[Note: The UnTower Manifesto is a three-part series about responding to the failure of CentrePointe. You can read the full story of that failure here.]
The consequences for UnTower should rest on the people who perpetrated the scandal: The mayor, some council members, and the developers. Let's start with the mayor.
In other venues, I've seen the mayor talk with his skeptics with apparent openness and graciousness. He was quite articulate. He listened to their concerns and seemed to hear them.
But the last several months have shown a repeated abdication of his duties in the face of scandal. This pattern first emerged with the airport staff's misappropriation of public funds in their credit-card-and-travel scandal, where the mayor displayed a perplexing tendency to drag his feet. Now, as CentrePointe devolves into the UnTower scandal, the mayor has shown a similar lack of initiative to lead on his citizens' behalf. Instead, he has resorted to 'happytalk' to defend what is clearly a failed project.
Meanwhile, the vice mayor has been active and vocal in challenging both scandals. The effect: a grassroots effort to draft him to run for mayor in 2010, complete with its own Facebook fan page and glowing coverage in local media. The current mayor seems to have no such dialog with the citizens he serves, and seems to have generated little enthusiasm for a 2010 run.
The mayor needs to begin to lead with candor, action, and transparency – beginning with complete clarity around what happened to create UnTower – or his constituency will chase him from office.
The same can be said for the members of the Urban County Council – especially those who rubber-stamped the UnTower project without adequate scrutiny or analysis. They must assume a more actively transparent posture – including using the tools and technologies to have conversations with the people they serve – or they, too, will be removed from office by their increasingly-informed electorate. Their citizens will no longer tolerate the kinds of hijinks and misdirection that characterized UnTower.
Finally, there are UnTower's developers. What should happen to them?
The scar in the middle of town is their property. But the destruction of the block and the special tax status endowed on the block were public events, with public investments and public impacts. If anyone doubts the public impacts, just talk with businesses bordering the UnTower eyesore about its effects as a customer-repellent.
So here's my modest proposal for penalizing their deception.
First, the council should explore all options for rescinding the block's special Tax Increment Financing (TIF) status. TIF was granted under conditions which no longer seem to apply, and the developers no longer appear to have earned that special status.
Second, the council should – to the extent it is able – strictly re-define acceptable future uses of the property in light of the UnTower scandal. Given that the developers contributed to the scandal with their hollow promises and continual lack of disclosure, I would hope that our council would be particularly stringent with requirements for how the property functions as part of our community and that they would set a strict timetable for the developers to act.
The developers misled us to gain advantage; now they should pay the price.
[Continued in: The UnTower Manifesto: 3. Beyond UnTower]
[where: E Main St & N Limestone St, Lexington, KY 40507]