I usually hate doing this, but I’m going to give you one side of the story.  At the start of today’s Redevelopment Commission meeting, Christopher Guerin read a statement in rebuttal to some comments made by Tom Smith the previous week – which is the side of the story I do not have.  Mr. Guerin’s statement in full was:

Statement read at Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission meeting, Thursday, January 31, 2008. 

I was very disappointed to hear councilman Tom Smith accuse the Redevelopment Commission of a lack of “transparency” last week.  His use of the word “transparency” suggests that something was kept from the public, or that the public was lied to.  The actions of the Redevelopment Commission and staff relative to Harrison Square have been thoroughly reviewed both locally and by state agencies and have been endorsed as appropriate.  Every question asked by council was answered.  Every question  asked by outside entities was answered.  It doesn’t bother me personally, these accusations, but I know that they are hurtful to the hardworking, dedicated and professional Redevelopment staff.  Either Mr. Smith should make his accusations clear and specific, or he should cease trying to undermine the public trust with his insinuations.

Christopher Guerin
President, Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission

As I said, I do not know what the comments were that Mr. Smith made.  However, I would like to add my two cents worth regarding the openness of the Redevelopment Commission.  I have written about it before in this blog, but this gives opportunity to reiterate a couple of points. 

First of all, the Redevelopment staff are a bunch of wonderful, intelligent, I’d even say brilliant individuals.  Look at the planning and thoroughness that has gone into planning and now executing Harrison Square.  This couldn’t have been pulled off by a bunch of ignorant individuals.  I know a couple of staff members personally.  They are good, hard working, honest individuals, who care very deeply about Fort Wayne and it’s success.  Our community is very fortunate to have them.  That said, it’s unfortunate that the only recourse citizens had, when push came to shove in fighting Harrison Square, was to criminalize the actions of these good people.  Again, some of the legislation in the works at our State House is aimed at rectifying this problem.  The commission has operated within the law as guided by attorneys.  There are things that possibly could have been done in a different, more palatable way to the community, but it’s done and over at this point.  Any anger now needs to be channeled into changing the Indiana Code regarding Redevelopment Commissions – not at the staff and Redevelopment Commission members.

Part of the problem I have had with this whole project is that once the final City Council approvals were given, the flow of information became less accessible.  MOUs and Definitive Agreements were posted promptly on the City’s website at the first opportunity.  In fact, several times in meetings, additional information was asked for and within a day or two appeared on the website as well.  Once, the council finished, there was no clear individual to direct questions or requests for information to.  At a public hearing last May, there were several public complaints that information had not been provided before the meeting and the public was being asked to comment on an issue they knew little about.  Read this post, about half-way down.

I did not learn about the public hearing today, until late yesterday night when I happened to see the agenda for the meeting posted on the Redevelopment Commission’s section of the City website.  There is a Legal Notice section, but I have never seen anything posted there in the year I’ve regularly checked.  The legal notices are printed in the newspaper, but the problem with this method is wading through all the other notices for law suits, name change hearings and various other sundry of items.  If you’re going to have a section of your website for something specific, either use it or don’t have it.  In this day and age, frankly there is no excuse for not using the full power of the Internet to keep your community informed. 

Agendas for meetings are usually posted to the website, but sometimes not until the last minute - I can understand this as things are not always decided until the last minute.  But there have been a few meetings where nothing was posted at all.  The agendas, when posted, only contain a few, brief, vague sentences for each of the resolutions to be considered.  But I’ve even seen some of the resolutions and even these are only summary or vague in content.  I would like to know why the public isn’t allowed to download, access or even be provided at the meetings with the same paperwork the Commission members are looking at when deciding these resolutions.  I can understand that some might contain proprietary information about a company, but I think this would take some of the mystery out of the matter.  It would certainly give the average citizen such as myself a greater sense of inclusion and empowerment.

In the case of tonight’s Public Hearing regarding the lease, it was again like being asked to comment on something without knowing the facts or anything about it.  Do not get me wrong, this was not a huge problem in this particular issue, but it would have been nice to have known the particulars before the meeting.  There might have been some questions that should have been asked.  Read this post: Harrison Square Staging Area

Please understand my position here.  I am about 85% for the Harrison Square project, while the other 15% of me vacillates between, “It’s a great thing!” to “Gee, I hope this goes well.”  But whichever way I am feeling, what I really want is for FORT WAYNE to SUCCEED!  Am I totally happy with the way this has all played out?  No, not entirely, however, there is no reason to defeat the project now.  At this point, we’re committed and NEED to be positive, supportive people.  The Redevelopment Commission members and staff have done a great job of guiding and putting together the project.  We need to be supportive of them.

As far as Councilman Smith goes, I have respect for his knowledge and what he brings to our council.  However, I remember hearing him say several times that we all need to get behind this and make sure it succeeds.  He would then turn around in the next breath and snipe-criticize.  Inferences and innuendos do nothing but portray you in a not-so-supportive light.  There’s a difference between being a citizen councilman-watch-dog versus a defeatist.  The fight is over and it’s time to really get behind the project, Councilman Smith.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Steve – How can you possibly make a critical comment like, “It’s time to get behind the project” when you say,”I don’t know what Tom Smith said”? Chris Guerin has been all to quick to knee-jerk a reaction to any critics of our Redevelopment Group, department and commission. Don’t you know that they think they are “God’s Gift to Fort Wayne” and are above any criticism of any lowly Fort Wayne taxpayer? John B. Kalb

  2. Hi John! You’re the second person to post a comment on my blog. You are absolutely right! My apologies. I could have easily written the post without any of my commentary about Councilman Smith and still made my point. But, it’s too late for that. I’ll try to find out what the comments were and if I need to retract at that point, I will. But, I really doubt it.

    However, my point is that the time to be critical of all that happened last year is past. If some new specific controversy has happened, then bring it forward, which is exactly what Mr. Guerin was stating. Perhaps I jumped the gun in siding with him. However, I doubt this is the case as I’ve not heard about any new allegations or controversy. Councilman Smith, whom I have a high regard for in most matters, has constantly talked out of both sides of his mouth saying he supports it, and yet almost always turns around and adds a dig. If he indeed used the phrase “transparency,” then I would bet my bottom dollar that he’s referring to the issues surrounding the purchase of the properties in Harrison Square – again. At what point do you let things go? If you’re not happy with the way something happened, then either cry over it for the next decade or change what it was that allowed it to happen in the first place! What I really meant to say is either be supportive or unsupportive, but don’t do both in the same breath. Be consistently for it or consistently against it.

    There are some serious problems with the way our City government disseminates information to it’s citizens. Saying that, our local government does not have a monopoly in this area as it is a problem of governments in general. There is absolutely NO REASON in the world why it should be this way in this day and age. You, meaning the City, have a website, use it to it’s potential! That was really the point of my post.

    BTW, John, do you know what the comments were that so incensed Mr. Guerin? I’m really curious and will try to find out what was said.

  3. Hi again John! After I hit the enter key, I had this thought as well. One of the hardest things for me in all of this has been to seperate the actual project from the way that it was developed and set up. I imagine it’s hard for Mr. Smith, who was disappointed with the way it began, to now give up on this battle and let it go forward at the very least without sniping at every possible opportunity. But at some point, one has to either get behind it or stop sabotaging it – if nothing else, for the pleasure of being able to sit back in a few years and say, “I told you so!” – or not. lol With you, I don’t think there’s any doubt about your position on the matter. However, I don’t see you out there publicly tearing it down at every opportunity either.

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