“I understand that I haven’t been in the business world and made the money that Mr. Johnson has, as condescending as he comes across sometimes, but I’m a citizen of this city, just like the folks that were here about economic development being built in their neighborhood. You’re going to tell me that this study is going to take out people’s feelings, people’s emotions? You’re absolutely wrong. This is a city. This is where we live. What we do up here affects people. We can try to run this city like a business all we want to, but we are public servants and we are here to serve the people.”
— James Fitch, Huntsville City Councilman
For a moment last Tuesday, if you were paying attention, The Powers That Be outsmarted themselves. Twice. Luckily for them, Huntsville has a short attention span and an itty bitty memory. We like shiny things. This is why next year Dee Everett will win Citizen of the Year and the Ed Sandhop Jr. Award. Bet me.
Outsmarting Themselves No. 1
Even with a video record, how long will anyone remember what Councilman James Fitch said last Tuesday to expose the $60,000 retail development study for what it was—bullshit propaganda that City Hall will use to put retail development anywhere it chooses, your neighborhood or mine.
Fitch defined the fight between the selflessness of public trust and the selfishness of the private sector in a clear and eloquent way, one that even Tish Humphrey, Joe Emmett and Keith Olson could understand. But the folks you have entrusted with your tax dollars took a shit all over what Fitch said. In the process, they defined their anti-taxpayer agenda in no uncertain terms and dared you to do something about it. The wolf under all that sheep’s clothing flashed you last Tuesday. Twice!
So to translate for the I Love Shiny Things crowd, here’s what happened.
Buxton, a company outgoing interm City Manager Chuck has done business with three times (hint), tells City Council at a workshop meeting how they gather a creepy shit ton about everyone in Huntsville who buys anything—from a tank of gas or a hamburger to houses, vacations and Lexus SUVs. All Buxton needs is a street address and it can tell you how up to seven people in one household have spent their money. This is customer analytics, a bloodless term for a scary intrusion into your personal habits, but if you have a Facebook account and use a credit card you must be OK with that. Buxton can also tell you what retailers are best suited for Huntsville and where they should locate in your town.
I wish the Item would do a better job of covering what’s said in these untelevised council workshops because I’m getting this second- and third-hand. But some in the room say Keith Olson is the one who first uttered the “let’s take the politics and emotions out of this” line to endorse the use of a third-party entity to lull citizens and taxpayers into submission. However, sources say he didn’t quite put the spin on it that Uncle Don wanted, prompting Johnson to repeat this key message in the proper code in the regular session that immediately followed.
Olson said that consumers and business owners in HTX want City Council to bring certain businesses into town—like HEB grocery store and Academy sporting goods—and if he could help swing both of those, he could “term limit out of City Council.” Use of third-party data might show voters that council is powerless to pull in their favorite retailers if these retailers just don’t want to come here or that council could pull in new businesses only if it’s free to hand out tax incentives that the “naysayers” won’t support. Getting Buxton on board would show that council was doing everything it could to stop market leakage and grow the tax base, adding to city sales taxes—if we don’t give it all back to them through other (TIRZ 1) incentives—and taxable property.
That’s fine, according to TPTB, but that’s not the point Don Johnson needed to make.
Council will be guided in its decisions by what fellow members of this unholy trinity—city government, retail sector and developers—think based on data the city gets from Buxton. Not what you, dear citizen in your precious neighborhood conservation district, think or feel about what the city plans to do with your community and your tax dollars.
And they are absolutely sure you will not be swayed by the homespun statesmanship of one James Fitch, public servant. Because they have already given you your Target and your Olive Garden and that’s only the beginning!
Fitch does not understand the retail trinity because he catches bad guys for a living and TPTB only care about catching bad guys when they rob stores and burglarize homes in Elkins Lake, and how often do you think that happens? Poor lad, he does not understand how powerful the trinity is in swaying the easily distracted rabble, the proles, the hybrid sheep-people with a little coin burning holes in their pockets. If he did, the idiot would keep his mouth shut and term limit himself off council, too.
Outsmarting Themselves No. 2
At the end of last Tuesday’s council meeting the great Chuck Pinto, before he poofed into a cloud of leadership dust that will hang over City Hall while Aron Kulhavy wears the big boy shoes, walked council through city staff’s amazing exercise in budget management.
Pinto sound bite: The city’s 2013 fiscal year budget has been balanced with almost another million dollars in surplus cuts to be realized through things like changing employee health insurance carriers and early retirement for certain city staff. (Wait for it…)
Recall that during budget workshops the projected budget shortfall amount changed several times, from about $400,000 to as much as $1.9 million. Remember that the revenue generated from the 10.5% tax increase would only cover half the shortfall or less.
Remember that Olson said it would be “irresponsible not to raise taxes” considering the looming shortfall and that Johnson urged council not to waste time “micromanaging” the budget process by line item review.
Note, too, that someone had to have given Pinto et al. very specific guidance about the budget to the tune of $2 million in cuts. Because, remember, Pinto reminded council several times that its job was to make fiscal policy and it was staff’s job to carry out.
So what happened?
- Council passed an unbalanced budget with a $1.4 million budget deficit.
- Council blamed its economic woes on a previous City Council of “naysayers,” yes, eeew, them.
- Council withheld sufficient fiscal policy guidance before the budget was approved while advocating for a tax increase. Then passed the increase, the first one in 10 years, gambling they could sell it to you.
- After it got its tax increase, the city balanced its budget and found virtually $1 million more, money it could not find during a round of summer budget workshops.
Get it? The city didn’t need a tax increase, and key players on the City Council, Chuck Pinto and city staff knew that all along. What a nasty little scheme, and you just re-elected the mastermind and his Igor. Way to go, sheeple!
How will the city spend that extra $1 mil of your tax dollars? You’ll find out. Maybe.