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Can’t Run Away From The Corruption – (Or How I Met The Mayor)

Fouled In Flagstaff

[Good news – Closeout: 5/17/17 – I passed City Hall this morning and thought I’d drop in to inquire about potential ethical and open public meetings issues.

I spoke with the City Attorney and his assistant for 15 minutes or so and explained the situation and my concerns about the political intervention on the wildlife enforcement issue and whether the Mayor’s advocacy for the project was inappropriate and if there were potential open public meetings issues.

They listened carefully and we had a good conversation – I was told that the development project was heard later that same Tuesday night in open public session by City Council and that Council had expressed no interest in the project. I asked if the Mayor supported the project publicly like she did privately in the diner and was told that yes she had.

We all were satisfied that there had been adequate transparency and public accountability given the public hearing and the legal assistant volunteered to find out if 4 members of Council were present (the quorum threshold to violate Arizona’s Open Public Meetings law) and to share concerns about public perception in that kind of meeting.

I was asked if I wanted to file a formal complaint on the wildlife issue and declined.

The matter was responded to very well and professionally handled by City officials. Good stuff! ~~~ over and out]

[Update below]

After a cold night, I stopped for breakfast early this morning in a classic Rt. 66 diner in Flagstaff called Miz Zip’s.

I thought I’d share the experience – and I’m not talking about the food – because you can’t make this shit up, and there could be local Flagstaff residents that would be interested (assuming I have Flagstaff readers).

As I was eating, a big old bearded country cowboy type and an urbane looking large black woman sat down almost in my lap. I was initially pissed that that had to sit right next to me when the diner was almost empty at 7 am.

Then I thought they were an odd pair – I can’t imagine a stronger cultural contrast. C’est la vie.

Shortly thereafter, another old cowboy joined them. It was obvious that they were friends, as he greeted his buddy and hugged the woman.

After some banter about his cooking, the second cowboy gave something he had prepared to the woman and suggested she put it on her eggs.

He then got to the point of the breakfast meeting: he wanted the woman to block the local wildlife officials from enforcing an animal feeding ordinance that he had been cited for violating. He criticized the local ordinance, the city professionals, and claimed that there was a lack of science to support it. I assume that he was a hunter baiting game.

Overhearing the conversation, I got the sense that the woman was a City Councilperson.

After a few minutes, three more folks arrived, 2 men and a woman – all shared friendly greetings.

The conversation then quickly shifted from the animal feeding citation to a proposed large commercial development. This apparently was the topic for the breakfast meeting.

The woman initiated the discussion, and explained the proposed project – I listened closely, but may have not gotten it all exactly right, but here’s the gist:

A developer is proposing a project that apparently is inconsistent with zoning and/or flood plain ordinances and would need some kind of variance or waiver. The project includes Hobby Lobby, a company that the woman said she disagreed with their politics, but felt was going to locate somewhere in Flagstaff, so she wanted to work with them.

The deal involves a $2.5 million local property tax subsidy to the developer, in exchange for dedicated preservation of a 40 acre parcel of land and assumption of maintenance costs.

The woman touted a study she claimed to have read until 3 am in the morning. She said that the study found that the project would generate $10 million in tax revenues over a 10 year period, which she said more than paid for the $2.5 million tax subsidy. She also claimed that the property tax subsidy could or would be conditioned upon generating this $10 million in new tax revenue.

At this point, my head was exploding and I had to speak up.

So, as I grabbed my check, I tapped the woman on the shoulder and introduced myself. I started off by saying “I am from NJ and based on the conversation, I assume that you are a member of City Council.”

She replied that she was the Mayor!

And she introduced me to the woman at the end of the table as the Deputy Mayor. She shouted out that she too was from NJ, Berlin NJ – and asked my where I was from.

I shook hands with and then told the Mayor that I had left NJ to get away from exactly the kind of conversation and land use and development politics I had just overheard.

I warned them that these kind of deals are always losers and that once the city sends a message to the development community that it is open to this kind of dealmaking – in NJ land use law this would probably fall under a “GDP” (General Development Plan) – then the floodgates are open and Flagstaff will begin to look like NJ (and don’t forget those Hopewell GDP’s – Berwind and Merrill Lynch!

I then told the Mayor that her conversation with the cowboy on fixing the animal feeding violation constituted improper political intervention in a law enforcement matter. I advised there was no problem discussing ordinances, but discussion of a specific violation was inappropriate. I concluded by saying that there is plenty of science to support restrictions on feeding wild animals.

I then walked away in amazement.

It looks like that no matter how far you run, you can’t hide from or get away from the corruption.

There is no escape.

[Update – 5/12/17 – I had a nice conversation with a Flagstaff employee – a woman – during which I mentioned this episode.

I was advised that the Mayor won a Nov. election based on identity politics: LBGT and women’s issues – which resonated with University students, not the longtime residents.

If so, then this episode is a perfect illustration of how identity politics and what Chris Hedges calls “boutique activism” allow corporate Neoliberal Democrats to dupe progressives. Black activist Glenn Ford calls such urban Mayors part of the “black mis-leadership class”.

They appear progressive on cultural issues, but have no spine to take on corporate power or they actively promote a corporate agenda.

This explains a lot of why labor and white working class folks went for Trump.

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