ON THE AVENUES: If we’re waiving sewer tap-ins, nothing less than gold faucets will do.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
At the March 19 meeting of New Albany’s city council, the legislative body that seldom legislates very much any longer was asked by City Hall to approve a TIF area extension to accommodate infrastructure improvements for the prospective Coyle site housing development, which in recent days has been upgraded from “upscale” to “luxury” in terms of hyperbolic descriptors for the apartment units soon to be built there.
Why the semantic escalation?
Probably the dreaded random adjective generator, although as the primary draws closer, expect frequent comparisons to Mobutu Sese Seko’s Kawale palace in Gbadolite, Congo – or in our local New Albanian dialect, “Versailles of the Bungle.”
As is its habit, the council supinely did exactly as it was told, but not before David Duggins, the city’s Standard TIF Area Statistical Incentivization Specialist (STASIS), who once was quoted to the effect that he couldn’t possibly explain the manifest benefits of Jeff Speck’s downtown street network proposals for fear of being proven mistaken in any way, shape or form even on the most minor of points, let slip that the board of New Albany’s sewer utility was “discussing” further enticements to the Coyle site developers to the tune of waiving 150+ sewer tap-in fees … or (according to the newspaper) $200,000.
Diane Benedetti immediately questioned this, reminding Duggins that in a city where affairs of the sanitary sewer are the surest ever proof of Sigmund Freud’s potty doctrines, ironclad historical precedent precludes granting waivers for any construction. As an example, not so long ago, waivers were denied to IU Southeast for its new dormitories. In short, no one gets a break.
I wasn’t there to see it, but Duggins surely rolled his eyes and muttered “yes, ma’am,” fingers tightly crossed behind this back, because he somehow neglected to inform the assembled council that not only had the sewer board “discussed” the waivers, it had touched all four and approved them, along with “what the hell, why not” waivers for both of Mayor Gahan’s signature parks-in-splendid-isolation, on March 12 — a full week prior to the council meeting.
Like the child whose hands are smeared with cookie batter, did Duggins think no one would find out, or has City Hall’s level of yo-the-fix-is-in nonchalance now reached the point of default hubris?
The sewer board’s vote was 2-0, with the motion introduced by the city engineer Larry Summers in the absence of the board’s chair, who is none other than Mayor Jeff Gahan himself. Evidently the mayoral hologram was undergoing maintenance in a secluded Disney Store factory outlet, affording the very maximum in plausible deniability – and speaking of Uncle Walt, Summers’ motion came at the request of the Redevelopment Commission, which includes among its members Adam Dickey, the chairman of the Floyd County Democratic Party.
Eeeeewww … damn, it smells like sewer gas around here, doesn’t it?
Council president Pat McLaughlin, who doubles as co-chair (with Dan Coffey) of the Gahan Jockstrap Conveyance Patrol (no acronym), conceded to the News and Tribune’s Daniel Suddeath that yes, there was a mild “concern” over these new and unexplored precedents, but hey — what can an elected lackey do, apart from popping the top on an ice-cold Bud Light at the Roadhouse?
Also according to Suddeath, City Hall’s legal team as yet is finding it difficult to unravel the impenetrable thicket of the city’s own ordinances.
Summers is expected to be replaced soon after questions arose as to whether he could serve on the Stormwater and Sewer boards as a paid city employee.
We already knew that the convenient Summers’ placement on the Stormwater Board was a two-pronged mistake according to previlaing ordinance, which clearly prohibits a paid city employee from serving, and stipulates that it’s a council appointment in the first place, and not a forum for City Hall’s attorney to be enthusiastically brokering the mayor’s fondest wishes.
(B) One member appointed by majority vote of the members of the Common Council, provided that the member shall be a registered professional engineer, and further provided that the member shall not otherwise be a paid or unpaid official or employee of the city.
We also knew that when the issue was raised by this blog, city attorney Shane Gibson promptly and honorably fell on his sword and took one for Team Gahan.
The Storm Water Board and the Sewer Board are both set up under the same Indiana authority. The former board member was on both the Sewer and the Storm Water Boards. When he stepped off the boards, I looked at the Sewer Board membership requirements in the City Ordinance. That Sewer ordinance states one member shall be the City engineer. I let our City engineer know this and his duties as required by the Ordinance. I didn’t, however, review or the pull the Storm Water board requirements for members and assumed they were the same since the two boards were established under the same Indiana authority. As I mentioned above, this was an error on my part. We will be taking the necessary actions to remedy this matter.
Except that the Indiana state law establishing sewer board guidelines, which apparently dates from 1981, also prohibits a paid employee from serving.
(a) A sanitary board established under this chapter consists of:
(1) the municipal executive; and
(2) two (2) persons appointed by the municipal legislative body, one (1) of whom must be a registered professional engineer.
The legislative body may not appoint any paid or unpaid municipal officer or employee to the board.
Meanwhile, New Albany’s sewer board staffing ordinance, first enacted in the 1990s when the Federal government firmly pointed out to us that a city our size might wish to treat more than a fraction of its wastewater, appears to deliberately obfuscate the state’s intent … and no one has noticed until now?
(2) Two members, appointed by majority vote of the members of the Common Council, provided that one such member shall be the City Engineer or a registered professional engineer, and further provided that such non City Engineer person shall not be a paid or unpaid official or employee of the city.
I’m no legal bagel, but someone out there other than me surely is asking the same question: How many illegal votes actually have been taken the past 30-odd years on all these boards?
And: If Summers wasn’t supposed to be on the Sewer Board, what about the casual Gahan-less vote on March 12 to break with decades of precedent and waive sewer tap-ins?
Was it legal?
Finally, this: At some point, as one oddball screw-up piles atop another, doesn’t a hands-on mayor genuinely believing in his “fundamentally better” agitprop actually call the press, quote Harry Truman, point to his desk, and make the buck stop there?
Maybe the problem for Gahan is all those bucks, roughly $90,000 of the campaign variety at last count. Or, conversely, maybe taking responsibility voids the hologram’s warranty. In three-plus years, has Gahan yet to acknowledge an error?
Now, about those ivory toilet seats …