ON THE AVENUES: Could that be David Duggins paddling across Jeff Gahan’s putrid cesspool? On second thought, I’ll take the blindfold.

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ON THE AVENUES: Could that be David Duggins paddling across Jeff Gahan’s putrid cesspool? On second thought, I’ll take the blindfold.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Last Friday at lunchtime, the Green Mouse joined me for an anthropological expedition to the grassy levee, and there we enjoyed a purely metaphorical taste of the high life – from afar, of course.

So, what’s the story, morning glory? The Green Mouse believes he knows.

The Green Mouse believes that last Friday, October 20, there was a junket aboard a sparkling Xtreme Transportation limo bus to Keeneland for an installment of the fall meet, and then later, to the Louisville City FC match at Slugger Field.

The Green Mouse believes this junket was organized by Denton Floyd Real Estate Group, and that Vitality Senior Living, to be the future occupant of the M. Fine rehab on Main Street being built by Denton Floyd, paid for at least part of it.

The Green Mouse believes former Redevelopment Commission kingpin David Duggins, now the interim director of the demolition-of-housing authority, was a prime junket honoree, presumably as a measure of heartfelt thanks for his efforts on the city’s behalf to assist Denton Floyd’s and Vitality’s project at M. Fine – and as a prelude to whatever luxurious domiciles eventually are constructed atop the smoldering remnants of public housing in New Albany, which of course is one reason for Duggins being cozily ensconced within his current sinecure – this, and for catering to the eccentric whims of Dear Pretend Democratic Leader.

The Green Mouse believes the three women seen boarding the limo bus prior to its departure from the YMCA were models hired for the occasion from the Cosmo agency.

Neither the drunken mouse nor this columnist can fathom why hired models were necessary for a day at the races, though we acknowledge that in light of incessant sex scandals involving slimeballs like Harvey Weinstein and other high rolling moguls, standards of propriety encompassing property development circles and their public officials held tightly in bondage (pun intended) perhaps require different standards of taste and propriety from those to which we’re accustomed as grubby plebeians.

Was the junket illegal? That’s highly doubtful. In the absence of clearly defined ethical standards, public officials always are in a position to take advantage of friendly back-scratching – figuratively, mind you, not literally.

It’s the way of the world, right?

Boys will be boys, and it’s business as usual, with charming fringe benefits, and good clean fun for the golf-playing, horse wagering, chummy-buddy TIF-milking set.

Tasteless? Surely, especially when public housing residents fear they’re about to lose their homes.

Poor people don’t understand handicapping, anyway.

Back in July, after New Albany Housing Authority director Bob Lane was cashiered and Duggins was reassigned on a full-time basis to the Gahan’s social engineering experiment at the NAHA, the Green Mouse and I were utterly baffled by the timing of Duggins’ move.

Here’s an extended excerpt.

Using Deaf Gahan’s dullest razor, we race straight to the bottom of his hurried NAHA putsch launch.

 … Obviously, the reason why interim director (David) Duggins has nothing to say is because he knows just as little about the daily workings of the agency to which he has been transferred as any of Donald Trump’s bumbling cabinet appointees.

With Duggins tongue-tied, (Irving) Joshua must lead the diversion. His garbled and increasingly tiresome protests, holding that so little public housing “reform” is impending that a plan of operation to pursue it hasn’t even been devised, and anyway, the potential time frame for any changes might stretch into as many as three future US presidential terms, should be prompting equally obvious media follow-up questions:

If so, then why this, and why now?

Has any local media outlet asked these questions yet? … 

 … What if the key to it all – the reason for the timing of the new bobbleheaded board’s lubrication, Lane’s pathetic decapitation, subsequent squealings of ignorance, and especially the switch from redevelopment to public housing of a woefully inexperienced Duggins – was a sudden and unexpected need to move Duggins, Gahan’s cockamamie confidant, trusted second-in-command and de facto deputy mayor, somewhere/anywhere else — and quickly?

The best reason to investigate this premise is the inopportune timing of Duggins’ departure from his economic development and redevelopment fiefdoms. It makes no more sense than his shift to the NAHA.

Think about it. With six years of wheel-greasing and back-alley Bud Light Lime pounding behind him, probably a dozen projects with Duggins’ fingerprints all over them will be coming on-line in the next year or so.

A short set list of Duggins’ singalong compositions includes riverfront park creation; downtown façade grants for first family laggards; Break Wind’s delayed completion; the projected mixed use development at Vincennes and Market; alleyway beautification; aging subdivision entryway landscaping repairs; and even the grid modernization project itself.

And, we all know the way this game is played.

Each of them comprises a feather in Duggins’ professional cap, irrespective of the extent of his actual involvement (v.v. the Greenway, for instance), and each is wonderfully and delightfully redeemable for political favors or employment perks in the private sector when the time comes to fleece the public from a different angle.

With Duggins at the NAHA, he won’t be around to cash in his chips and use his coupons, which defies the inexorable logic of claiming credit.

Why would anyone step away from the spidery magnitude of these achievements (albeit ones financed with other people’s money) just when the congratulatory plaques are about to be engraved and fixed to every triumphant arch in town?

Why transfer to a thankless “interim” position at NAHA, particularly without possessing the slightest relevant skill set, for the “reward” of dealing with the federal government in bureaucratic ways barely fathomable, and worse yet, having to act in the best interests and welfare of real living people, not merely inanimate, cash-stuffed envelopes?

Perhaps the transition is tolerable owing to the astounding ease with which the entry-level neophyte Duggins immediately was gifted with Lane’s old pro veteran salary, a substantial (and I mean multi-mucho) increase over the redevelopment maestro’s previous rate of pay.

Look at it this way, and everything adds up.

Yes, Jeff Gahan was planning to annex public housing anyway. Topics like the working poor and affordable housing shatter the C-minus mayoral student’s buzz, and the properties owned by NAHA can be put to far better use to engorge the perennial suburbanite’s insatiable appetite for perceived luxury … with a dollop of campaign finance for good measure.

Then came a curve ball. On short notice, Duggins needed to be moved away from redevelopment, and what’s more, he needed a little extra in terms of salary.

Gahan understandably stayed loyal to his bag man; after all, if push ever came to shove, just imagine what Duggins might divulge. There aren’t enough grand juries, and so the mayor made the necessary moves, even though they rushed the NAHA putsch before all of Gahan’s ducks were in a row, hence the public relations farce that has ensued.

Allow me to elaborate from the vantage point of three additional months.

It may have been the case from the very start that the wheeling-and-dealing Duggins had at last provided the nuts and bolts of a viable land-grab game plan for a public housing eradication program already favored by the vast majority of white male New Albanians of a certain age, who’ve bought into the idiotic myth of the city being hamstrung by its freeloading poor people.

Maybe, but let’s look at Duggins’ “promotion” from the angle of the spur of the moment, although first, let this be clear: There’ll be readers crying “foul” at what I’m about to write. Unfortunately, there are times when the professional cannot be explained without reference to the personal.

It’s also the case that in politics, there can be considerable overlap between the two, private and public. Witness the Perons in Argentina, Mr. and Mrs. Ceausescu, and the classic escapades of Wilbur Mills.

I believe that one possible explanation for Duggins’ hurried transfer from Hauss Square to Bono Road might lie in the breakup of his marriage. This is relevant only in the sense of his public persona and that of his ex, Sally Hughes, who is in charge of business development at HWC Engineering, and only insofar as what transpired during the time when Duggins ran amok as a daily presence downtown.

It’s only — only — about the juncture of the largely fictional “free” market and the realm of “good enough for government work.” I’ve no interest in exploring any other aspect, and frankly, I wish it weren’t necessary to delve into this part of it. However, we can’t be squeamish.  

Scroll back a year, and we see HWC’s profile in New Albany municipal contracts becoming larger, as with the grid modernization project and the writing of a new master plan. It wasn’t just New Albany; HWC reckoned that 15% of its business was coming from Southern Indiana.

New Albany definitely could be seen as a launching pad for HWC’s aspirations, and when the firm was looking for an office in Southern Indiana, it was established in the remodeled Tribune building within a literal stone’s throw of the Third Floor.

I believe that with HWC’s enhanced role as being tantamount to the city of New Albany’s engineering department (by frequent outsourcing), one increasingly attached to arms of city government of which Duggins was integral, he was prematurely shifted to the NAHA because potential bad personnel vibes from a soured relationship might step all over the symbiotic ties between HWC and the city.

Conversely, by buying time and waiting for things have cool down, the downtown pipeline could remain freely flowing, while a path cleared for HWC to grab future luxury enhancement contracts at the former NAHA.

I believe the disturbing and outlandish pay increase was a reward to Duggins for loyalty to the Genius of the Flood Plain – and the financial burden of post-marriage reality absorbed far more easily on Bob Lane’s salary than the public servant’s chickenfeed which Duggins was earning previously.

(Some years back, Duggins told me he was taking a substantial pay cut to work for City Hall, compared to what he might earn in the “private” sector of the economy.)

But the private sector is risky, isn’t it? Better a safe 30% pay rise to stay securely in a job where you’re playing with house (read: taxpayer) money.

There’s nothing expressly illegal about any of this, although “flagrantly tacky” is another matter entirely.

Duggins may or may not be a disposable, replaceable, appointed cog in Jeff Gahan’s perpetual political monetization pyramid scheme. It depends on how willing Doctor Interim is to keep the financial machinations of Gahanism to himself.

However, Gahan owns this mess, and every last bit of it testifies to the mounting limitations of the hermetically sealed bunker Team Gahan inhabits.

For six years, Gahan’s roster of confidants has remained the same, and one needn’t be a persistent critic of Gahan’s cult of personality to see a palpable exhaustion of inspiration and ideas. Rigging undemocratic processes isn’t the same thing as altering paradigms, is it?

The problem with nepotism, cronyism, self-perpetuating cliques, yes-men, yes-women, mayor-bots, fluff drones, shameless sycophants, toady boot-lickers and prolapsed time-servers is that maintaining their “in” status inevitably becomes job one, precluding injections of innovative thinking.

There is no one around Gahan willing (or able) to restrain his ever widening megalomania. There is no one to dissent, object, question or freshen his banal ideas. There is no one to suggest his personality cult is bereft of clothing, or that increasingly, people are laughing at him.

By his own choice, and by his choice of lackeys, Gahan’s mayoral milieu resembles a silo. It is a closed loop and a dead-end alley. Forget the ubiquitous anchor “branding” mechanism, because Gahan’s most apt symbol is bizarrely affiliated with Duggins’ model-clad Keeneland excursion.

How much more obvious need it be?

Just like Donald Trump, Gahan cannot drain a swamp when the swamp is him. Ooh … that smell. The smell of impending electoral reckoning surrounds him.

Recent columns:

October 19: ON THE AVENUES: I’d like nothing more than to go for another ride.

October 12: ON THE AVENUES: The Orange Occupation is here again, and as a precaution, we’ve baked a handy file into this cake.

October 5: ON THE AVENUES REVISITED: Chocolate covered frozen banana republic, or “understanding” Harvest Homecoming, our peculiar institution.

September 28: ON THE AVENUES: Sniffles, gratitude and mental exhaustion. Apparently vacation is over.

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