Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why is Government Transparency Important To Me?


Since the beginning of the mayoral election that is set to come to a climatic ending this Tuesday, government transparency has been one of the main topics due to the Homestead Tax Exemption being discussed behind closed doors.

Luckily, Mr. Rick Davis, who is running for mayor, has promised to make government transparency a corner stone of his administration. This is good news for those of us who strive to get to the bottom of what the government is doing, how they plan on going about it, and what we can do to help.

For most, government transparency strikes them as just one of those "political speak" terms that doesn't really mean anything specifically. Indeed, Evansville has fallen victim to "political speak" many times as political candidates would rather tell you what you want to hear and not what they actually plan on doing once elected. But government transparency, although quite vague, can be the difference between success and failure for activists like me.

Since I began this blog almost 2 years ago, I have long sought to get Evansville's most difficult and controversial projects either completed or changed so that they make sense. This has proven to be quite the challenge in a town known as "little Chicago." I will tell you firsthand, the last thing city hall wants you to do is interfere with their power.

One of the main projects that I have sought to see completed is the slack water port project in the Howell Rail Yards. Why is this project vital to my goals as well as the success of Evansville? For many reasons including the following...

1. Once constructed, the slack water port will allow us to move IMI Concrete, Tekoppel Block, Mulzer Stone, and many more industrial companies that don't belong next to Casino Aztar. In turn, this will free up the land we need to complete the 2001 Downtown Master Plan.

2. The slack water port is extremely vital to our railroad industry. Contrary to what city hall wants you to believe, it is the railroad industry that makes or breaks Evansville. More companies such as GBT choose US 41 or the proposed I-69 corridor because it has access to CSX, a Class I railroad.

3. The slack water port will be one of the biggest job creators in Evansville. Not only will it re-establish Evansville as a "River City" it will also bring the shipping and port industries to Evansville. Also, if we can ever get high speed rail here, we will be able to manufacture the train sets right here in Evansville which will create jobs by the thousands (a test facility creates 1,500 jobs alone).

With all of that being said, I decided to seek out the slack water port project to see where the city currently is with it. I was told time and time again that I needed to contact David Jones who is the City Attorney. Why a lawyer is in charge of this project I will never know.

Nonetheless, I emailed Mr. Jones asking him to see the renderings, the plans, and the timeline for the project. I NEVER heard back from him. The one person with most of the data on the project has decided not to take time to involve the public in it. I find this to be quite ironic given that he has plenty of time to discuss it occasionally with the Courier & Press...

And he also has time to play politics...

Basically, if you want to know anything about the slack water port, you have to sit on the sidelines, wait for the occasional story in the newspaper about it, and then listen to the rumor mill on what the latest progress of the slack water port is. This process is nothing short of pathetic!

If we are ever going to complete a project here in Evansville on time and without dividing our city, we must have open discussions, community approved goals, and opportunities for all citizens of Evansville to participate, not just the political insiders. Thankfully, if Rick Davis gets in, we will probably get a new attorney.

Not only has the slack water port been handled poorly, several other projects have as well. As most people know, I have been working on saving Roberts Stadium. Each month, I'm finding out more and more information about the way this project has been handled before I got involved, and it is more than clear that it was identical to the slack water port project.

Just like city hall did with David Jones and the slack water port, David Dunn and the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau were put in charge of the project even though they never had to seek election. And like the slack water port, we were only allowed to view a few articles here and there about its status and weren't invited to participate.

This process proved to be a failure once more as Dunn and company decided themselves that Roberts Stadium wasn't worth keeping and sought to build 8 dull and boring ball fields on the lot. Dunn never listened to the public who wanted to keep Roberts Stadium, he never listened to the public on what location they wanted for the ball fields ( The lot I have proposed- Kleymeyer Park, is much more popular than Wesselman Park), and he only hosted a small workshop for the public to offer their design ideas even though most of the project had been decided upon.

Due to the lack of government transparency, the slack water port isn't even close to becoming a reality and the ball fields are as dead as dead gets at Wesselman Park. Is this really what we want for Evansville? Is this really the best plan for Evansville? I think we can do better.

For those who don't know, I am a fierce advocate for an Oklahoma City program called MAPS (Metro Area ProjectS). This program, which is on its third time around, gathers ideas from the citizens, lets them vote on the ideas, and then lets the citizens decide if they want to construct them. As a result, MAPS has passed all 3 times. And as a result of the MAPS program, Oklahoma City has been named "The most recession proof town" by Forbes Magazine.

So while some may think government transparency is just a cliche that means nothing, in reality, it means everything. It means the difference between having the opportunity to improve your town versus being complete shutdown by political insiders who are power greedy.

I don't know about you, but I don't plan on sitting idle as our city continues to die. I also don't plan on sitting idle when I believe that I can help improve government projects. Although I volunteer my time and efforts as an activist, I find it to be most rewarding when I have the opportunity to leave my mark on projects that will still be in Evansville 40-50 years from now. There is no reason why activists such as myself can't be a part of the process just as much as a hotel owner or a city attorney.

We always hear from political candidates that they want opportunities for their citizens. Well, you can only achieve that if you commit yourself to government transparency. So far, only Rick Davis has committed himself to this principle. Hopefully others will follow as we cannot afford another failed project.

When you go to the polls Tuesday, think about government transparency and what it means to each and every one of us. Make sure you reward those such as Rick Davis who will fight for your government transparency.