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While commissioners Claire Hall and the Fair Board desperately try to defend their multi-million dollar “Commons” project for the Fairgrounds, their refusal to rethink the use of that valuable land relies on only one argument — that the public has endorsed it several times.
A quick review:
Two ballot measures approved a room tax to support “redevelopment”. The wording also indicated funds could be used for other facilities. Each time, only a small minority of voters turned out, and only 24% of eligible voters supported the measure.
Commissioner Hall recently wrote that the $16 million Commons as proposed earlier this year was “the ultimate wish list of those who participated in our initial stakeholder interviews.” When I asked the consultants at a public meeting in March how many stakeholders they interviewed, they said “about 50” and that not all were in favor of the project. The actual number interviewed seems to be 35. The county has some 47,000 residents.
The overwhelming majority of stakeholders at public meetings this year spoke against the Commons – far more than consultants interviewed. Could Commissioner Hall or any commissioner give reasonably firm numbers showing public support that come from well-informed citizens?
* So far they have admitted they don’t know what the final costs will be.
* Although asked for numbers in February, they have never said how much consultants have been paid and will be paid.
* They have admitted that they don’t have any idea what the market value of the property is, haven’t had an appraisal, and don’t care what the value is.
* Meanwhile the candidates challenging incumbent commissioners have been afraid to even recommend re-considering the project.
* So far the response of the Fair Board, which includes Commissioner Hall, has been to devise ways to shut up public opinion. When opposition to the project was discussed at a recent Board meeting comments included:
* Commissioner Hall was reported to say that spending on consultants should not be an issue: “It doesn’t matter if we’ve spent $50 or $500,000 on consultants.”
* Commissioner Hall: “No re-arguing of decisions already made. Shut it down! This is not a forum!”
* Frank Geltner: “Can we force the conversation to focus on decisions already made?” He also asked how to ban any discussion of housing.
* Jim Buisman summed up the dogma: No new ideas!
The county’s anonymously written “Ground Rules” for the June 14 Master Plan Visioning Committee begins with this insulting introduction:
“All participants agree to act in good faith in all aspects of planning discussions. This includes being honest and refraining from undertaking any actions that will undermine or threaten this process. This includes behavior outside of meetings.” (Might I suggest that this be read at the beginning of every Fair Board meeting?)
Commissioner Hall was right that it is “ridiculous that this has been going on so long.” The commissioners have an easy and inexpensive way to determine whether the public is behind the project. Present a clear plan and honest budget and put it to a referendum. County citizens do not charge for this consulting. Citizens might also propose an initiative to stop the project.