city manager

The Know Nothing Council

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In the mid 1800’s the United States saw the rise of a new political party, the American Party. This new political coalition was able to get a few legislators elected, and even fielded a candidate in the 1856 Presidential election. Many of us learned about the American Party, but we know them by a different name, the Know Nothings. This name was given because of the secret nature of how the party acted in public. When anyone was to ask a member of the American Party anything about their political group, “I know nothing” was the response to be given. The Know Nothings believed only their supporters and colleagues were important enough to know what was going on. The groups secrecy, and lack of transparency, led to a very quick downfall of their political coalition.

During the course of the Mayor Kathy Bailey administration, I have asked a lot of questions about the governing thoughts of the Mayor and her five loyal members on the Loveland City Council. I have spoken in open forum to ask my questions, I have made a number of public records requests, and I have even sat down on the rare occasion with members of the Mayor’s majority. In all three instances I find myself asking the questions, and the council majority responds with a form of “I know nothing”.

Let’s start with the public forum. At the charter required public meetings of the City Council, the public is given five minutes to speak on a subject of their choice. Many people use this time to talk about an issue that faces them personally. I have used my time in the public forum to ask questions, or voice concern, over policies that the council is considering. At the March 12th meeting I used my five minutes to ask questions related to the proposed DORA (Designated Outdoor Recreation Area) legislation. As a point of clarification I should say that I spoke in a public hearing, not the open forum. I asked very specific questions about the legislation, questions that had not been answered in the past. City Manager Dave Kennedy answered most of my inquires, yet not one elected member of the city government said a word. When the time came for the council to discuss the legislation, without me being at the podium, a discussion did not take place. No one addressed any of my concerns. The council acted in manner of knowing nothing or not wanting to know something.

This has happened at almost every public forum / public hearing that I have participated in. Yet I am not the only citizen to be told by the council that they know nothing. At the February 26th meeting, the council was silent in the face of serious questions from a resident. The resident was eventually engaged, but it was not a pretty sight (read about it here). Last summer, the Mayor Bailey majority was presented with concern from another resident about the painting of the city water towers. Once again that resident was presented with no information on the council majority’s plans. When it comes to residents that do not 100% agree with the council majority, residents with valid questions, the council majority sits back and says “I know nothing”.

Public records brings the know nothingness of the council majority to a whole new level. Public records are exactly as stated, records that are for the public. Shortly after the Mayor Bailey majority took power, Vice Mayor Robert Weisgerber lamented the burden of the city having to produce public records (read about it here). The political action committee that supports the council majority has used the public forum, and social media, to criticize people who make public records requests. The idea of the public wanting information seems troublesome to the council majority and their political supporters. Wanting to know something seems to be a problem for the council majority and their supporters.

Yet what happens when the public does receive public records. Of the requests I have personally made over the last year, the records I get have almost no communication from the Mayor Bailey majority. When it comes to the farmer’s market (read about it here), PACE financing (read about it here), or problems in the city’s public works department (read about it here), I requested the communications of the elected members of the city council. In each instance there was little to no dialogue going on for the public to see. When we look at public records to see how the Mayor Bailey majority governs, and what questions they ask on important legislation, the council majority says “I know nothing”.

When it comes to engaging with the council majority away from chambers, my experiences have been a mixed bag. I have approached members of the majority in public, and they have been gracious with their time. When the time comes to vote on a questionable ordinance, my discussion with the member of the majority is forgotten. When I question their promise of transparency and engagement, attacks come from social media, and elected members of the city council engage with those attacks. It does seem that discussions are being had outside of chambers. Councilman Kent Blair said at a recent council meeting that “we (the council majority) have discussed this (road funding) at meetings in the hallways and over pizza”, but when a citizen with a question about how the council majority governs, the council majority says “I know nothing”.

Does the Mayor Bailey majority discuss any of the issues that face the city? If they do, then why are those discussions not there for the public to see? If all the discussion is being done in “the hallways and over pizza”, do we have a transparency problem in Loveland? If all the the discussions are being done in a way to hide the intent of the council majority from the taxpayers of Loveland, what must be done to bring these discussions into the sunlight? If there is no discussion going on at all with the council majority when it comes to the governance of the city, should the taxpayers of Loveland be afraid of the lack of curiosity coming from our elected officials? What ever the answer may be, what we have seen from the communication strategy of the Mayor Bailey majority is that all difficult questions are answered the same way. “I know nothing”.

Note from the author: On February 27th, 2019 I made additional public records requests related to the city’s public works department. On the date of this posting, I have not received the records. If the council majority does have any discussion related to questions or policies, I will update this article.

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland.

Contact him on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him

The Sisyphus of Loveland

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The legend of Sisyphus tells the story of the karmic punishment delivered to a former king who was deceitful in his living years. The gods of ancient Greek literature decided to punish King Sisyphus by making him push a boulder up a hill in the afterlife. Once Sisyphus was near the top of the hill, the boulder would fall back to the bottom, causing the deceitful king to go back to the beginning and start the task all over again. This myth from the Ancient Greeks has given us the modern term sisyphean, a word that means any task that is futile. 

At the last Loveland City Council meeting (5.9.2018, see video here), City Manager David Kennedy, along with Councilman Ted Phelps, presented a plan for a redesign of Loveland Madeira Road. This redesign would add a bike/pedestrian path along one side of the road. Not all of Loveland Madeira Road would be redesigned, the initial plan looks at a portion near Kroger to West Loveland Avenue. Read the report here.

This idea to create a bike / pedestrian path along Loveland Madeira Road dates at least back to 1993. For twenty-five years the City of Loveland has been looking at options to ease up parking near the Little Miami Scenic Trail, and to decrease the amount of traffic brought in to downtown because of the trail. City Manager Kennedy and Councilman Phelps just happened to be the latest Loveland officials to propose a new plan. 

So how did their ideas go over with the assembled crowd at City Hall?

A public hearing, only the second one called by the current council, was part of the Kennedy and Phelps presentation. Six members of the community spoke. Most of the speakers were against the project, or they were wishy washy and gave no indication of how they felt so it is assumed they were against what the city presented. Many of the speakers stood up because of an article they read in Loveland Magazine that spoke directly about the lack of transparency related to the bike/pedestrian trail expansion project. The Mayor Kathy Bailey administration had just received their first taste of community discord. 

How did the new council majority handle this negative community engagement?

Councilman Phelps and Mayor Bailey seemed defensive about the idea that the city government were acting in a non-transparent fashion, yet we have seen them suspend council rules to appease the Farmers Market. Councilman Phelps said that no legislation was being offered, yet just a few minutes later City Manager Kennedy declared that he would be asking for legislation at the next scheduled city council meeting. Many members of council stressed the importance of a project like this, yet there was no defined reason to why the city needed to pursue it. The public that spoke seemed to have a more cohesive argument than the people elected to lead. No one won the argument.

How does the deceitful king Sisyphus relate to the drama going on down at city hall?

City manager Kennedy has been tasked by council, and has delivered, a viable plan for expanding the options for bikers and pedestrians interested in gaining access to the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Kennedy has also presented a well thought out plan on how to redevelop parts of a Loveland Madeira Road, a part of Loveland that needs a some serious redevelopment. He, along with Councilman Phelps, tried to thread the needle of serving the city, and making the general voting public happy with their plan. Unfortunately the confusion of the presentation at the beginning of the public hearing, the contradictions stemming from the council and their recent words/actions, and the dismissal of the public's anger, caused any momentum created by the city manager to come crashing down. Years of planning and work looked to be undone by 30 minutes of the public saying they are being left in the dark. The boulder of transparency had no strength, it fell to the bottom of the hill and needed to be pushed back up.

City Manager Kennedy has been behind this boulder for most of his tenure in Loveland. During the administrations of Mayors Linda Cox and Mark Fitzgerald, development seemed to be moving forward. A very engaged group of the electorate was not pleased with this and worked to vote in a majority of council that was different than those under Cox and Fitzgerald. In the first few months of the Mayor Bailey administration, Kennedy has seen every major development project he has worked on be tabled, or kicked back to committee, by the new majority. Years of work disappear in a, usually, 6-1 vote in council. No matter how far the City Manager gets a redevelopment project up the hill, the whims of council will knock that progress right back to the bottom. Reasonable regulations on the Farmers Market, back down the hill. A new tax base increasing housing development, back to the bottom of the hill. A much needed redevelopment of Loveland Madeira Road, one that will spur positive development and could alleviate parking and traffic concerns in downtown Loveland, sorry but we are pushing all of forward progress down to the bottom of the hill. City Manager Dave Kennedy does not come off as a deceitful king, but he sure seems to be pushing the boulder of positive economic development in Loveland up a hill, just to have the city council push it back down to the bottom and make him start over. That sure sounds sisyphean.

Near the end of the public hearing Councilman Tim Butler made a remark about how Loveland Madiera has probably looked the same, sad underdeveloped way, for many generations. He said the time to to talk is over, we need to act. Councilman Butler was trying to help and get the boulder further up the hill with his remarks.

What more will it take to push the boulder over the top?

Council needs to be bold, it needs to be actually transparent, it needs to acknowledge it's hubris, and it needs to engage all the public. The boulder of redevelopment is almost at the top, and Loveland's Sisyphus can see the summit, the only thing missing is vision. Who will make the politically courageous choice to be that vision and get behind the boulder to push it over the edge?

I can not wait to find out.

RD

RD Kulik  is a resident of the City of Loveland and the editor at The Loveland Tattler. What do you think Loveland needs to get the boulder to the top?

Contact us on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him lovelandtattler@gmail.com.

Loveland City Goals

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With the new majority on Loveland City Council, and the new Mayor Kathy Bailey, a new vision for the city has been presented.

Is it really that new?

We are here to keep track of that.

Mayor Bailey at the January 9th, 2018 council meeting briefly mentioned her goals for the upcoming term. The important actions council hopes to address, in no particular order are: Parks/City Master plan, charter review, neighborhood meetings, and being more transparent and engaged with the people of Loveland. 

Sound good?

Of all the goals presented, the only one that is officially in process of happening is the parks and city master plan. The City Manager is in the earliest of phases when it comes to implementing a project of this magnitude. Our understanding is that the parks plan is further along than the city plan.

The biggest initial question coming from The Loveland Tattler is how inclusive the committee will be in concern to the master plans? Will this group reflect the same perceived cronyism of the city governance committees? Will voices who were not friendly in the last election to the new majority be offered a seat at the table? How inclusive, and transparent, does Mayor Bailey wish to be?

It looks like we will have an answer to that question fairly early into the new mayor's administration.

RD Kulik

RD Kulik  is the editor at The Loveland Tattler. Hit him up on twitter @TattlerLoveland or email him lovelandtattler@gmail.com.