Monday, November 26, 2007

North Canton's Outgoing Council Muzzled Citizens Commentary On Public Business

Prepared Comments Made to
November 26, 2007

Every two years the citizens of North Canton elect a new city council. As this current membership of council completes its term in office, it is customary to write into the history books the accomplishments and shortcomings of this council and its members.

Given that politicians continually lavish praise and congratulations on each other as they conduct the public’s business and wield power given to them by the electorate, there is no reason for me to add to that chorus.

What I will do is talk about how these outgoing members of council have wielded power, in my opinion, to the detriment of the public during their term in office.

First of all, I feel that the public has not been served by this council with the limitations it has imposed on the public when one wishes to address council in its public sessions. The public wants to address council on the record and not after the meeting or in the parking lot or on the telephone.

This council continues to prohibit public input at Council of the Whole meetings when proposed legislation is being discussed. Why do you fear citizens that you are sworn to represent, from speaking in a public forum on issues that are important to them and the community? Earlier this year, this council further limited public comment by citizens at regular council meetings by instituting a five-minute speaking limit. As a result, citizens can only address this body while everyone watches the clock.

In a concurring opinion from a well known 1964 U. S. Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan, Justice Hugo Black joined by Justice William O. Douglas stated the following:

“…a representative democracy ceases to exist the moment that the public functionaries are by any means absolved from their responsibility to their constituents; and this happens whenever the constituent can be restrained in any manner from speaking, writing, or publishing his opinion upon any public measure, or upon the conduct of those who may advise or execute it. An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment.”

I feel that this council has not served the public in another way and that is by failing to provide a conducive atmosphere in which good government can function. This council has repeatedly turned a blind eye to the actions of one of its members and at many times even supported this councilman as this councilman openly and boldly displayed his disdain for the mayor and city administrator of the City of North Canton.

The mayor’s refusal to relent on laws of nepotism last year only fueled the animosity of this member of council. What did this council body do regarding the allegations of nepotism against this fellow member of council last year? This council body did more than just sit idly by and do nothing. This council body united together against the mayor and refused to address the issue of nepotism.

This same councilmember has also designated himself as the city’s sole negotiator and undertaken to negotiate agreements with adjoining townships while publicly telling the administration that they were not welcome in the negotiations.

Why has this council not reigned in a councilmember who is clearly exceeding his authority in placing himself in these meetings?

Why are council members not concerned that many of these meetings have been behind closed doors and in violation of state law?

And this evening, at this council’s last meeting, this council member is attempting to persuade this council to adopt agreements that are highly beneficial to both Plain and Jackson Townships and very detrimental to the City of North Canton. Politics is being placed before good policy if these agreements are implemented and North Canton’s future growth is in jeopardy while other communities grow their boundaries.

If this council’s memory is a little short, let me remind you that the officials from Plain and Jackson Township who are pushing for this agreement negotiated by North Canton’s rogue council member were the same officials who were here in this chamber speaking in opposition to the recall of this council member earlier this year. Are council members blind to what is happening before their eyes?

The North Canton council member who was the subject of a recall earlier this year responded with a defamation lawsuit. This action was not only a detriment to me but to all citizens who comment on the actions of their public officials in the performance of their public duties.

I cannot fault this council body for the actions of this council member regarding the lawsuit. What I can do is quote the concurring opinion of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Goldberg and Justice William O. Douglas in New York Times v. Sullivan.

"In my view, the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution afford to the citizen and to the press an absolute, unconditional privilege to criticize official conduct despite the harm which may flow from excesses and abuses. The prized American right "to speak one's mind," about public officials and affairs needs "breathing space to survive..." The right should not depend upon a probing by the jury of the motivation of the citizen or press. The theory of our Constitution is that every citizen may speak his mind and every newspaper express its view on matters of public concern and may not be barred from speaking or publishing because those in control of government think that what is said or written is unwise, unfair, false, or malicious. In a democratic society, one who assumes to act for the citizens in an executive, legislative, or judicial capacity must expect that his official acts will be commented upon and criticized. Such criticism cannot, in my opinion, be muzzled or deterred by the courts at the instance of public officials under the label of libel."

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in Whitney v. California said “Those who won our independence believed…that public discussion is a political duty…”
My hope is that elected leaders would do their duty.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Development Costs Shouldered By Taxpayers Benefit Developer of Waterside Park

Prepared Comments Made to
October 22, 2007

Although I have not attended city council meetings since council came back from their summer recess, I have followed news reports of council meetings and, as in the past, it is clear that council will continue to spend declining public funds wherever it is politically expedient.

Never mind that over the last two years, this council has seen fit to forego staffing positions in the city’s police department as well as other departments in the city. Never mind that citizens have come before this council body asking for needed infrastructure improvements in their neighborhoods. All of those needs were left unfilled as council repeatedly said that the city did not have the funds.

But miraculously, this council has come up with funds to benefit and enrich private interests using the pretext that they are bringing jobs to the city. I am talking about the planned expenditure of $275,000 of public money to assist McKinley Development in the development of Waterside Technology Center Park on South Main Street.

A recent newspaper article stated that Council member Kathy Magel had concerns because infrastructure costs of the project had risen from $600,000 to $951,000. According to press reports, others on council also expressed concerns on the city’s participation in this project. I believe those concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.

How is it that the city could budget $125,000 for commercial development of Waterside Park and then state on numerous occasions publicly all year long that funds were not available to maintain city services or make desperately needed residential infrastructure improvements?

And now, not only can council budget $125,000 to provide assistance to a developer in times of declining city revenues, it can more than double that budgeted financial assistance to the tune of $275,000.

I have concerns about these expenditures. It is on you agenda tonight as Ordinance 126-07 and of course it is an emergency. Clearly council does not want to allow the public the time to discuss the pros and cons of this decision.

I would like to know what additional costs the taxpayers of North Canton are going to have to shoulder to assist the developers of this property. There is a new light signal that has been promised at South Main and Mississippi to accommodate an alternate access to the Waterside Technology Center Park. I suspect that will require more than $100,000 from the city. Further improvements will be needed on Mississippi where the road for Waterside Center Technology center will intersect. Would $200,000 cover that expense?

The public monies going to assist in the development of the Waterside project have now risen to $575,000. Did anyone on this council discuss or acknowledge any further costs the city might have to incur for this project that are incidental to this development?

The grant requires that a majority of jobs in the Waterside Technology Center Park be in the high tech/research and development field. If this commitment is not met, the grant funds must be returned.

The City of North Canton is clearly at risk in this arrangement and could be expected to repay the grant funds back to the Ohio Department of Development. That is a liability to the city of $350,000. Is there anything in writing requiring the developer to reimburse the City of North Canton for repayment of the grant funds if the project fails to generate the required number of technology jobs?

The City of North Canton’s financial obligations for Waterside Technology Center Park are conceivably at least $925,000. This is equal to, if not more than, the stated infrastructure cost of the entire project. Why are taxpayer’s funds being utilized in this fashion?

Revenues for North Canton are dwindling and yet this council continues to pledge taxpayer funds that further the well-being of private individuals. In a related expenditure of public funds a few months ago, the city’s CIC authorized expenditures to purchase a half acre of Waterside Technology Center Park property to expand parking for Abbott’s Bridal Shop.

As you all know, Abbott’s Bridal Shop is the abutting property to the south of Waterside Technology Center Park. Abbott’s Bridal Shop is private business and yet the expanded parking is to be paid for by the North Canton CIC with funds removed from North Canton’s general fund.

McKinley Development, the owner of Waterside Technology Center Park is also a private business and it, too, is receiving assistance at the expense of North Canton taxpayers.

Waterside Park, as it’s been known for years, fronts right on South Main Street. The property has been promoted and marketed for development for years. If the State of Ohio will provide $350,000 in grant funds, why isn’t that enough of an incentive to develop the property.

The City of North Canton does not need and cannot afford to bear the development risks of this property. Developers are duly compensated in the marketplace for the development risks they take. Free market forces must be allowed to play out. Citizens pay their taxes to fund city services, not to have those funds risked for the gain of individuals.

I ask that you limit the City of North Canton’s participation in the development of the Waterside property by assisting in securing the $350,000 grant from the state and that McKinley Development assume all risks regarding compliance with the requirements of the grant.

Financial assistance from the State of Ohio covering one-third of the infrastructure costs for Waterside Park is quite a windfall for any developer. If that is not enough of an incentive to develop the property, then it is not a good risk under any circumstances for anybody.

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton