Friday, December 28, 2007

Does Tom Henry Believe in Open Government?

Kudos to Tracy Warner and the JG for today's editorial that strenuously objects to the city's position on withholding the environmental studies from the OmniSource site. The Richard administration is hiding behind legal technicalities but they have not put forth any valid reason for not releasing environmental data the taxpayers paid for.
City residents paid nearly $50,000 for a consultant to study the extent of contamination at a key near-downtown site long pegged for a major development. City officials have no good reason to conceal the results of those environmental studies from the people who paid for them.

Withholding them will do little to help the city’s negotiating position – the city may have already shared some of the results with the property’s owners – and does much to cast doubt on the possible purchase of the property.

This is an opportunity for mayor-elect Tom Henry to show that he believes in the tenets of open government. Mayor Graham Richard never did; he has always believed in governing through a consensus of elitists and shutting out the general public. That style might fit in the political generation in which Richard was groomed but it is woefully lacking in today's information age. Citizens expect information and transparency from their government. Whether or not they will admit it publicly, even ardent supporters of Mayor Richard believe he could've done a better job promoting open government initiatives.
In his waning hours as mayor, Graham Richard should release the study. If he doesn’t, Tom Henry could go far toward establishing a firm position favoring open government by releasing the studies.

Involving the public at each step should include informing citizens about the extent of contamination and should help build support for the project. Withholding information only breeds distrust.

Fort Wayne citizens paid for the studies; they should know the results.

So the choice is quite simple for mayor-elect Henry. He can either embrace open government and build goodwill with everyone in the community or he can continue the stonewall tactics employed by the Richard administration and alienate a large portion of the community. This decision will likely tell open government advocates everything they need to know about the future of the Henry administration...

12 comments:

LP Mike Sylvester said...

I obviously agree with you 100%; however, it is not often when I agree with the editorial page of the JG...

It does not happen very often that I agree with the JG editorial page...

Mike Sylvester

Robert Enders said...

Since the city does not plan to exercise the option to buy, that means the contractual negotiations are over and the city has no legal standing to keep the enviromental study secret.

The city wasted $25,000 by optioning the property. It could have been a lot worse if the option had been exercised.

northfortwayne said...

Glad to see that the JG has finally gotten around to report on the issue.

Kudos to you too, Jeff. Only a few in the blogging community have addressed it. Once again you've shown that often the blogs draw attention to stories far in advance of the traditional media.

Kevin said...

Robert,

1- The city may well execute the option to buy.

2- The city may well have standing to NOT release the report- it depends on the language of the confidentiality clause in the option.

3- Having said that- I have no doubt that the report will be released BEFORE the city were to purchase the land.

My guess- hey folks, it was an INDUSTRIAL SITE!! It will, without a doubt in my mind, require some clean up.

that does not make it a bad purchase. First, we have to determine the COST of that clean-up. Then we can decide if it makes sense to move forward.

Another issue- if the city DOES NOT buy it......doesn't it look bad to have that vacant industrial lot right outside downtown?

Code Blue Schools said...

There are former industrial sites all over the country that will remain vacant because someone will have to pay the cost of remediation, not to mention the red tape of dealing with the environmental agencies.

The taxpayers financed the survey. At least they should be told if the hazards make the site unsuitable for the type of development the city has in mind.

Robert Enders said...

Kevin,
1. The option expires Monday.
2. If it needs cleaned up, let Omnisource pay for it. If they can't or won't do it, let's have it declared a Superfund site.
3. In a city that is as old as Fort Wayne but is still growing, there will be old, vacant buildings. If they pose a health hazard, condemn the property and tear it down. If they don't, they add a sense of historic charm.
4. People coming into downtown from the east have to pass the other Omnisource site, which is even less photogenic than the Clinton Street site. The fact is, Fort Wayne, like every other Midwestern city, is an industrial city. One of the side effects of that is ugly buildings. Deal with it.

scott spaulding said...

The option has been extended

Kevin said...

Robert,

The option has been extended.

I do not think it can be a superfund site- I believe those are largely reserved for "unowned" properties (such as dissovled corporations).

I also find it interesting that you, a Libertarian, want to use TAX DOLLARS (Superfund is funded by taxing oil companies) to clean up this site.

I thought you Libertarians wanted LESS government intrusion?

LP Mike Sylvester said...

I am a Libertarian as well and I do not want to see it declared a Superfund site...

I think the owners should be required to clean up their land prior to selling it to anyone. They polluted it therefore they should clean it up.

Mike Sylvester

Andrew Kaduk said...

I'm pretty sure the Rifkin family would have to be dead, incarcerated for life, mentally incapacitated AND bankrupt (any one of the above PLUS bankruptcy) in order for Superfund dollars to be allocated to that dump. Kevin is absolutely correct about the typical uses for Superfund money. The Rifkins are still alive, free as birds and still richer than god so it is unlikely the EPA would give them a second look for any help (unless, that is, they announce a plan to donate the property to the U.S. Government).

Andrew Kaduk said...

I guess I didn't even think to ask if the property in question was part of the OmniSource/SDI deal...so my comments only apply if Leonard & Co. still own it.

Robert Enders said...

Allowing an environmental health hazard that poses a danger to nearby homes and business infringes on the rights of those residents and business owners. If it poses that kind of health threat, then it needs to be cleaned up by Omnisource if possible, and by the government if necessary.

I only advocate making it a Superfund site if the owners are unwilling or unable to clean it up. As a Libertarian, I only advocate the use of tax funds as a last resort. We will not know if we are at a last resort stage until the results of the study are released. But as long as the results are secret, we might very be at the last resort stage without knowing it.