The original post was modified on October 25, 2018 to now include our podcast on this issue. Click Here to listen to - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to PACE Transparency.
Did you ever read the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams? The novel lampoons government bureaucracy, the endless red tape, paperwork and the numerous hurdles and blunders of a political system.
In a nutshell it is a story about Arthur Dent, whose home is in the way of a planned local road. Coincidentally, earth is in the way of a intergalactic highway. Obviously bureaucracy knows no bounds in or out of our solar system. One day, Mr. Dent wakes up and realizes his house is about to be bulldozed and complains that the government did a terrible job of making their plans known. He is told that the plans have been on “display” for his approval or disapproval in the cellar of the planning office. It was up to him to come and find the information.
Sitting in Loveland council chambers on October 17th, for a special meeting called on a Wednesday night and awaiting the vote ( again) regarding PACE financing, I heard several comments from various council members regarding the handling of this complicated and never before implemented legislation:
Vice Mayor Rob Weisgerber stated “all of council and the public were able to hear the dialogue in regard to the pluses, minuses, risks and how there is no real risk to the city.”
Councilman Tim Butler stated “questions have been addressed and answered.”
Mayor Kathy Bailey states “anyone could come to a meeting and speak in open forum.”
After these comments I couldn’t help but be transported to the “hitchhiker’s galaxy” and its central theme about bureaucracy and blunders associated with the political system. I realized at this point that I was watching what many people fear about our government – by all appearances and actions the majority of council acted in a way that is not good governance for the city.
Let’s review why I say that, and we will start with the legislation itself. I am going to give you the CliffsNotes version of events so if you want a more detailed look at the entire process, documentation and discussion, CLICK HERE
The legislation was created for the owners of West Loveland Holdings Ltd and presented to council as an “emergency.” The city must adopt five pieces of legislation to accommodate funding through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. This is a special type of financing that requires a municipality to levy a special assessment and create an energy special improvement district (ESID). While this program is not particularly new in Ohio, having been established around 2009, it is new to the city and has never been implemented in Loveland. City Manager Dave Kennedy states in his legislative memorandum “the program and presented legislations are complicated, and a best effort to explain the process is included in this memo.”
Mayor Kathy Bailey states “Mr. Malof had invested a lot of money in the city and is trying to move his project forward with a simple request.”
After legislation was presented a member of the public spoke and asked questions, the owner of the building and his representative spoke in favor of the financing. No other business owner, developer, or person who had utilized this financing spoke and no one presented the downside of the program.
Four of the seven council members asked questions - Blair, Butler, Weisgerber and Settell. Councilman Neil Oury was prepared to vote yes on the legislation without publicly asking a single question. Since many of the questions remained unanswered the legislation was put on hold until the next meeting.
Councilman Tim Butler states “that this was a complicated process and encouraged citizens to direct their questions… to a council member.”
Several emails were sent to all Council members seeking answers to questions related to the legislation, only Councilwoman Settell responded. Other emails were sent on October 8th, this time Councilman Oury responded not answering the questions but providing several links to websites about PACE financing. Vice Mayor Weisgerber also sent a response but did not answer the questions.
One of the questions never answered was “if there is a default on the loan(s) what happens to the building and what is the role of the city regarding any default?”
The legislation was then put on the 9/25/18 council agenda but was taken off the agenda right before the start of the meeting, therefore there was no discussion on the legislation. A side note, this was done improperly by parliamentary rules.
Legislation was again brought before council on 10/9/18 as an “emergency.” Councilwoman Settell asked further questions that were not addressed. There were no other questions or discussion from the other council members. The legislation failed to pass with a 5-1 vote.
This brings me back to the special council meeting held on Wednesday, October 17th and my “hitchhiker galaxy” moment. Whenever a special council meeting is held there is no opportunity for the public to speak. It was then I realized that transparency and participation as defined by the majority of council and expressed in the comments listed above consists of the public coming to them, to council chambers, no outreach on their part to individuals, questions asked by the public may remain unanswered, a few questions may be asked by council members but no detailed explanations are given regarding their decisions and no discussion regarding the impact to the city long term. What I learned - that this legislation was created to accommodate one person and one development. That was what was most important to the majority members of council. Legislation passed 6-1. Settell was the no vote.
Let us know what you think. Was this good governance? Was this important and complicated legislation sufficiently vetted? Send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on this issue check out the lovelandtattler.com - the silencing of Loveland
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Pamela Gross - President - Follow me on Twitter @ lovelandpam