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An unfortunate series of events

Posted: January 26, 2012 1:53 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2012 5:00 a.m.

It is indeed unfortunate if the City has lost the opportunity to get free money to fund the proposed sports complex. Rather than point a finger of blame at citizens who have wanted nothing more than open debate, questions answered, and dialogue for months and months concerning this sports complex, let’s get to the heart of this problem. How could the City allow not just a reported loss of an ill described funding source slip away, but how has the City lost control of the leadership of Camden they were elected to represent?

Response to citizen inquiry has been repeatedly denied other than by paternalistic “We were elected to make decisions for you,” or imperious, dismissive, “Shame on you!” retorts.

Did the City not know there were movements of its citizens to fight city hall? Did they not know a large number of citizens were against construction of the currently majority approved Option 1 sports complex? Did they not know that the two ways citizens can fight city hall are through legal means, (lawsuits), and Constitutionally granted means to function in a democracy (petitions)? Was the City not warned that petitions would continue until the people’s voice would be heard? Did the City really fail to recognize the political activities of Camden’s citizenry was doing their level best to derail the Sports Complex juggernaut and this might mess up secret loan plans?  Did the City just fall off the turnip truck?

When government is not conducted in an open manner and refuses to share information with the public, even confidential information with leadership of opposition coalitions, it’s a sorry government that blames citizens who are doing nothing more than what citizens do to redress government. And it is failed leadership who cannot effectively communicate to its citizens what and why governmental actions are being taken. Particularly if the actions appear unreasonable, ill founded, and objectionable to citizens.

The first public disclosure of what this grant/loan/tax credit/forgivable loan really represent was reported in this newspaper, not by effective communication by the City to her citizens. And questions still await answers because not all of this information could be collected by press deadline. And this information is coming from a third party, NOT the City! Where has the City been with this information? Why was it not shared with citizens?

It is representative of failed communication from failed leadership.

Blaming someone for messing up fresh paint on a park bench because they sat in it for a lack of a wet paint sign is the painter’s responsibility, not the poor guy who sat down!

But this entire recent disclosure of “lost money” is still, fundamentally, a distraction. If someone spends 6.5 million dollars on an outfit that’s not a good fit, even if they have a 22% discount, it still will not fit.

The real issues remain. The issues that have been presented to Council on multiple occasions and have been read on Facebook, Blogs, and the newspapers. This is the THIRD petition for crying-out-loud. Only because it had a sting this time, because the CRRC took the City’s advice and hired a lawyer, it does appear the City has blinked. Now the city is using their own failing in leadership and communication to blame citizens of Camden who have been asking for answers and dialogue for MONTHS. Here are still persistent and unanswered questions.

• Is this the best way to spend H-tax money?

• Will mortgaging H-tax money for years to come at the sacrifice of other current and future needs make this single most expensive elective use of tax dollars worth the gamble?

• What happened to the promise to increase funding to existing legitimate tourism destinations in Camden?

• Has the Mayor and City Council led process of this entire debacle been proper?

• Is there a way to work with the County to create a win/win program that will give citizens improved recreational facilities beyond the City offered plan?

• Does this sports complex really “replace” the function and purpose the Rhame Arena has served our community with for over 40 years?

• Is a YMCA really the best way to serve the needs of all of our community or are there other, perhaps better, options to help raise healthy happy kids and improve health to all citizens of Camden?

• What exactly are the needs of the community that a recreational facility would serve?

• Is there a balanced solution that involves direct public input with thoughtful and meaningful dialogue?

• Is there a way to get this “free” money for a project that meets with majority approval of at least 1107 Camden voters?

• Why is the City hijacking the referendum vote as stipulated by the “ordinance” that was required on this most recent petition for one of their own creation?

• How can a City that just expressed a need for “dialogue” ignore the 1107 signatures on a petition that put a solution in front of the City as an ordinance?

• Can the City respond to legitimate funding and tax questions without resorting to emotional appeals for smiling babies, happy kids, and healthier adults?

• Can the City share financial details BEFORE voting for the most expensive Option 1 Sports Complex?

• Can the City share the YMCA’s assessment of minimal enrollment requirements with and without an indoor pool and what are the qualifications for “free” membership so “all may be served” and what exactly does “free” membership entitle people to?

• Why is the City so dug in on their position that they refuse to answer questions and consider any sort of compromise to date? What is going on that citizens remain blissfully unaware of? Are there any other secret deals that have been lined up without disclosure such as this recent grant/gift/forgivable loan deal?

• And ultimately, is this all simply a symptom of the underlying root causes of failed communication and failed leadership on the part of the Mayor and City Council?

If the City really wants to create “dialogue” with the citizens of Camden, could they start by answering these persistent questions publicly? But the time for dialogue, now that there is blood in the water, is running out. Why should almost 25% of Camden’s voters back off now when State Law and the Constitution of this United States supports the voters, not the Mayor and Council, on this one, this third time around?

In this election year nationally, as well as locally, taxpayers are simply tired of being offered half-truths, bent rules, questionable ethical practices, and disproportionate gains for the few at the expense of the many. Taxpayers want disclosure, they want transparency, and they want honest answers. This referendum, petitioned by nearly a quarter of registered Camden voters will give them EXACTLY that when the referendum is passed and the associated ordinance is carried out.

There are choices for the Mayor and City Council regarding the petition. If the city wants rapid resolution of this issue, the city is not required to wait for November. They can hold a special election to decide by the people’s vote. They could do it as soon as law allows. If they want to make this a done deal IMMEDIATELY, they don’t have to put the vote to the people. They could, if they desire, simply pass the ordinance attached to the petition. If the open, public, process as described in the ordinance. If this is done rapidly could a decision be made before all the “free” money is gone? Depends on the Council’s decisions and applicable law.  For a City Council so dead set in dragging this process from one County Council meeting to another while moving forward to get to the point of no return with the construction phase of the sports complex, they can stop delay tactics now that they have the ordinance.

 Having the City Attorney rewrite the ballot question and/or ordinance isn’t going to set well with the voters after they’ve signed that petition, just to be perfectly clear in communication to the City. Because it goes “too far?” What kind of a response is that? Who determines “too far.” The City Attorney? The CRRC legal municipal law expert? The city put the last petition to a “declaratory judgment,” and effectively sidelined that petition. That’s when they said the CRRC needed legal advice. So the CRRC got some. Why not let a judge decide on this one on what is “too much” is or isn’t? As long as the forward motion of the Option 1 sports complex is halted, as declared by the City last meeting, there’s no more rush on the part of the CRRC. But moving it forward fast enough might unencumber the City’s ability to go after the grant/gift/forgivable loan/tax credit thing that we all know about NOW. After the fact.

I’d like to give credit to the City where credit is due. The City has embarked on a much needed infrastructure upgrades… electric, sewer, and water. The City has created a budgetary surplus. The City has renovated an eyesore parking lot and christened it a Green. But these actions speak of good management, not good, and certainly great leadership.

Where is the leadership that articulates a public desire to move forward and to progress beyond the myopic scope of a recreation facility? Where is the leadership to work hand in hand with the county when there is demonstrable evidence that the City can’t even keep the County at the table for recreational discussions short of simply asking for money without the County being given a voice,  vote or a seat at the table? Where is the leadership creating a shared vision that citizens wholeheartedly support rather than a inexplicably overindulgent and over priced project that robs money to develop true tourism venues from Hospitality Taxes that have been collected for two years? Rather, a few elected officials have created an expensive vision of narrow scope that is shared among a small and shrinking percentage of citizens. How many times has the CRRC had to listen to  spurious descriptions that called their position a small vocal position by a few citizens? With 23% of voter signatures, how is “small” now defined? Where is the leadership that is responsive to citizen question and input? Where is the leadership that refuses to acknowledge what 23% of registered voters responded to in a mere 10 DAYS.

The real shame of this is that the 1107 registered Camden voters who signed a petition have ceded belief of the leadership of the elected Mayor and City Council to a piece of paper. An ordinance drafted by a coalition of a diverse range of concerned citizens in order to create a solution that meets the needs of the majority of Camden’s citizens. Well, at least 23% of them. What a shame that leadership directed by a piece of paper has trumped City leadership.

If the Mayor and City Council need a course of leadership, we’d respectfully invite them to see how effective leadership at the Camden Recreational Referendum Coalition has been and still is. This real leadership resulted in astounding successes and is still building momentum with an increasingly frustrated electorate who also have recognized the City’s abject failure in leadership and communication.


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