ON THE AVENUES: Our mayor hates non-elected boards — except when they’re his own, which is why “hypocrisy” is spelled G-A-H-A-N.

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ON THE AVENUES: Our mayor hates non-elected boards — except when they’re his own, which is why “hypocrisy” is spelled G-A-H-A-N.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I was shocked — SHOCKED — when Wendy Dant Chesser’s appearance at the city council meeting last evening on behalf of One Southern Indiana proved not to be for the purpose of celebrating her organization’s unparalleled excellence, which has been the norm during past self-aggrandizing appearances.

Rather, it was to celebrate the endearingly cute and bouncy love child 1Si created with the help of five regional county governments: OUR Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority. First OSA, now OSARDA. Later comes OSARDAOMG.

It’s a good thing I opted for mezcal before entering the council chambers.

Therein lies a tale so convoluted that a brief retelling probably is impossible, but I’ll have a go at it. Here’s the spoiler: any which way you slice this charred hunk of stuffed camel spleen, the Hypocrisy Tilt-O-Meter comes up screaming “GAHAN.” Let’s begin with the local chain newspaper’s latest in a series of unquestioning boilerplate.

New Albany City Council hears RDA update, by Steno #2534 (Tom May Does It All Gazette)

NEW ALBANY — In 2015 the state of Indiana handed out $126 million to three of the seven Regional Development Authorities in the state, but Floyd and Clark counties were not on the receiving end.

If more state funds become available again, both counties will be in a better position to qualify, according to One Southern Indiana Executive Director Wendy Dant Chesser.

In 2017, Clark, Floyd, Jefferson, Scott and Washington counties formed Our Southern Indiana Regional Development Authority and formed a board made up of five directors — one from each county. That board recently received a $125,000 planning grant and members are looking for input from governing county and municipalities for projects they would like to see funded. Ideas that could attract both public and private funds and one that would benefit the region.

For me, this recurring nausea goes all the way back to December of 2014, as recounted here.

The most recent downtown merchant “mixer” meeting was held on December 16 at Strandz & Threadz, and weirdly enough for a group that seldom attracts more than a dozen attendees, and is routinely ignored by the city’s ostensible “economic development” officials, the chat was attended by both State Representative Ed Clere and Mayor Jeff Gahan.

They were there to inform struggling downtown merchants about the potential sheen of the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative, which at first glance appears to be one of those world-classic, chamber-endorsed, bait ‘n’ switch ideas designed to divert attention from the mundane daily grind of the here and now (which abjectly terrifies City Hall) and instead, to fix all our gazes toward a bountiful harvest … a coin flip to be determined some day, down the road.

I was fascinated by the spectacle. In November, David “Industrial Park First” Duggins had dominated the merchant meeting as visiting enforcer, there to silence me and gloweringly assure shop owners that they didn’t want to hear about the potential for two-way streets to improve their businesses quite soon, in the short term.

Then a month later, here was the mayor himself, spending half an hour describing the Regional Cities Initiative, a strictly “might be” iffy proposition, tantamount to time spent allocating future lottery winnings to the background noise of a Disney soundtrack instead of counting the change actually occupying the jar. If only someone other than a dissident like me would have said:

“But if it would help business downtown, couldn’t we change the streets next week?”

The fact is, the missed opportunity cost of Jeff Gahan’s present-day neglect of small business is irrefutable, and the evidence to support my position is overwhelming, but I’ve already made these points.

Then as now, I was suspicious.

Regional Cities Initiative 1: Cooperation inducement, or bait ‘n’ switch?

With New Albany having so many “micro” issues going chronically unaddressed, the randomly “macro” aspect of Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative has struck me as a red flag (or more aptly, red herring) from the very start. More succinctly, when One Southern Indiana starts getting giggly and giddy over the Regional Cities Initiative, it meant we should be getting very cautious.

By the summer of 2015, the various competing acronyms were building up speed toward a showdown, with county councils set to vote prior to a state-imposed deadline.

ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: When it comes to the RCI, can the RDA opt out of the RFRA?

To me, the Regional Cities Initiative is just another big-ticket bauble to distract the attention of folks who should be concerned about why we can’t fill potholes, reconvert streets to two-way traffic, or recognize the threat posed to us all by income inequality of the sort that RCI’s backers accept as the default rules of the game. But I don’t, and had the best of intentions to write about my experience before today.

Sorry about that. It didn’t happen. RCI is a multi-faceted boondoggle, the usual suspects are swarming, and I’ve been busy with other things. In the absence of coherence, I’ll go scattershot and try to provide a broad outline peppered with venom.

As stapled together and presented as a “no-brainer” in 2015, the RDA still did not pass muster with regional governing bodies at the county level, including Floyd County’s council Republicans despite St. Rep. Ed Clere’s support.

The two most commonly cited reasons for their opposition were eminent domain considerations (later buffed and polished so as to procure the desired outcome in 2017) and the potential loss of local autonomy. The latter was, and remains, a valid concern, so in mid-2015 as Gahan began slithering away from his previous puppy dog excitement over the RDA, perhaps his evolution was commendable.

Or, maybe it’s just that if Clere stated the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Gahan would assure us the opposite is true. After all, the mayor handed a cool two grand to Clere’s most recent election opponent in 2018.

Chump change, big guy. I’ve tipped better than this at Waffle House. Back to 2015:

Way back in December at the otherwise poorly attended merchant mixer meeting, both Jeff Gahan and Ed Clere were there to let these small business owners know about the approaching boon in state project funding.

I’m told by insiders that Gahan subsequently pulled away from active RCI support for fear that Floyd County’s dominant GOP would be in the driver’s seat. 

Consequently, given the fact of 2019 being a municipal election year, and with no amount of yoga capable of explaining the frantic posturing on the part of certain of our more desperate time servers in defiance of gravity and logic, it’s actually no great surprise Gahan would choose Monday afternoon this week to remind citizens that a Regional Development Authority notion he once claimed as his very own in 2014 now had become almost as repugnant as Baylor’s blog.

But Gahan’s stated reason WHY it bothers him is precisely what should be bothering YOU.

We return to the newspaper’s steno-in attendance.

Prior to the meeting, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan voiced concerns regarding the RDA initiative.

“The current RDA legislation undermines voters in Indiana,” Gahan said in a news release. “As written, it transfers oversight of public funds and projects away from city and county councils to persons who have not been elected by voters to hold public office. It grants vast autonomy and protections to those who have not taken the oath of office and who have not sworn to act in the best interest of the people of Indiana.”

Breathe. Keep breathing.

Entering his eighth year as mayor and sitting atop $130,000 in re-election funds (with perhaps 50k or more coming in 2019), Gahan no longer can abide non-elected boards.

This is hypocrisy on a looming, mountainous and nearly Himalayan scale.

Consider that the bulk of Gahan’s campaign finance proceeds over the past eight years — somewhere around $300,000 total — are the direct result of pay-to-play patronage deals cut with various lawyers, contractors, engineers, consultants and other vested interests.

These self-interested parties participate in the greasing of wheels to obtain numerous contracts and sinecures falling outside what normal folks assume is a fair bidding process, when in fact there is an entire range of largess not bound by such bidding.

How are these nuggets awarded?

By boards and commissions, prime among them the Redevelopment Commission, Board of Public Works & Safety, New Albany Housing Authority Board and Sewer Board.

Who sits on these boards and distributes the bounty?

Men and women (but mostly old white men) appointed by … you guessed it … Mayor Jeffrey M. Gahan.

That’s right.

The same grubby Democratic politician who has spent the past seven years cramming these non-elected local boards with pliant sycophants, groveling lickspittles and brain-dead functionaries precisely to avoid oversight from elected officials, seeing as even the minimum of ethics-bound monitoring might threaten the sanctity of patronage deals handed to free-spending donors, now comes out of the bunker like a Godzilla-sized Popeye, swinging his fearsome anchor against the horrors of non-elected boards.

Well, hmm, actually just one non-elected board, this being the only one Gahan didn’t appoint and consequently can’t control — and the mayor feels so very strongly about opposing this horrendous precedent, the daily exploitation of which already marks him as a veritable Babe Ruth of the Fix-Is-In League, that he didn’t even bother to attend the council meeting and relay his objections in person to Dant Chesser.

Not only is Gahan a hypocrite. He’s also a coward, but then again, we already knew that.

I can’t disagree with anyone who publicly calls out the potential corruption of hermetic appointed boards. It’s a delightful idea to render these non-elected boards and commissions genuinely accountable to the citizenry. But when it’s Gahan doing the talking, we know the rationale is political, to be contextualized within the 2019 municipal election cycle.

Because: If Gahan detested non-elected boards so much, he wouldn’t be resorting to his own to evade transparency.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” That’s our mayor. There’s only one conclusion, voters: #FireGahan2019

Recent columns:

January 29: ON THE AVENUES: How has the 3rd district councilman fared since this question from 2015: “Et tu, Greg Phipps?”

January 22: ON THE AVENUES: Democrats should judge city council incumbents in districts 2, 3, 4 and 5 by their regressive deeds, not their progressive words.

January 15: ON THE AVENUES REWOUND: Jeff Gahan and Adam Dickey are Trumping the Donald when it comes to breathtaking moral turpitude. Have they no shame?

January 8: ON THE AVENUES: In the 3rd district, that “stepping aside” time finally has arrived.

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