Cross-Posted at Left Of Centrist:
Tonight I attended the Northwest Area Partnership meeting and Fort Wayne's Mayor Graham Richard was the guest speaker. This was part of his "Report to the People" speaking tour. He discussed many topics and Mike Sylvester, who was also present, blogged about some of them (no need to rehash the same info). The mayor seemed very passionate about fiscal responsibility and the application of 6 sigma policies within government. He presented a chart that showed the city portion of property taxes was the lowest since 1964. As expected, the mayor delivered the information well and seemed genuinely interested in the subsequent Q&A session.
During this Q&A session I had the opportunity to address several topics with the mayor. First I listed some things I thought the city had done well - the library renovation, downtown WiFi, and addressing the Combined Sewage Overflow problem. I then addressed issues related to the Harrison Square Project:
1. I told him that I felt using eminent domain to take the Belmont Beverage property only to turn around and give it to the Marriott so they can build a downtown hotel was NOT the right thing to do.
Mayor Richard said that this is no longer an option due to the Kelo decision (he was incorrect about the Kelo decision but the Indiana legislature did pass a law forbidding this practice) and said that all other property had been bought in the open market.
2. I asked him why my FOIA request had not received a response
He said that he had seen the request, they took it seriously and they are in the process of gathering all the communications covered by the request.
He said he thought the info had went to the city attorney today and that I would receive it soon. He also said he would personally discuss the issue w/ me after the conclusion of the meeting (more on this later).
3. I also asked if Tim Haffner - an owner of the Gary Railcats, chairmen of the allen county economic development alliance, and current consultant to the city on the Harrison Square project would be negotiating the stadium lease agreement and other deals. My concern was that if Hardball Capital decided to sell the team at some future date then Mr Haffner's Victory Sports Group could be the natural successor to buy the team. This would possibly put Mr Haffner in the position of having negotiated his own lease agreement.
The mayor rightfully pointed out that Haffner's experience w/ the Railcats puts him in a unique position to negotiate on behalf of the city and that he did not feel there was anything unethical to worry about. He felt very confident that Haffner would negotiate the best deal he could for the city and I personally have no reason to doubt that.
After the meeting, as promised, the mayor took a few minutes to address my concerns about the FOIA request. I informed him that from my position, not being privy to day-to-day operations, it seemed very strange that an Atlanta based firm would buy a Fort Wayne baseball team when it's lease agreement was running out and no new stadium had been agreed t - it just seemed odd. He said that there WAS COMMUNICATION BETWEEN HIMSELF AND HARDBALL CAPITAL BEFORE they purchased the team.
He told me (paraphrase) they contacted him and said they were interested in a new stadium and they were in a unique position to provide local development as well if there were any interest in doing a downtown development project that involved a new stadium. The mayor told them there had been previous studies into this and he provided them the city's relevant reports - i.e. the Downtown Blueprint. The mayor also said he treated the Hardball Capital group the same way he would treat any local company that wanted to make a significant investment. He specifically said "there was no deal cut".
The mayor also informed me that there were e-mails regarding the above discussion and that he would be providing that information in response to my FOIA request. I am glad the mayor takes this request seriously and as such it appears that he values open government. When I receive these documents I will update this discussion as well as allow anyone that wishes to make copies...