Last week was Harvest Homecoming, and my city’s favorite amok time 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 case for Mark Seabrook as mayor.
Now let’s return to the voluminous case against Gahanism in five informative and entertaining installments.
During Jeff Gahan’s 2011 campaign for mayor, he proffered numerous private assurances to the effect that two-way streets and traffic calming would be priorities. In retrospect the fact that these promises were not a matter of the public record was ominous.
It took five years and another election for Gahan to actually get around to implementing a two-way grid reversion downtown, and hindsight also affords us the opportunity to see that the project, as eventually dumbed-down, emasculated and diluted from consultant Jeff Speck’s suggestions — shall we say, Gahanized? — would not ever be brought to fruition without being tied to the system of pay-to-play political patronage which has been Gahan’s only true accomplishment in office.
In short, until no-bid contracts for firms like HWC Engineering could be spider-webbed to produce maximum campaign finance enhancement, matters like safety and support for independent small businesses were of no consequence to Gahan … and his minions, chief among them David Duggins, who at the time was married to HWC’s local queenpin.
Hence the following Rubicon crossing moment, as recounted in ON THE AVENUES in late 2014. A little more than two years later, the starving public servant Duggins was dispatched to serve as Exalted Grand Poobah at the New Albany Housing Authority, seized by Gahan in the same fashion as European imperialists used to pluck colonies like lush grapes from the hands of vestal virgins, and handed to Duggins along with what probably was the single largest pay increase ever witnessed by a bureaucrat in New Albany.
But that’s another story. Neither Gahan’s street grid cowardice nor his poor taste in underlings was the first manifestation of Jeff Gahan’s “inspired by Pyongyang” personality cult. In the grand tradition of failed watercolor artists, seminary students and cobblers, this middling veneer salesman concluded early in the game that destiny was clearing a path for his brilliance — and we’ve been reminded of it on a daily basis ever since.
GIVE GAHAN THE BOOT: (Thursday) That Jeff Gahan has elevated people like David Duggins to positions of authority is reason enough to vote against the Genius of the Floodplain.
November 20, 2014
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
We’ve all experienced those disturbing times during a verbal debate when you know you’ve been whipped.
Your opponent’s grasp of facts and overall rhetorical excellence has you pinned, wiggle room is gone, and disaster looms. You can hope only to limit the damage, and perhaps survive to debate another day.
So it was that one of those times did not occur on Tuesday morning, during or after the merchant meeting, when the city’s economic development director, David Duggins, both publicly and privately read me what he imagined was an impassioned riot act.
Unfortunately, all he managed to do was concede almost every point we’ve tried to make in the past year with respect to City Hall’s persistent errors, with the result that the third floor’s credibility reserve is coughing vapors.
It may have been exasperation, anger, envy at City Hall’s inability to respond in kind, or maybe even exhausted vulnerability. I’m intentionally omitting delusional arrogance, but whatever the rationale, Mr. Duggins’s words to me formed a composite, abject expression of institutional impotence, one reeking of raw political terror, and offering further ample evidence that especially since November 4, when the local Democratic Party suffered a purely epic thrashing at the polls, the once mighty machine’s threadbare wheels have thrown their bolts and are rolling merrily across the landscape.
The cement blocks are being fetched, a motley collection of meth heads stands by eager to salvage copper wiring, and a fleet of U-Hauls are being dispatched to facilitate the magic kingdom’s overdue housecleaning. Surveying the carnage, Dixiecrat Party chairman Adam Dickey has chosen the junior high school tactic of censoring social media, but it’ll take more than a prayer breakfast and another failed “get out the vote” drive to avoid impending disintegration.
My shovel’s in hand. Just tell me where to dig. Better yet, maybe a few of us can dig together.
Mr. Duggins said many amazing things during the course of the group meeting and the private chat following it. Once my jaw dropped the first time, I left it safely on the floor to avoid over-exertion.
Although Mr. Duggins has not ever owned an independent local business, he freely offered marketing advice to those who do. He took a departed shop owner to task for being a complainer, when all she ever did was ask why the city allowed an adjoining building to fall quite literally to pieces outside her front window.
Perhaps the building commissioner was busy leveling historic buildings elsewhere.
Mr. Duggins openly conceded that the city does not customarily address sidewalks or sewers until a developer or realtor steps in, and an investor makes the first expenditure, and he brushed aside the counter argument that doing so beforehand actually might spur greater investment and constitute an actual economic development program, as opposed to piecemeal infusions of scattershot cash.
But it was my prodding on two-way streets, traffic calming and walkability that prompted the most memorable portion of the dialogue, and in the process, snapped this camel’s back.
To reprise, it has long been NAC’s contention that compared with pro-active “by the usual chamber of commerce numbers” efforts aimed at economic development as defined by the tired imperative of the suburban industrial park, this administration has neither understood the economic implications of independent local business, nor has bothered to openly embrace any organized, overt effort or plan to be of assistance to them.
Furthermore, while conceding that an economic development plan for independent local businesses, especially those located in a bloc amid the historic business district core, might be an unfair challenge to One Southern Indiana caliber non-thinkers in the absence of readily identifiable templates, we’ve insisted that thinking outside self-imposed boxes is by no means impossible. After all, these independent local businesses have invested heavily in themselves, with time, money and enthusiasm – and with almost no assistance from municipal governmental entities apart from “moral” support.
This is why we’ve consistently pointed to the city’s street grid as the ideal, contemporary infrastructure “bonus” readily available for molding into an asset occupying an extensive geographical area, one that enhances the urban experience for residents and visitor alike, whether working, shopping or living in or near downtown.
We’ve pointed to walkable and bikeable streets as an organic whole, running two ways, completed and calmed, and connected to IU Southeast, the Purdue Center, the Greenway and the Knobs, comprising New Albany’s only realistic equivalent of a magnet and generator comparable to the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville, because what makes the Big Four so special is that it is not at all special – it is open and available for public use every single day, not every now and then.
So it might be with two-way streets and walkability in New Albany, which brings us to the Jeff Speck study, as commissioned a full two years after mayor Jeff Gahan took office, in spite of campaign assurances that street reform would be pursued energetically.
And so it transpired that when queried about two-way streets, Mr. Duggins revealed a mind-blowing factoid guaranteed to impress, nay, astound, those who closely follow local events. For not once but twice, and in the strongest terms, he demanded that I come to grips with the ongoing Jeff Gahan term as undoubtedly the most progressive era in recent New Albany municipal history, and quite likely the most progressive period ever — in a city that celebrated its 196th birthday just last year.
As proof, Mr. Duggins pointed in effect to the very absence of two-way street conversions, asking me to accept as evidence of City Hall’s innate progressivism an unrealized, barely enunciated intent – the many shadowy, non-transparent, Rosenbargian behind-the-scenes steps the city has taken thus far to commission Speck’s study, and to perhaps someday glacially come around to considering the incremental possibility of timidly sticking its toes into the waters of two-way streets and an accompanying, comprehensive street grid reform plan.
You see? Dyed-in-the-wool progressivism … in camouflage.
I was very confused. In fact, only moments before this presentation of Gahan’s solidly FDR-like progressive record, and still quite dazed at the Orwellian fog suddenly shrouding the proceedings, Mr. Duggins had somewhat imperiously dismissed the notion that those business owners in attendance might wish to talk about the street grid. Mind you, it was not his meeting to chair, and not his agenda to write. In essence, he refused to address the topic publicly. In fairness, he probably wasn’t happy with me for asking questions of substance.
Since he wouldn’t talk about streets while the others were there, I was compelled to wait until they had gone, and only then asked: If City Hall is a progressive entity, and if it recognizes the absolute necessity of street grid reform to help people like those in the room, as well as neighborhoods and the city’s prospects overall – as it constantly claims it does, privately – then in the name of wholly Jeeebus, why not lead the discussion?
Why not make sure that independent local business owners know the proven record of two way streets in promoting downtown business districts?
Why not make sure that neighborhood residents know the proven record of walkability enhancement in improving quality of life and lifting their property values?
Why not ensure support for the reform by getting out in front of the issue, driving it, and doing precisely what advocates are supposed to do?
Fairly paraphrased, here is the reply.
While impeccably progressive, City Hall could not possibly appear to be advocating progressive measures, not ever, because to do so would be to enable the administration’s powerful and dangerous naysaying enemies, who in spite of Jeff Gahan’s 64% vote tally in 2011 – the most lopsided majority in decades – somehow retain their uncanny ability to disrupt the mayor’s well-ordered universe at the merest hint of progressive leanings, because the “Old Guard” would be incited to … to …
To do what, exactly?
Well, to name the most prominent living example, any public appearance of progressivism on the part of City Hall would incite “Old Guard” stalwarts like Republican county commissioner Mark Seabrook — of course the mayor dramatically and repeatedly spit in his eye during the course of the city-county parks department split, but that was different — to rear back and belittle the helpless mayor by bellowing, “Ha Ha – you’re just appeasing those nasty progressives with two-way streets! Whatcha gonna do next, have some kind of FAIRNESS ordinance?”
(Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but no. I’m paraphrasing, but honoring the tone. How could I make this up?)
Hence, the institutionalized New Albany City Hall Department of the Way on Down, Down Low, shielding the progressivism that dare not speak its name, a malady that only Speck’s study can dissipate, because then, and only then, can an administration with a 2/3 electoral mandate, but which remains terrified of Seabrook’s schoolyard taunts, finally point to the egg-head consultant’s findings and deploy them as the political cover it cannot function without. Note that I’d freely accused them of this very weakness on numerous occasions – and now the city’s economic development director wasn’t even trying to deny it.
Being the stubborn sort, I persisted: And yet, really, why couldn’t City Hall engage small business owners to explain the virtues of a walkable street grid?
If we did that and even one small business failed, they’d blame us.
Of course, right now, as it stands, the city’s interminable, fear-driven delay of street grid reform is quite effectively achieving the very same result, by leaving in place a one-way arterial street grid that nullifies every penny-ante ribbon cutting and “stay open late” promotion tossed into the air by increasingly desperate indie shop owners in the absence of a downtown economic development plan, because while street grid reform could be so very helpful, and constitute an economic development plan in itself, it would fatally embarrass a Democratic mayor to be seen openly advocating it.
It’s exactly as if Gahan were to say it’s okay to be gay, just as long as you don’t kiss in public.
I’m proud to be identified as a progressive, and what’s more, I’m capable of presenting my reasons and arguing my points. But I’m far more ashamed of myself for supporting Gahan in 2011 than he is embarrassed at the ignominy of the term “progressive.” All I can do is learn from my mistakes. He doesn’t believe he’s made any. There’s a difference.
One more thing.
Late in the chat, Mr. Duggins suggested I stop lashing the discredited, careerist city me-development wrecker John Rosenbarger, saying that at best, he was no more than a figurehead for the Main Street plan, and cannot be blamed for constantly acting through the years in such a way as to maintain his employment, even if it meant a steady stream of blatant lies sufficient to make Pinocchio blush.
I shrugged, but Mr. Duggins continued, assuring me that he’d never be one of those careerists like Rosenbarger; after all, he certainly isn’t making very much money working for the city of New Albany, and while personally loyal to the sitting mayor, he’d someday get out when the getting was good.
Teeth clenched, I smiled.
As one who has invested his entire life savings in a downtown business, and arises each day wondering when or if there’ll be a return, there’s nothing like having the city’s economic development director — you know, the one without an economic development plan — tell you that hes footloose and fancy free, and able to leave any time he wishes.
I won’t even waste a stray “go to hell” or “fuck off” on cluelessness of that astounding magnitude.
It’s quite enough, thank you. If you refuse to take ownership, you’re not getting credit. Blame is another matter. Local Democrats in general, and the current administration in particular, always have dismissed progressive ideas because they feared no consequences. As such, we’re obliged to try to prove them wrong.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines, because the insurgency begins right … now.