Wednesday, March 07, 2007

City Council Meeting Fireworks

By Curmudgeon

03.06.07 City Council and Ogden RDA Board Meeting Notes

The Council meeting began with the Council unanimously passing a resolution recognizing the heroism of Office Kenneth Hammond and his wife, Sarita Hammond, for their actions on the night of the Trolley Square shootings. The Council then unanimously passed a resolution honoring Officer Eric Young for risking his life to enter a burning building in an attempt to save a child within. Both officers received standing ovations by the Council and audience present.

The Council then without dissent approved extending the sunset provision for the Urban Forestry Committee to June, 2009. And it unanimously approved a budget resolution that re-allocated some budget items. The largest involved a $14,000,000 expenditure for capital improvements at BDO. Councilman Stephenson noted that that money must be spent on capital improvements at BDO in accord with the City’s contract with the US Army. All the resolution will do is arrange to have it spent this year, instead of next. Once it is spent, Ogden will have fulfilled its contractual obligations to the army. Important to approve now so construction can take advantage of the building season about to begin. Other elements dealt with parking at the airport to accommodate pending operation of a commuter air service there, some improvements to the railroad center downtown, and other small projects. The motion to approve was passed without objection.

Chairman Garcia then opened the meeting for public comments and things got very interesting very fast. The first to step to the microphone was Scott Brown [who works in economic development for the Godfrey administration]. He was there, he said, to defend the reputation of Mr. Harmer who, Brown said, Chairman Garcia had said was dishonest. Brown was tired of seeing such honorable public servants as Mr. Harmer and others like him have their good names sullied by irresponsible attacks such as those made by Mr. Garcia. “You are, “ he told Gacia, “a very disingenuous person.” He warned Garcia and “two other Council members” he accused of using Garcia’s unethical tactics, that “if you live by the press, you die by the press.” Becoming more agitated as he went on, Mr. Brown said he intended to hold a press conference [or deliver a press release, I didn’t quite hear which ] chronicling the purportedly "irresponsible and unethical" actions of Wicks, Garcia and Jeske. He began to read from his list, charging one or another of the three with leaking confidential information from executive sessions to the Salt Lake Tribune, of driving companies out of Ogden, and.... Then the timer went off and Chairman Garcia told Brown his time was up.

Next up was Ms. Terry Waters [who I believe operates Karen’s Restaurant on 25th Street]. She was disturbed she said by an article in the paper which she hopes misquoted council members. She was, she said, an advocate for the poor, and feels poor people regularly at her restaurant rather than see them go hungry. But, she added, “we can’t be prejudiced against those who are rich either.” She was disturbed that the City Council objected to selling land to Chris Peterson. She said she wondered “does that mean if someone doesn’t like me on the council I couldn’t buy property in the City?” She thought that was prejudice and she was against prejudice in all its forms.

Then Dan McCafee [I think; I may have gotten the spelling wrong] spoke. He’s been in Ogden 40 years, and is a WSU grad. He’s seen corporate Hqs flee Ogden and many retail businesses fail. But things are turning around, Ogden he thinks has begun a turn around that is “nothing short of astounding” and “most of the credit for that” happening, he said, “goes to Mayor Godfrey, Mr. Harmer and Scott Brown.” Without their work and the RDA he would not have invested $2,000,000 in the Bingham Cyclery development project in the River Project RDA.

David Griffith arose to say, essentially the same. That he was thinking of moving his business to SLC some years ago, until he met with Mayor Godfrey and Scott Brown who sold him on “their vision for Ogden.” His company is now here and he owns several properties in Ogden. He wants Ogden to grow. He’s never met Chris Peterson. He wanted the Council to help businessmen like him and the administration help make Ogden grow.

John Main [sp?] then complained that sewer repairs on his street [Monroe Blvd] were begun before December, and seem to be complete, but the hole in the road has not been paved over and is dangerous. If he cut a hole in the road to run a pipe to his property, he’d have had to fill and pave immediately. Why shouldn’t the city meet the standard he would have to meet? He also is unhappy that the city’s officials and citizens can’s seem to conduct business without impugning each other’s honor. Thinks they ought to be able to do the city’s business without doing that. Added that he did not like city land sales being conducted “behind closed doors.” He dose not think city officials are dishonorable but he thinks they should not be “above the system” either.

Blake Powers then complained about all the controversy over the Bootjack sale. He thought the Council’s complaints about not knowing Chris Peterson was involved implied they would not have agreed to the sale if they had known. Said that was discrimination, and that this was America and that the Council members should read the Constitution and the next time they wanted to discriminate against someone should turn around first and look at the American flag on the wall behind them.

Sharon Beech then rose to wonder if Mr. Moyal [whose letter complaining about his treatment by the City administration regarding his property in the River Project RDA] would be as full of praise for the administration as the previous speakers had been. She then went on to complain about the plan to move St. Anne’s to 12th street, noting the lack of sufficient bus service there. She thought it was shameful that Ogden was trying to “sweep the homeless out of sight.”

Another resident rose to say he had taught the history of the American Revolution and the Constitution in another state’s university for 30 years, and had retired to Ogden five years ago. He rose, he said, to assure the Council members that if in their wisdom they decided a proposal “by Chris Peterson — or anyone else — is not in the best interests of Ogden, that you will not be committing an unconstitutional act.”

Mr. Moyal then rose to say he did not want the mayor to “give my property” to someone else, and the he was willing to do whatever the city required — including tearing down the building he did not want to tear down — if that would enable him to keep his land and develop it.

Following the public comment period, Mayor Godfrey replied to several of the speakers. First he addressed Mr. Brown’s tirade. Mayor Godfrey said Mr. Brown was an employee of the city, but that he [the Mayor] had not known what Mr. Brown was going to say to the Council earlier. That the Mayor had contacted Mr. Harmer and Mr. Harmer had not known what Mr. Brown intended to do either. That he, the Mayor, chalked up Mr. Brown’s comments to his concern for the reputation of Mr. Harmer, who the Mayor said was a great asset to Ogden. That Mr. Brown could not stand by and see Harmer’s reputation impugned.

He said of charges that property sales had gone on “behind closed doors” that “that is simply not true.” No “buddy buddy” deals had been arranged in secret. Ogden, he said, conducts land sales the way all cities do. Sales are first arranged “administratively.” A potential buyer comes to us, says he’s interested in buying some city property. We do an appraisal. When the purchase agreement is completed, we then take it to the RDA board or Council, as appropriate. There is no way we could arrange a public bidding process on every property, and in fact, that might end up on some occasions with the city getting less for a property than private sale might have brought in. Some buyers want to negotiate in confidence and if we cannot accommodate them in that, until the sale’s agreement is finalized, they will go elsewhere. ALL cities operate this way, he insisted. And we can never sell land below its appraised value without prior approval of the Council, and he cannot recall any instance where that [below appraisal sale] was done.

As for St. Anne’s, the mayor said before people criticize the plan to move it, they should see the present facility, see how shabby it is, how inadequate, and note that no other services are provided there, that the homeless must cross very busy streets to get to other service providers. What Ogden wants to build, he said, is a “campus” to house not only St. Anne’s but other service providers, all in one place, so that the goal of rehabilitation [rather than warehousing the poor] can be met.

The Mayor then addressed Mr. Moyal directly. He said all the city had been trying to do was convince him that he would not be able to draw a new clientele to the old building because of that poor reputation of the building and business that had operated there before. The mayor was pleased that Mr. Moyal was now willing to work with the city to develop his land. The Mayor had no interest in seeing Mr. Moyal’s land given to anyone else. “We want to help you,” and he looked forward to working with Mr. Moyal in the future to develop the property in question.

Then the Council begin to comment. Ms. Wicks noted that the Mayor had not addressed the street repair matter. The Mayor replied that it was a seasonal thing, that patch repairs in winter don’t work very well, that the plants would begin producing asphalt within the month and a permanent repair could be done.

Mr. Safsten addressed the Bootjack matter. Said Mr. Harmer is a fine man and a neighbor of his. But Safsten was concerned that information about the buyer was not provided to the Council. That was his only concern about the matter. He added that the Council was preparing changes in RDA procedures that would address this concern. Mr. Stephens added that he thought city officials were “highly principled” in their attempts to improve Ogden. But it was important for the Council and Administration to work “as a team.” He added that he had high respect for his fellow council members, though he occasionally disagreed with them. “I support the leadership of the Council 100%”, he said. He ended his remarks with “Go Wildcats!”

Mr. Stephenson concurred in Mr. Safsten’s remarks with respect to Mr. Harmer. He’s honest and has done much for Ogden. It is unfortunate, Stephenson added, that he’s had his character maligned over recent issues. Stephenson noted that there is “a trust issue” between the Council and the Administration. It’s important, he said, that we give each other the benefit of the doubt. And we need to communicate better. “I am a strong proponent of heavy communication,” he said, and he thought frequent, better communications could iron out the trust problems between the Council and Administration. And doing that was important for Ogden’s future.

Garcia closed the comments by denying he or, so far as he knew, any other Council member had called Mr. Harmer a liar in a press release or statement to the press. Garcia added that he had no idea what Mr. Brown’s motives were in claiming otherwise.

The Council then went into executive session, came out and adjourned. It then went into session as the Ogden RDA board. Briefly, it (a) approved calling a public hearing for 20 March for budget items (b) approved without dissent a resolution to streamline sales of land in the River Project area by the Executive Director [Mayor Godfrey] “provided said sales are in substantial conformance with the confidential disclosure to the Agency of buyer name, property use and sales price.” {C} Approved unanimously sale of three small parcels of irregular shaped properties at 25th and Adams to a buyer who proposed mixed use development [retail below, condo living units above]. In discussion, Councilwoman Wicks thanked Mr. Harmer for placing a “for sale” sign on the property, at her request. (D) unanimously approved a resolution establishing new procedures for “the acquisition and conveyance of real property interests.”

Discussion of (D) was interesting. The new procedures would require the disclosure to the Council of all principal buyers, and the intended use of the property, and it defined “principals” in re: LLCs or partnerships or trusts, or corporations. Councilwoman Jeske noted that the Council had other amendments to the conveyances ordinance it would be discussing soon, that what was proposed tonight was merely the first step in an ongoing process. Councilman Stephenson noted that these revisions were the result of the Bootjack property sale. It had been widely suggested that something unethical had occurred in that sale. “I don’t believe that,” he said. And as a rule, he added, he does not like adding rules and regulations that make city business more cumbersome. But it is important for the Council to “clarify expectations” and that these new procedures do that, and so he moved to adopt them.

In general discussion, triggered by Mr. Stephens, it was made clear that a buyer might have no plans for development at the time of purchase, and if so, the Council would be informed of that. Also noted that a buyer might change his mind subsequent to purchase or sell to another party with different plans, and so long as they met zoning requirements, that was OK. The revision merely required the Council to know if the buyer had plans at the time he asked the purchase to be approved and if so, what those plans were. Safsten said his main concern was that city sales procedures be “fair to both sides, “ that both potential buyers and “the citizens of Ogden who own the land” both be fully and fairly informed and that he thought the revised procedures would accomplish that, fairly, for both sides in any transactions.

The meeting was then opened for public comment. Only one person spoke, a Mr. R. Jorgensen. He was concerned about the legislature’s passage of a new eminent domain statute which he thought one of the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed by any legislature. He warned that every RDA in the country had a different definition of blight, that it was all a matter of opinion, and that the new statute meant government could take anyone’s property at any time to transfer it to someone else. He cited Madison and Jefferson in opposition to government land-grabs via eminent domain “blight” projects. He challenged the Council to think about what it was doing and added “I’m not giving up.”

The Board then went into executive session, and later adjourned.

Further deponent sayeth not.

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