Now, for something somewhat different …
At Thursday’s final city council meeting of 2006, Mayor James Garner offered his “state of the city” address, which surveyed the past year’s developments in finance, sewers, storm water, sanitation, Scribner Place redevelopment, Greenway Phase One and local road construction, and offered brief capsule summaries of the year to come.
In summary: Money’s tight, it will remain tight, we’ve done what we could, and we’ll continue to soldier on to do what we can.
Fair enough. There have been victories, failures and rain-outs, just as in all like situations.
However, and significantly, Mayor Garner said absolutely nothing about neighborhood “clean up” issues pertaining to ordinance enforcement, winked-at substandard housing, slumlord enablement, crime, or other pressing inner city matters of daily life that have been addressed throughout the year by neighborhood associations and various progressive advocates therein.
Perhaps it is the case that such commentary fell outside the scope of the mayor’s speech, or there may be other reasons for the startling omission, numerous possible explanations for which are readily available around town in the form of quizzical wonderment, emanating from sincere people who are increasingly frustrated not just at inexplicable local government inaction, but at its ongoing inability to communicate, to express its hopes and dreams, or to behave in a pro-active way about these or virtually any other issue.
Day by day, this strange detachment begins to resemble the Bush Administration’s crazily delusional view of the disaster in Iraq, except that here in New Albany, City Hall doesn’t even make an effort to spin or fabricate its interpretation of central, persisting neighborhood concerns – if, in fact, there is an interpretation on call.
Rather, it merely reacts – well, sometimes it reacts – when prodded by blog photos, citizen petitions or perhaps even the stray pang of guilt, but through it all there appears to be no overall program of recognition or response, and if there is one, there certifiably has been no discernable effort to explain the program’s planks to those who continue to ask questions in the reasonable expectation of receiving a coherent answer short of something actually being done.
As before, NA Confidential is prepared to respect the mayor’s reasoning, with the firm and sadly necessary caveat that before we can do so, some evidence of a position on these matters must be presented and elucidated, and until it is, the unmistakable appearance is that there exists a widening and harmful disconnect between those potential actions and policies that an ever increasing percentage of residents see as absolutely necessary for New Albany to recover from decades of institutional neglect, and City Hall’s ability to survey this reality with an eye toward causes, effects and comprehensive solutions, and not mere bandages to suffice until the next election.
This situation is all the more bizarre because make no mistake, it isn’t happening because Mayor Garner lacks the requisite gray matter.
While he struggles at times like Thursday night’s address, when he must read from prepared materials, to speak with him close up and personal is to come away routinely impressed with his amazingly comprehensive grasp of facts, laws and procedures pertaining to every imaginable aspect of municipal governance. He is a veritable encyclopedia of often arcane and impenetrable knowledge applicable to his job.
Furthermore, Mayor Garner obviously stands for personal moral principles, possesses a core set of beliefs, and has displayed the determination and stubbornness to tackle daunting fiscal challenges and make tough decisions during his term. Speaking personally, I’ve come to like him. Some of you remember how unlikely that once seemed.
But in the end, there is a huge and mystifying gap, and if it isn’t closed soon, the outlook isn’t promising.
That's because there can there be a more damning indicator of our city’s prospects to resolve preexisting 19th-century problems and successfully chart a 21st century course than the colossal and repetitive failure of its public officials – mayor, councilmen, elected, appointed – to perceive that if we don’t join together to enforce the most basic societal regulations that comprise the superstructure of the community, nothing of permanence can be built, nothing lasting achieved, and no heights attained.
It is the polar opposite of the "can do" spirit of the city's founders. "No can do" would have been unacceptable to them, and it should be equally unacceptable to us. But, this admission of impotence has become standard operating procedure in New Albany.
As for the mayor himself, where is the leadership?
Or, as an NAC reader recently commented, "who’ll be the one to grab this tiger by the tail?"
We know conclusively that leadership won’t be forthcoming from the council’s Gang of Four obstructionists and their Coup d'Geriatrique allies in the business-as-usual segment of the community, although certain other council members certainly seem to get it. And, although many seem to be doing their earnest best, transformational leadership can’t really come from officials who are appointed, unless they’re following orders from higher up the chain of command, which is to imply those coming from above … and here, that’s City Hall, period.
That’s the mayor’s job, isn’t it?
On the other hand, leadership is breaking out all over at the grassroots level, and although we all can be more organized at these efforts, what the grassroots needs most of all for it to take root is some semblance of consistent, principled, public support from public officials, and with the council divided into armed and hostile camps, this support must come from City Hall.
Earlier this week, my NAC colleague Bluegll proposed these principled planks to begin addressing the city’s neighborhood needs:
- A rental inspection/licensing program.
- Legal staff whose sole purpose is ordinance enforcement.
- A total revamping of the building commissioner's office, including all new employees.
- A fine structure that's of high enough scale to actually act as a deterrent.
- A city court to expedite the prosecution of offenders and to keep fine revenue in the city.
- Local dollars budgeted for redevelopment. That amount is currently zero.
- Much more than the measly $7,000 dollars a year total the city currently spends on historic preservation.
- A scientific study of land use and value in the city in order to objectively strategize where to implement resources first.
Earlier, referring to the “hung” firefighter hiring ordinance currently before the council, Chief Ron Toran made yet another impassioned request of the city's legislative body:
Vote it up, vote it down – just do something.
We ask the same of Mayor Garner. The positive achievements of his administration will be of no consequence if we do not begin to secure the neighborhood perimeters and to provide the prerequisites for future progress in revitalization. These steps cannot wait, because the future won’t.
Say you’re with us, or say you’re against – just say something.