Last week was Harvest Homecoming, and my city’s favorite festival kept me pinned to the tarmac, but now we’re back to what passes for normal here in New Gahania, where “We’re All Here Because We’re Not All THERE.”
This week as a run-up to Decision 2019, I’m headed back into the ON THE AVENUES archive for five straight days of devastatingly persuasive arguments against four more years of the Gahan Family Values™ Personality Cult.
I’ve already made the argument for Mark Seabrook as mayor. Now let’s return to the voluminous case against Gahanism in five informative and entertaining installments.
In the following saga of the demolition of Haughey’s Tavern in the autumn of 2014, you’ll see all the elements of virulent Gahanism falling into place. There is the mayor’s instinct for self-deification, his pathological secrecy, and the bullying of subordinates (note that John Gonder was targeted for defeat by his own party in 2015 owing to this and other examples of independent thinking).
Another fascinating repercussion of the Haughey’s fix in 2014 is fully applicable to the Reisz Mahal boondoggle in 2018.
Greg Sekula of Indiana Landmarks called Gahan’s bluff the first time, so when the mayor needed to reverse field and lie shamelessly and publicly about his historic preservation credentials in order to bring about the luxury city hall expenditure, he staged a creative end-around.
Payhan simply bought off the preservationist bloc with the bait of the old Baity funeral home (now serving as Landmarks headquarters), then deployed a pliant and enfeebled David Barksdale (a presumed Republican) as the fifth “aye” in a controversial city council vote.
We don’t term Gahan’s milieu a swamp for nothing.
October 2, 2014
Whether or not it’s historic isn’t really relevant. Randomly tearing down what for all we know is a perfectly salvageable, useful commercial building in a neighborhood that needs them isn’t cleaning up. It’s just destroying assets, a waste in itself. If there’s a rational case to be made for why the building isn’t usable, no one from the City has made it.
The mayor says there’s a post-demolition plan for the lot but it’s a secret that can’t be revealed to the neighborhood. Councilman Phipps, who represents the neighborhood, says there is not a plan, or maybe there is, and, if there is one, he shouldn’t really tell us what it is anyway.
There’s far more dirtying up than cleaning up going on.
— Jeff Gillenwater, on Facebook
“The values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.”
— Jared Diamond, in “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”
In the frustrating weeks prior to the pre-ordained demolition of the historic Haughey tavern building at 922 Culbertson, numerous efforts were made by this blog to coax someone/anyone in city government to explain the sudden haste in destroying it, apart from the purely shambolic and theatrical “public safety” subterfuges, repeated like bureaucratic mantras, over and over again.
Even the customarily somnolent newspaper ventured a few sparsely tepid inquiries, although as usual, it couldn’t locate an editorial standpoint amid the profusion of rollover videos.
There were many questions, and the city batted them all away, preferring to conduct its predatory business in private, via a combination of overweening silence and condescending press releases.
Disturbingly, our 3rd district councilman Greg Phipps also took a vacuous pass on the topic, resorting to startlingly evasive academic sophistry when directly questioned about plans for the future of the cleared space, all this despite numerous substantive explanations of the building’s value, both in a contemporary sustainable neighborhood sense (Gillenwater’s oft-repeated remarks above) and by area journalists without snarky bones to pick (see “Historic Culbertson tavern demolished“, by Baylee Pulliam in the Courier-Journal)
All such efforts at transparence came abruptly to rest at what has become the single enduring symbol of Jeff Gahan’s mayoral administration: A big, honking, impermeable stone wall.
Afterward, as the fully jigged dust was settling over the rubble, Gahan finally released his explanation, announcing what we’d all suspected was true from the start: A top secret agreement already was in place for an as yet undisclosed builder to erect two houses on the lot – hence the many rumors postulating Habitat for Humanity’s involvement, which were denied by the organization, but now can be seen as harbingers of a fix, all in.
We don’t know who’ll be building these houses, or why this information could not be released before 922 Culbertson came to earth. Maybe it since has been announced in classic governmental fait accompli fashion, as filtered on Facebook by city hall’s chosen content provider, or hidden somewhere within daytime commission meeting minutes.
But make no mistake: This quote by Mayor Gahan surely speaks volumes.
“After the construction of these homes are completed, no one will miss the dilapidated structure that was at 922 Culbertson Ave.”
You’ll note Gahan’s presumptive use of the term “dilapidated.”
It is a characteristically passive/aggressive way of having the last word in a contest of wills, which few community members ever knew took place. His choice of post-mortem language, aimed at mocking the building’s presumed decay, is telling. It is anti-intellectual, and it is an intentional dig at his critics.
Gahan could not bring himself to reveal details of this bold, shining path of a future for the corner lot as justification before irrevocably removing a piece of New Albany’s drinking history, but evidently there was a “plan” all along, and our own councilman was bizarrely willing to abet the charade by assuaging his suburban aesthetic sensibilities.
Unfortunately, there always will be questions as to the nature of the presumed decay. How dilapidated was it? As Jeff Gillenwater wrote:
There’s been no evidence provided by the City or anyone else that it’s rotting apart. The building has never been publicly marketed like a regular property to potential buyers. The proposed sale price has never been publicly shared.
So… we don’t know what kind of shape it’s actually in, what the price is, or how any stipulations put on the property by the City might be defined.
Based on not telling the public what specifically is wrong with the building and needs to be fixed and not really ever trying to sell it at a known price that reflects repair needs, city officials have somehow – magic, perhaps – determined there’s no interest in it.
This knowledge, if any, was kept safely controlled within the inner sanctum. The city wouldn’t release it, and the council (perhaps excepting John Gonder) didn’t care to ask about it.
The Green Mouse did some digging, and he reports that at least some aspects of the 922 Culbertson anti-transparency debacle might be explained by Gahan’s determination to establish authority over the Indiana Landmarks Foundation and its local overseer, Greg Sekula.
According to insiders, Sekula took Gahan to task early in the pre-programmed 922 Culbertson demolition farce, demanding that the mayor protect the building after he learned that siding and other architectural elements were being harvested from the structure. Sekula then went public to demand that Landmarks be given time to broker a preservative outcome.
It’s all too clear, isn’t it?
With the mayor having conceded moments after the demolition that a mysterious, secret infill “plan” was in place all along, and with the very existence of this unrevealed plan neatly explaining the city’s ongoing reluctance to clearly explicate the building’s presumed decay – again, other than to insist that the same “public safety” concerns currently unenforced on hazardous one-way streets pressingly applied to this one, lone building sans any semblance of due diligence – it is obvious that Sekula made the error of fatally intruding into what was, in effect, a finished deal, one done dirt cheap in timeless and enduring New Albany civic fashion.
The result? Vindictiveness, an iron fist, and the loss of something irreparable. The Green Mouse’s contact had this to say:
Sekula daring to do his job apparently violated Gahan’s principles, because he “owns” the town since being elected God of New Albany, and so Landmarks gets nothing from now on, even if they offer up the best plan. Gahan was defied, and that’s now allowed, and so he has turned his guns on Landmarks, and Sekula especially. It’s fine by me. Now that the rats are devouring one another, maybe there actually is something to karma.
What remains in the wake of 922 Culbertson’s demise? For starters, there’s an administration sworn to pathological secrecy, displaying a pervasive need to control information that approaches Nixonian proportions.
There’s also a question of whether we have a participatory city council in any coherent sense. When was the last time that the council president Pat McLaughlin could be seen to veer from city hall’s proscribed diktat-of-the-moment? To be sure, Gonder has dared to do so — and now finds himself on the municipal “shit list,” to be excluded even further from insight into state secrets.
The “shit list” continues to grow, and those of us inhabiting it may need to relocate to a more expansive holding pen. Maybe it’s time for us to buy a dorm fridge, paper plates, some picture frames and furniture, and decorate a bit.
Does anyone know where those 922 Culbertson fixtures are being stored?