Sorry, I should have put that headline in quotation marks. Who said it? Your Mayor, that's who.
Steve Price, who clearly has abandoned any dreams of serving a second term as the council member representing the 3rd district, invited Mayor James Garner to join him in doubting whether Scribner Place could ever be a success.
Garner stepped to the podium and pronounced thusly:This thing (the Scribner Place redevelopment project) has been going on for three years. It's time to give back to the people.We've been taking their taxes and now it's time to give something back to the people of New Albany.
Hear, hear for Hizzoner.
In all fairness, Steve Price has been nothing but consistent in his opposition to the project. Although his objections stem mainly from fear of the unknown and a mindset that leads him to speculate about nefarious conspiracies, he can honestly say he did everything in his power to stop it. And clearly he is willing for that to be his legacy. He fairly voted no Thursday evening when the ultimate resolution to begin the bonding process came up for authorization.
Thursday night's meeting could have been contentious, and there were undercurrents of disgust, if not hostility. As it turned out, the meeting was, in fact, rather a noble one.
Mr. Dan Coffey offered up a resolution that, in essence, would have thanked the Caesars Foundation for its generous gift, but then would have had the city decline the $20 million grant. Before offering the resolution, he pleaded with his fellow council members to delay, saying that rushing into the unknown was a hazard the city didn't need to endure. He reported to us that the YMCA was perfectly willing to take over the entire project without any involvement by the city, but that fear of political ramifications was compelling them to speak openly only with Mr. Coffey himself.
He entreated his colleagues to table both the resolution he was about to offer and the one that followed before entering his version into the record.
Only a little craziness erupted during the debate, highlighted by CM Jack Messer's call for a show of hands from the audience. Even with a much-depleted pro-Scribner Place contingent on hand, it was clear that 3/4 of the room supported the city's redevelopment project. Messer scolded Coffey for consistently opposing every progressive idea presented to council over the past year and a half. Price and Coffey countered with a recounting of a post-election social gathering where Mr. Messer purportedly said he couldn't see how the city could afford it. Of course, that was right after the election.
Messer's confident defense of the Scribner Place investment is just one indicator of how much he has grown in the job. If you don't yet know Jack, you owe it to yourself to meet him.
In any event, Mr. Coffey's resolution failed to pass on a 3-4-1 vote. Voting in favor of giving back the $20 million were Coffey, Price, and Bill Schmidt (2nd district veteran). Voting to reject the resolution were Mrs. Beverly Crump, Messer, Mark Seabrook, and council president Jeff Gahan. It was reported to me that at-large CM Donnie Blevins abstained on this vote.
Observers remarked that it was a signal to anyone who might think Mr. Blevins was anything but his own man, and a further signal that Donnie intends to press hard in the coming months for his emerging constituency.
And then came the main event. In rapid order, Mr. Messer introduced a resolution that removed CM Larry Kochert's "poison pill" that so annoyed the council's counterparts on the county council, but otherwise reaffirmed the city's total commitment to the project.
It passed 5-3. Scribner Place is a go!
I should note that, as expected, Mr. Kochert was unable to attend due to a previously scheduled vacation. The July 7 majority held with Messer, Crump, Blevins, Seabrook, and Gahan again voting to support the resolution, but this time without the affront to the county.
In all likelihood, the Floyd County Council will be looking at a proposal to fund one-half of the government component of the bond payments. The bond consultant again indicated that the likely amount will be $270,000. That offers the county a chance to put all county residents pulling the oars on the Scribner Place vote by authorizing an annual payment, presumably from economic development taxes, in the amount of $135,000.
My guess is they'll find that doable. As Mr. Price is wont to say, "Everybody wins."
Let me also take this opportunity to apologize, at least half-seriously, for having doubted Messrs. Coffey and Schmidt. Despite all evidence to the contrary over the past several months, both council members informed us before voting that they were FOR city investment in Scribner Place. Mr. Coffey said he would vote "Aye" but for the promise to pledge the city's full faith and credit (property taxing authority) to the bonds. Mr. Schmidt forcefully dittoed that, declaring that he had always been for the city redevelopment project (what about that abstention from two weeks ago?) but he too, could not in good conscience promise to pay the city's indebtedness in the event of fiscal disaster.
Dan and Bill, we've been misunderstanding you all along.
Now, for a little straight news and then a little flavor.
It turns out the city will not have to repay the sewer fund for repairs made at Clark Street after the deluge of June. The city's drainage fund paid the whole $17,000 ticket.
The council approved the 1- and 5-year plans submitted by the redevelopment commission.
The labor contract with unionized city streets and sanitation workers was approved.
The labor contract with the firefighters union was approved.
At the request of city controller Kay Garry, September's council sessions were rescheduled to one week later in the month, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8 and from Sept. 15 to Sept. 22.
The public comment period included endorsements of Scribner Place from Donald Sloan (sp?), chairman of the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Greg Phipps, resident of the East Spring Street Historic District.
Susan Johnson, who lives and breathes sewer issues, questioned the viability of the city's sewers, particularly the newly completed McDonald Lane upgrade. Sewer Board member and CM Mark Seabrook assured her that the symptoms she cited were not, in fact, escaping sewage, but an eminently fixable gas release that will cost the city nothing to repair. Johnson then recited a doom-filled litany of (sewer-related) reasons why there were "too many unanswered questions" to proceed with the Scribner Place redevelopment project.
Yvonne Kersey showed her interest in parliamentary procedure, then seconded Mrs. Johnson's "sky-is-falling" routine. It's almost endearing the way Yvonne works each day to hold back the sunrise, only to fail and then repeat her futile efforts the next morning.
County resident and pledge-mocking news crier Dave "Brambleberry" Huckleberry put on the record that he had been misquoted in a previous newspaper account regarding his support for Scribner Place. He too, is FOR the Scribner Place city redevelopment project, just not if the city or redevelopment are involved.
I used the word "noble" to describe the meeting, and for the most part it was. I must admit to being filled with such disgust by the McCarthyite tactics of Mr. Coffey that I had to leave the room and lurk in the hallway. But after calming down a bit, I decided to find a better vantage point from which to observe the proceedings.
I paid particularly close attention to Mr. Coffey and I have to report that his heart really wasn't in his opposition to the key decision of the night. Usually angry, Mr. Coffey was more sad than mad. In defeat, and make no mistake about it, he was a defeated man, he was not petulant. To have held sway over this council for most of 18 months, Mr. Coffey seemed resigned to the fact that he was now serving on a council of equals.
Who knows? Maybe all the bluster and demagoguery was just Dan's way of making the council stronger.
And where once Mr. Coffey felt it his duty to assert his own power, he is now a Cassandra of the first stripe in declaring that James Garner is a power to be feared.
What a year it has been. Where once the old bulls ran roughshod over the new council members, the progressives have now taken over the council. Jack Messer is exhibiting a previously unsuspected leadership ability that bodes well for the future. Beverly Crump seems free to take the initiative and takes no guff from anyone. Donnie Blevins is showing he has a keen grasp on the issues facing the city. And council president Jeff Gahan grows ever more confident in keeping the council on track and doing business with dispatch and efficiency.
Mark it down, folks. July 21, 2005. Tomorrow, as Develop New Albany crows, is when "The Renaissance Begins."