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Haines & Essick’s Closing

I was bummed when I learned that Haines & Essick’s was closing in Decatur.  It’s really the only store I regularly shopped at downtown.  It was always a nice escape during a busy week.  You just don’t get the same feeling shopping in a Walmart.  Walmart could be more entertaining but shopping in downtown was therapy, especially after shopping at Walmart.  Mostly, I enjoyed taking my kids there because it was a unique Decatur experience.  The old building, the squeaky floors, the musty basement smell filled the senses with time and history.  I hope another retailer or a few smaller retailers, assuming it will likely be divided up into smaller units, will fill the space.  I’d hate to think that I’ll never be able to step foot in that building again.  So much of old Decatur is gone and I don’t want to lose what little is left.

Decatur, You’re Killing Me!

Speaking of losing what little is left, I feel like my heart is being stabbed with a dull butter knife every time I drive through the intersection of Pershing and MacArthur.  Recently, two corner lots were rezoned for commercial purposes and that means dozens of old oaks are going to be cut down.  I actually wrote city council members about preserving those trees a few years ago because I knew, sooner or later, it would be targeted by a developer.  I tried to save them.  I can’t stand seeing them go.

Decatur Needs a Roadmap

Something that has become very apparent to me over the past year is that Decatur lacks a clear plan for development because some residents are left wondering if their neighborhood is safe from future changes.  The intersection of 51 and Ash Avenue comes to mind.

Residents were opposed to commercial development in their neighborhood, and a plan to develop in that area was shot down but it’s likely new fights will come.  In fact, our mayor said so.  What would be helpful would be a clearly communicated plan for future development and redevelopment.  It would avoid a lot of bad feelings and potentially derailing development that would be good for the city.

I think we should sit down with a map of Decatur and go through every single part of the city and state what our future objectives are.  The entire community should be involved.  Areas that we want to develop, get them ready for development.  Areas that we want to preserve, preserve them.  Areas that we want to redevelop, get a plan in place to do so.  Nobody should be left wondering what may become of their neighborhood.  I think it would be helpful for prospective new businesses too.  They would know they aren’t going to be up against a fight to locate in an area specifically designated for commercial development.  Yeah, we have zoning regulations that kinda does that but as we know, areas can be rezoned and that process can be very ugly and leave a lot of people disgusted with the city.

Most of all, I would like to see a plan in place that is going to ensure that those areas of the city that are stable and attractive to residents remain that way.  I want to ensure that those areas that need improvement are going to get it.  We’ve had too many examples of disrupting areas that are functioning well, especially on the north side of town.  I sure as heck don’t want our northside to become a congested commercial area, similar to Springfield’s west side.  It’s downright scary to drive over there and it looks terrible too.  Zero character.

We clearly need a plan for our northside that preserves what is good and develops in areas that make more sense.  For instance, getting a bridge over 72 on MLK would open up that area to development, and I don’t think many people would be opposed to it.  I know councilman Dawson has been pushing for a bridge for several years.  I’d like to see it happen too, rather than taking out a desirable neighborhood.  I think the neighborhood presents to outsiders what’s good about Decatur.  It’s welcoming.

Anyway, I think I’ve written enough for now and I need to get back to my ichthyology paper but it was so nice to write about Decatur again.  My months spent away from blogging about Decatur were downright miserable.

 

 

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I just realized I had maintenance mode enabled on my blog for the past couple months.  Whoops!  Well, I haven’t had time to write anyway but I didn’t intend to fall off the face of the earth.  As usual, I’ve been busy with school.  I’m taking a full class load at Oregon State this quarter and I figured I’d be stretched then and stressed out of my head, and I was right!  It’s been crazy.  I’ll be busy this summer again too but I’ll only be taking three classes instead of five, so hopefully I’ll be able to come up for air more often.  I’ll be graduating this time next year and, boy, I can’t wait!  It’s been such a long, challenging journey.  If I knew it was going to be such a sacrifice, I’m not sure I would have gone back to college.

Anyway, there’s been some things going on in Decatur that I haven’t addressed.  There’s still a lot more things I’d like to write about over the summer, and I should be able to get to them.

Residency Requirements

The city council has brought up the issue of residency requirements for city employees.  In fact, I believe they went ahead and either passed or are going to pass requirements for new non-union employees to live in the city.  When contract talks come up, I’m sure it will be discussed with city employees represented by unions, and I bet that will go over well!

First of all, the numbers are quite dismal of city workers living in Decatur.  I believe the number is right around 50 percent.  What does that say about Decatur?  Well, it’s not really a unique situation for a city the size of Decatur, surrounded by several bedroom communities, offering newer homes and schools with better ratings.  However, I think Decatur can be competitive with the right kind of strategy.

Over a year ago, I suggested the city plan new ideas for our older neighborhoods.  It included capitalizing on renewable energy and sustainable housing.  So, I was happy to learn that the city is investing in some new homes near Oakwood that will act as models for what could be for that area.  I think it’s a great idea and hopefully home buyers will show some serious interest, and persuade private home builders to get in on the act.  Across the country, in many cities, there is a return to city living.  Yes, people want nice homes with modern floorplans but they also want to be able walk to entertainment, safe parks, natural areas, schools, restaurants, etc.  In other words, they want to feel like they are a part of a community, can contribute to their community, and be good stewards of the earth, all at the same time.  Urban sprawl is akin to using asbestos in our homes.  We know both are dumb ideas.

So, do I think there should be a residency requirement for city workers?  Yes, and I’ll explain why.  The most important reason to me is that you care most about the city you live in.  A city worker, who lives elsewhere isn’t going to have the same concern or passion for Decatur as I do.  They don’t have they same level of commitment.

Sure, they can care about the city but it’s a bit like dating versus being married.  If you’re dating someone, you’ll care when their dog gets sick.  You’ll probably show genuine compassion and hope the dog pulls through.  But if you’re married to that person and it’s now your dog too, and you’re helping pay the vet bills and cleaning up the puke at 3 am, then you’ve entered a whole other level of commitment and caring.  The two situations are totally different because the point of view is totally different.

It’s like when I lived at home and my parents paid all the bills, cooked my food, and made sure everything was safe and sound.  I reaped the benefits of that situation.  It was great!  I didn’t know how great until I moved out and had to pay my own bills, wash dishes I had dirtied, and walked around the house with a baseball bat at night when I thought I heard someone outside my window.  Getting paid by city tax dollars and living it up somewhere else is a bit like visiting your parents house, eating their food, messing up their kitchen, and then going back home to watch Netflix.

So, yes I believe city workers should live in Decatur, especially anyone in a management role.  I think there should be special exceptions, and those can be ironed out, but I think if you’re going to serve a city, you should be part of that city.  As a public servant you are more than an employee.

The only city workers I would have an absolute requirement to live in Decatur are those in management positions.  I’d rather use financial incentives for other workers than strict requirements.

In a country where politicians make our skin crawl, we can at least demand better of ourselves.  It should be an honor to serve the public, not a chore.  It should be an honor to live in the city you represent, not a punishment.  But yes, the city has work to do to make the city a more attractive place to live.  I understand that but city workers can be part of that solution.

 

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The city of Decatur has submitted a motion to dismiss the claims by former police chief Brad Sweeney, who was terminated by City Manager Tim Gleason.

First, a little background information is helpful here.  Sweeney claims that he was fired for refusing to support the motor fuel tax recently approved by the city council and for calling Gleason out on having a police officer drive him to the St. Louis airport in a police squad car for a personal trip, which is a misuse of city resources and a violation of municipal laws. Sweeney allegedly confronted Gleason after the event and told him that such a misuse would not be tolerated again and after the confrontation their professional relationship became contentious.  At least that’s what I got out of all the allegations.

So, Sweeney filed a lawsuit against Gleason and the City of Decatur for wrongful termination, citing, amongst other things, the Whistle Blower Act.

The city’s motion to dismiss isn’t a denial or admittance of wrongdoing on Gleason’s part but rather an argument that Sweeney doesn’t qualify as a whistle blower legally because he didn’t start blowing the whistle until after he was fired, essentially.

The motion claims that Sweeney committed a Class 3 felony “since he failed to arrest or cause to be arrested all persons who are found violating any municipal ordinance or any criminal law of the state.”

The motion tries to paint Sweeney as a public servant failing to carry out his duties but in the process paints the city manager as equally as guilty of the same offense, in my opinion.  It reminds me of one of my high school friends who reported to a police officer that another car that had passed him on Brush College Road had to be going over 100 mph because he was going 85 himself when the car passed him in 40 mph zone.  Whoops!  Did I say that?  The motion doesn’t admit wrongdoing on Gleason’s part but by arguing that Sweeney committed a felony by not enforcing municipal laws that the current city manager broke, isn’t the city manager also admitting guilt in a roundabout way?  If so, shouldn’t the city manager be terminated from employment as well?  And if the city manager did misuse city resources then why is the city council so eager to stand in his corner?

This all comes across as a big steaming pile of poo no matter how it is presented.  It’s not good for the city’s image. The city council needs to seriously consider whether it is in the city’s best interest to continue with Gleason’s employment as city manager.

I don’t think it is in the city’s best interest to keep Gleason, and not because of the recent tax increases, which none of us like, but because of the level of trust that is gone.

Here is a link to the full motion:  http://www.nowdecatur.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/02/complaint-city.pdf

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It’s a snowy, blustery day in Decatur and so I’d thought I’d taken advantage of my time trapped indoors and catch up some stuff.  The fuel tax was passed as everyone expected it to.  Essentially it will help pay to fill in potholes and do basic repairs on the city’s side streets.  If you were hoping to get a newly paved road in your neighborhood, it’s not too likely.  I understand the need for the revenue but I’m not sure it was worth the bad feelings it produced, especially considering the roads are still going to be kinda cruddy.  With that in mind, I think there’s a few things I think the city can look at for increasing revenue without increasing taxes and I’ll discuss a couple of them today.

I would like the city to take a look at the number of and value of the TIF districts in the city.  I think the TIF district downtown did it’s job well in helping fund the streetscape improvements.  However, I would like the city to study all of our TIF districts and see if they’re still worth it.  Are they doing their job? Would the city be better off as a whole if those tax dollars were put back into the general fund? I don’t know but I think it’s worth looking into.

Another thing that concerns me are the tax incentives that we hand out to businesses to locate in Decatur.  For instance, we have had several deals in the past that probably haven’t served the city well.  Some businesses, as an incentive for locating in Decatur, get to keep a big chunk of the city’s sales tax for themselves for a number of years.  Other businesses don’t have to pay property taxes for a good number of years.  I’m okay with a 2-year break but beyond that I don’t believe multi-million dollar companies need 5-20 year tax breaks.  I don’t get a tax break.  Local small businesses, who are much more likely to stick around, don’t get the breaks.  Such incentive plans are unfair to those already invested in the city.  They are also causing the city to lose out on a significant amount of tax revenue that it desperately needs.

I believe the city also needs to review how incentives are presented and what types of incentives are available.  In other words, let’s have it all written down in plain English and posted on the city’s website for all to see, including prospective businesses.  No more behind the scenes smoochy smoochy sweetheart deals for some and crumbs for others.

Let’s say a company wants to locate in Decatur, invest X amount of dollars, and bring X amount of full-time jobs that pay at least $15/hour for entry-level positions.  Well, I think they deserve a great incentive package.  We want those kinds of companies.  Heck, we’ll throw rose petals at their feet but if they fail to live up to their promises then they lose the incentives.

I think businesses would appreciate a very upfront, easy to understand process that everybody has to live by.  I wouldn’t want to horse around wheeling and dealing with the city to hammer out a deal.  What a pain.  Just make the process fair and transparent.

Well, those are a few things that I think the city needs to address.  I have a few more ideas I’ll share later.

 

 

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I fully intended for the last post to be my last but that was before so many really weird things happening in Decatur over the last couple of weeks and months.  It seems like every time I’m ready to retire from blogging about Decatur, Decatur goes off a cliff.

I’m not going to write about the details of the firing of the chief of police because they have been covered elsewhere (and we don’t even know the details) but I am going to write about things I’ve noticed from the current city council, the city manager, and mayor.  Things have changed.  The appearance of citizens has changed, the whole tone of the meetings has changed, and most importantly discussion of important votes has been minimal with little time between public notification and council votes.

Of course, I expected a change in personalities since the major players have changed but I didn’t expect citizens appearing before council to to be cut off or treated rudely.  According to former police chief Sweeney, the city manager allegedly directed a police officer to remove a citizen from the council chamber apparently because he or she was opposed to a particular agenda item.

Before the last municipal election, we were told Decatur was on the right path.  Things were looking up and brighter than they had been in decades.  Then after the election, we were painted a totally different picture of the city’s finances.  Now, I knew the finances weren’t as great as many may have been led to believe.  I had looked at the numbers and knew there was nothing for city road repairs.  Nothing.  That’s why I proposed major changes to shrink the size of the city since we have lost 25% of our population.

Of course, a lot of the issues stem from the fact that previous councils had put off increasing taxes for years, so instead of modest increases here and there we were hit with some hefty increases all at once.  The main issue though is that the city has no real vision for tackling Decatur’s shrinking population.  A city built for a 100,000 people cannot be supported by a population of less than 75,000.  It’s impossible.  Major changes need to take place and the answer doesn’t involve taxing people to death.  I guess I’ll have to roll out my plan again because it does address those issues in bold and innovative ways.

Other Stuff

I also thought it was highly unethical to appoint a city worker to the library board to essentially be a city spy.  At least that’s how I see it.  I don’t even know why the city wants the library building in the first place.  They don’t have the money to maintain it and they killed off the possibility of commercial development downtown. They also killed a plan for county offices to move into vacant portions of the library building that I thought made a lot of economic sense for taxpayers.  It’s seems the city’s motives regarding the library are petty, shortsighted, and irrational.

I don’t understand what the heck is going on. It’s weird.  I’ve been writing about the city council since 2008 and I’ve never seen behavior like this.  Even when council members were at each other’s throats during the Change Decatur years, at least I knew the motives behind everyone’s actions. I don’t understand the motives behind our city leaders today.  I really don’t.  It’s crazy!

And I really wanted to retire.

 

 

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