by William Skink
Our elected leaders and their skewed priorities require constant scrutiny because they have proven incapable of moderating their use of public TIF money for things that really have no public benefit whatsoever.
Case in point can be found in today’s Missoulian where the Missoula Redevelopment Agency is recommending $25,000 dollars in TIF money be paid to an out-of-state consulting firm to tell our enlightened leaders what they should already know, which is the old library site should be solely dedicated to housing.
Here’s a maddening excerpt from the Lee rag:
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency is recommending that the agency’s board approve using up to $25,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds from the Front Street Urban Renewal District as a match for a possible grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to hire consulting firm Dover, Kohl & Partners to create a “preferred development scenario” for the library block.
That Florida-based firm was also hired to help create the new Missoula Downtown Master Plan.
“This block presents the opportunity to meet a number of needs in the community and that area of downtown, and this planning effort will sift through those needs to determine priorities and which ones can be best met at that location,” wrote MRA director Ellen Buchanan in a memo to the board.
Buchanan said in exchange for $50,000, the consulting firm would identify multiple development scenarios followed by public presentations and an open house workshop to narrow down the vision for the block.
After my blind rage subsided from reading this, I started wondering. A Florida consulting firm? Didn’t our new Development Services Director, Josh Martin, spend some time in Florida? I wonder if Martin has had any experience with this consulting firm.
A few minutes of searching on the Google and I found a very concerning report in The Post and Courier, a paper in Charleston, that raises some serious questions about Josh Martin and the consulting firm Dover and Kohl. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the article, titled Charleston approves West Ashley master plan contract, but some doubt process. From the link:
A few weeks after Charleston City Council rejected a consultant’s $500,000 contract to lead a West Ashley revitalization plan for West Ashley, enough changed their minds Tuesday to approve it.
But City Councilman Keith Waring raised questions about whether Mayoral Advisor Josh Martin acted properly in communicating and negotiating with the winning firm.
His comments came after Mayor John Tecklenburg raised his voice in a passionate defense of Martin, a former city planning director, whose public and private experience Tecklenburg said made Martin uniquely qualified to negotiate the deal.
On Dec. 20, City Council voted 9-4 to reject a $498,800 contract, but the city has since renegotiated with Dover Kohl of Coral Gables, Fla., and got the price down slightly to $493,000. Dover Kohl planned Mount Pleasant’s I’On neighborhood and worked on other local projects, such as the recent Rethink Folly Road plan.
Tecklenburg said the city’s $443,000 would come from its planning department budget. Dover Kohl will work closely with the West Ashley Revitalization Commission and all others interested in shaping the city’s blueprint for improving its largest suburb, home to 44 percent of the city population.
Councilman Bill Moody, who represents parts of West Ashley and James Island, said he still was concerned about the price tag and the process that led to the proposed contract. He thanked the foundation for its contribution, but added, “I don’t care whose money we’re wasting. If we’re wasting it, we shouldn’t have been doing it.”
Waring, who appeared to join with Moody as the only votes against the contract, questioned why the West Ashley Revitalization Commission wasn’t more involved.
“Why did we pass a law to empower this committee and we don’t utilize their skills? I think that’s a travesty,” he said. “I think that’s an omission that can be corrected.”
Waring also questioned whether Martin properly communicated with Dover Kohl, though he offered no proof of wrongdoing. “When Dover Kohl amended their presentation to include the affordable housing piece, it was not part of their presentation to the selection commission,” he said. “How does that happen?”
So, to recap, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency wants to give $25,000 in public TIF money to an out-of-state consulting firm with ties to the new Development Director the city just hired to help spread the gospel of New Urbanism, and in the previous community Martin came from there are concerns about his work with the same consulting firm Missoula is now going to throw public money at.
Is this really the best consulting firm and is Josh Martin really the best person to be telling Missoula how to deploy its limited resources?
I’m beginning to wonder if our elected leaders have cognitive problems. We have a housing crisis, in part from a lack of housing stock, so why is there any question about what the priority for this piece of land should be?
But no, instead of doing something that makes sense, Engen’s cronies at MRA want to spend a big chunk of public money—more than what many workers make IN AN ENTIRE YEAR—on a Florida-based consulting firm to tell them what they should damn well know already.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Our poor elected leaders who feel so threatened and scared that the pesky public is getting uppity about this shit need to step back and seriously reflect on how these TIF handouts look to a community that is getting squeezed on multiple financial fronts.
Despite efforts to depict TIF activists as dangerous agitators, the scrutiny by people like me will continue because the malfeasance involved with how our leaders have been managing public money is becoming too obvious for the narrative manipulators to effectively spin.
I think it’s time to seriously look at how to stop our elected leaders from using TIF through a public process, like a citizen initiative, then we need to demand a full audit of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
This malfeasance has got to stop.