Morally, and Perhaps Soon to Be Financially, Bankrupt

Zolton Ferency predicted DDAs would become fascist entities.

“An authority shall be under the supervision and control of a board consisting of the chief executive officer of the municipality and not less than 8 or more than 12 members as determined by the governing body of the municipality. Members shall be appointed by the chief executive officer of the municipality, subject to approval by the governing body of the municipality. Not less than a majority of the members shall be persons having an interest in property located in the downtown district or officers, members, trustees, principals, or employees of a legal entity having an interest in property located in the downtown district. Not less than 1 of the members shall be a resident of the downtown district, if the downtown district has 100 or more persons residing within it.”

(Complete legislation)

Downtown Development Authority Act 197 of 1975

East Lansing, in its attempt to maximize the inherent anti-democratic, or as Zolton would put it, fascistic, tendency of the state rules, has interpreted “having an interest” to mean ownership of property, although I have seen elsewhere this allows for business owners leasing in the DDA district (small businesses have very different interests than their landlords).

I am not a lawyer, but I see nothing in this quote, or anywhere else in the legislation, to prevent citizens from restricting appointees to make DDA boards as democratic and representative of the city as a whole as possible, for example requiring East Lansing citizenship, or extending the conflict of interest provisions in the charter, or making no more than 7 of 12 members be persons having an interest in downtown property, or even restricting the number who have a commercial interest, and making the one required resident an owner of downtown property, so 5/12 would be from outside downtown. Of course, a City Council that actually wanted to keep the DDA from being a fascist entity would make sure a significant number of appointees were people who would insist DDA tax revenues be repatriated to the taxing bodies from which they have been diverted, unless used by the DDA in ways that would pass muster under the general budget. But we have had a fascist City Manager and a City Council that shared his priority for downtown projects at the expense of neighborhoods and public services. Let us also not forget that the DDA charter requires its budget to be approved by Council, but this has not happened in years, except perhaps in a perfunctory way with grossly inadequate itemization.

The only relevant clause I can find concerning DDA owned property in Section 7 is: “h) Acquire by purchase or otherwise, on terms and conditions and in a manner the authority considers proper or own, convey, or otherwise dispose of, or lease as lessor or lessee, land and other property, real or personal, or rights or interests in property, which the authority determines is reasonably necessary to achieve the purposes of this act, and to grant or acquire licenses, easements, and options with respect to that property.”

How would this prevent Council or a charter amendment from demanding that voters have a right to approve or disapprove the authority’s determination that conveying or otherwise disposing achieves the purposes of the DDA act? The claim that the clause, “The enumeration of a power in this act shall not be construed as a limitation upon the general powers of an authority,” cannot possibly be interpreted as meaning the city charter cannot restrict the powers of the authority that are not enumerated. Of course, if the DDA were to institute a legal, and ultimately constitutional, battle against citizen’s right to bring it under control, there would be a state constitutional amendment eliminating DDAs faster than a Lake Superior midwinter plunge.

Let us also remember, the DDA can be killed any time Council likes or its boundaries reduced. “An authority that has completed the purposes for which it was organized shall be dissolved by ordinance of the governing body. The property and assets of the authority remaining after the satisfaction of the obligations of the authority belong to the municipality.”

There are financial reasons for waiting until after the University Place and Psychedelic Garage bonds are done in 2016, but the DDA’s days are numbered. If we cannot elect a Council to kill it, we can do it by ballot initiative and, again, if anyone objects, they cannot win the political battle if they engage in a legal one. The purposes are so vague the DDA could go on forever, and vague enough it can be declared finished.

Not that anything will stop these people from finding excuses for transferring the 303 Abbot building to the developer, undoubtedly at a huge loss to city and state taxpayers who bought it for $700,000 more than a decade ago. Its current assessed value, as well as taxable value, is ZERO, and the land is valued at ZERO.

McGinty is still trying to perpetuate Staton’s lie that it is the DDA’s money so they can squander it any way they want and we can’t complain. Except we all know now that the DDA has to repatriate money it can’t spend well, and we all know the DDA is now so strapped for cash from its many follies, it is being subsidized by cuts to public services and tax increases, even beyond its misappropriation of its allotted tax diversions.

As to the fudging of values of city owned property to avoid a vote, what else should we expect? The rush to preserve the (illegal) site plan approval instead of starting from scratch and following proper procedure was to prevent public review of something that was decided four, or ten, years ago by the political machine. The City Attorney had it dead wrong, I presume deliberately, by ignoring when the 12 month Planning Commission extension was over in March, and he has ignored the Strathmore/Terra Management tax delinquency at the time of the April 2010 Council approval, just as he ignored multiple tax delinquencies at earlier CC II approvals.

At the Council work session a couple of weeks ago, when it came time for the public to speak, the City Attorney and Planning staff went trotting off after the developer.

QED.

When I first lived in East Lansing, I had little interest in City Hall. Things seemed okay. The local political figures - I won’t insult them by calling them politicians - I knew, were people like George Griffiths and Lynn Jondhal and Zolton Ferency, people of the highest ethical standards on all matters, not just convenient ones.

Zolton would have been leading the fight against City Center II and its unethical enablers in City Hall and its morally impaired developer. He is with us in spirit.