribune offers opinions with which I agree or disagree. Taking on the real issues is their job, and Ali certainly did so this weekend. It's a great thing to see from our only local paper.

Randy Smith,