On the Issues...
I have long maintained that this structure which once sat in Downtown Newark before Mayor Jeff Hall ordered it to be removed is a symbol. Yes, it was a literal gathering point and it had been utilized for a variety of purposes, but it represents so much more than that. Since it was OUR gazebo and since it was a favorite centerpiece of public events on OUR Square, it is a symbol of the community…of togetherness. Even in its shady dismantling and questionable fate – after it sat in a pile of rubble in the East End for months – it continues to serve as a symbol. The symbolism of the process by which the gazebo was removed – largely devoid of public input and with no accountability as to the origin of the funds used for this underhanded project – depicts a portrait of a government which has long ceased to represent the will or interests of the people. Now, in its present location – on East Main Street, near the BMV -, one could argue that the gazebo has been plucked out of the center of Newark and moved far out of view, much like the community it represents.
The power of the people has been forced to confront the interests of the few and the politically empowered since the beginning of time, it seems. In the decision to remove OUR gazebo from OUR Square, the Hall Administration circumvented public opinion from the outset. Granted, a number of citizens were and presently remain more concerned with issues which directly and clearly impact them, but it would be a mistake to ignore what happened with the Gazebo. Also, it could be instructive to take note of the fact that all the picnic tables surrounding OUR Courthouse on OUR Square were likewise removed, and with very flimsy justification and little to no public input at that. For some reason, the Square has being taken from US and is being converted into little more than a business center. This is a transition which can be seen mirrored in certain parts of the city as well.
The lack of transparency in this whole process has made it nearly impossible for us to hold our officials accountable. Depending on how long you have been following my involvement in local politics, you should be well aware by now that I am a persistent advocate for accountability, and you can’t have that without transparency. Accountability itself is essential for us to have a government which represents us. Otherwise, what’s the point of popular sovereignty? Since City Council relinquished its responsibility to demand answers from the Administration, I feel that a precedent has been set which establishes that any successor to the office can just do what they want so long as they share the same partisan affiliation with Council and the other power brokers in the area. Let’s be clear: the Hall Administration still owes us a clear explanation for what happened and this should be complete with a paper trail.
Alongside about a dozen or two other demonstrators about a month after the gazebo’s removal in 2017, I called for the Administration to “Bring It Back!” To be realistic, this is not likely to succeed, but I will remain a proponent for rebuilding OUR gazebo in its rightful position on OUR Square. I will fight tirelessly to see this happen, but I can’t do it alone. If you believe – with me – that it needs to come back, then I need your support and I will need your devoted activism to put pressure on the City to make this happen. Together, we can do this.
It is one thing to say that we support our safety forces, but that becomes empty rhetoric when we don’t work wholeheartedly to ensure that they are staffed to capacity and in compliance with our ordinances. Cross-staffing and shutting down fire stations should be an absolute last resort and the City should wear these decisions like a scarlet letter. I acknowledge that the stress to cut services has come from cuts made to our Local Government Fund by Columbus, but we have an obligation to pick up the tab and to make sure the public knows why. That means we ought to prepare ourselves to ask the citizens to pay more, and to be as transparent as possible as to why the funds are not readily available otherwise.
If a safety building needs to be renovated or replaced as a matter of necessity, then that is fine. Yet, we must take care to more carefully assess whether a construction project using tax-dollars is absolutely crucial. The opinions of our safety forces must be taken into account, as should the input of the public in the affected area. It is simply reckless for us to spend top dollar on a needless project because it will look impressive.
One can not attend to the safety concerns of this community without likewise pondering the impact felt by our citizens from the growing drug epidemic. Throughout our city – including where I live in the South End – you see more and more what this crisis is doing to our neighborhoods. This is one reason why staffing is imperative, and why our officers must be equipped with the best tools that we can access to keep us safe. On the other hand, this drug epidemic provides an opportunity for us to explore new approaches as we contemplate what hasn’t worked.
Like the gazebo issue, another point of controversy emerged in late-2017. This one in particular dealt with the pedestrian bridge which runs adjacent to the Mt. Vernon Road bridge. Here, the church at the south entrance of the pedestrian bridge asked the City to block off the bridge via a chain link fence. Reason being, that they have had a number of instances where unsavory characters have seemingly posed a threat to the children and parishioners at the building. In other words, it is a supposed safety concern. The Hall Administration didn’t take a solid position in public one way or the other, but at least one member of City Council made it quite clear where they stood; as an advocate for considering the bridge’s closure as an option.
This debate ties in with the drug debate, the staffing debate, and even the symbolism of the gazebo debate. I say that because closing the bridge would not have solved the root problems. Closing the bridge is – in a way – Newark’s own version of “build the wall” as it would make life difficult for – mostly poor – pedestrians living north of the bridge. Sure, they could walk across the Mt. Vernon Road Bridge, but that bridge is far less safe to cross – anyone who has paid attention to the traffic flow in that area knows what I am talking about - and that is especially the case if you have children crossing with you.
I’ve mentioned in my prior campaigns for City Council that I am a strong advocate for bringing together our community and our law enforcement. Though, a number of us have taken great strides to mend the deep wounds which divide us, we have so much work to do. Through the Freedom School of Licking County I have learned a great deal about the value of community work and in discussing tough issues. One such difficult – yet essential – discussion we had was in 2014 when the Freedom School hosted a series of discussions on race. These talks involved a diverse group of people and enabled those of us participating to be candid with one another about our hopes, fears, and anything else which we know keeps us divided. Until my dying day I will see those talks as a shining model for what communities such as Newark ought to use so as to improve the work we do collectively in keeping our neighborhoods safe and prosperous.
No household, business, or organization should get special treatment. Their problems are our problems and this should be handled accordingly. We need more officers available to respond to calls for help. We need more concrete action relative to the drug crisis and other like issues. We need better paying jobs and a reliable transit system (both of which I will address later). We need a government which works for all of us. There is another way.
As is the case with the problems we’re experiencing in adequately staffing our safety forces – wherein our city is being crushed under the weight of the State’s disregard for local government needs – our infrastructure is being dealt with at a snails pace due to a funding crisis. This is partially to blame on a lack of strong leadership. Just about everything a City manages is influenced by its ability to collect and responsibly employ tax dollars. Simply put, the need for more revenue may well be inevitable and we need bold leadership to take this plea for help to the people when the time comes. Just putting a measure on the ballot and hoping for the best is what we’ve seen for the last decade and look where it has gotten us.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Not all neighborhoods in our city are treated equally when it comes to determining which streets or other services get attention first. If you live in a poor section of the area, your street is more likely to be ignored. The process of determining which neighborhoods are prioritized or serviced before others needs to be open to scrutiny by the whole community. You can count on me to fight for greater equality in how we handle the needs of every citizen in Newark.
The world is changing dramatically, and with those changes our needs are evolving as well. 25 years ago, getting on and using the internet was correctly seen as a privilege for those who could afford to pay for the service. Now, the ability to access the internet can actually have an impact on your ability to survive in every day life. How is that? Well, consider that many employers now require applicants to apply online at their respective websites. Even certain services require you to log on and apply. While you can still go to college on campus, higher education is more attainable now with online courses; which is beneficial especially for single-parents. Not to mention, the internet provides a citizen with near-limitless options for staying informed, shopping, and preparing for recreational activities.
Of course, anyone lacking internet access can just go get a library card and do what they need the internet to do at the Licking County Library. Then again, you have to do this within the hours of operation for the library and you must also secure transportation to and from the same. It isn’t impossible to imagine how the lack of affordable and reliable internet access can place a burden on one’s life. There is a better way, though.
Do we have internet service providers in the area? Yes we do, but are they reliable or affordable? That’s part of the problem. Unless you bundle services, you are more likely than not going to get an expensive internet bill in the long-term and that bill typically comes with a plethora of confusing fees which are not fully explained (and, let’s be honest, may not necessarily be justified). Either the service is too slow or it is out of your price range.
So, what’s the solution? My proposal is that the City of Newark seriously consider following the lead of over 750 others across the nation and provide our own municipally-owned broadband service. We can aspire to make all of the costs transparent – just like we do with our city water service – and as cheap as possible. Better yet, we won’t even have to raise taxes to get started! In fact, many of those other municipalities have successfully borrowed the money and paid it back entirely from the income created by the service fees. In other words, if you don’t want to pay for municipal-owned broadband and if you prefer your private options, then you absolutely don’t have to!
There’s something else which makes this so appealing for the greater good of the city. On the one hand, more jobs would be created by offering a new service. On the other hand, a number of other municipalities offering this service have used the excess revenue from it to help pay for other - more essential – services. Yes, we could help raise the money we need to better take care of our roads, bridges, and safety forces!
Our politicians have a habit of celebrating any and all job creation statistics. It makes them look good in the public eye to say the words “we are creating new jobs”, this is especially the case if a policy they oversee influenced such. The problem is that the jobs created are increasingly not worth the paper that these glowing political speeches are printed on. They are not signs of progress. Instead, too many of them are pathways to continued poverty.
One such group of problematic jobs is that which primarily features part-time or temporary work. Mayor Hall actually conveyed once – when discussing the potential for job creation with the Thornwood Crossing bridge – that his administration was not concerned with whether or not the jobs being created were full-time or part-time. What mattered is that they were “jobs”. This mindset has to end. We must show a preference for the creation of full-time jobs that will be reasonably accessible to the people of Newark. Otherwise, our City is ensuring that too many of us will remain trapped in poverty.
On that note, our City must take an equally aggressive stance in promoting jobs which pay their employees a living wage. It isn’t enough for a worker to be full-time, because someone can work 40 hours or more and still lose their homes or be forced to choose between eating and paying bills. A job which pays its employees a wage worthy of their time is liberating. These jobs are also beneficial in terms of tax revenue, as better paid employees use fewer assistance programs and contribute more to the cause of providing for our public services.
On a point made in the previous section, too many of our fellow citizens lack adequate and reliable transportation. Presently, you are left to rely on a broken transit system which is fragmented into multiple segments of poor reliability, high expense, and/or crushing demand. If you need a ride to work, your best bet is to find a loved one or a coworker with whom to hitch a ride, but this is not a stable or sustainable model. What we effectively have is an odd hybrid of disorganized public transportation and a “fend for yourself” model.
If everyone who needed a car had one this model would be ok, but poverty is a serious problem for far too many of us and that often aligns with the lack of an automobile. People, of course, need transportation for more than just traveling to and from work, but if we care about enabling our citizens to escape the clutches of poverty we must take seriously their inability to get to a decent job to begin with. What’s clear is that a system which hinders – instead of expands - the mobility of its people is not one worth maintaining. Progressing together requires a solution which removes the obstacles to said progress.
Let’s face facts here; there is no better solution to the lack of adequate transportation than delivering to the people of this city a fixed route busing system. Potential routes have been drafted, numerous committees have been convened to explore it, and yet the city and the county have been the sole source of inaction. No one in dire straits – again, that is a growing segment of our community – can afford the current fares to and then from their required destination, multiple times a day for numerous days a week. Nor can anyone who desperately needs an immediate ride rely on a system which requires you to schedule a ride days in advance as an alternative to a typical cab service. This is much easier than our local officials want you to believe: we must adopt a fixed route busing system.
You can count on me to tirelessly advocate for this until the end of my service, and beyond if I have to.
I’m a renter and have been for as long as I can remember, so I understand the struggles of the countless families whose circumstances are similar to my own. Though my present landlord is someone who I love and respect tremendously, I am still a strong believer that renters need more checks and balances to protect their rights. Many of our landlords are good people, but the need for protections aren’t about them as much as it is for those who abuse the system and take advantage of their tenants not being completely aware of their rights.
Part of my lifelong experience in a family which has rented almost every home we’ve inhabited was a brief period wherein we were unfortunate enough to rent from a so-called slumlord. I will never forget what it was like when that sorry excuse for a landlord showed up at my mother’s house in the middle of the night one time. My mother and my stepfather were gone at work cleaning a restaurant, so it was us kids at home (we were trustworthy to stay home alone, I was 11 at the time), and the landlord showed up drunk demanding rent and forced us to let him come in. He stayed for about 10-15 minutes wandering angrily around the house telling us to let our parents know that he had been there.
Yes, this was back in the 1990s, but too many families don’t know that this type of behavior is illegal. Too many families feel powerless to stand up to the abuses of people who have no business collecting rent from anyone. For that reason, I am a strong advocate for rental registration to ascertain that our landlords are top-notch and safe. You can guarantee that I will fight wholeheartedly to see this become a reality.
When I ran for City Council I had declared my support for an approach to community development intent on bringing an end to our societal segregation. Presently, you are statistically more likely to die in poverty if you are born into it. A major factor in guaranteeing the trap of poverty is that the poorest citizens more likely than not spend almost all of their lives living in poor neighborhoods. Poor neighborhoods are more likely to be deprived of vital services – such as adequate safety and educational funding – and are typically removed from the center of attention of those molding public policy. It’s time for that to change and I intend on helping to usher in that change.
Every neighborhood must be prepared to lead the way in helping to make our streets safer. For decades the Block Watch program has been a proven method for improving the safety of communities throughout the country. In addition to helping make law enforcement easier this is a great way to unite a neighborhood and build a strong bond and system of trust amongst people living close to one another. Inspiring each neighborhood to form a Watch and even providing some information on how to do so ought to be the goal of our City and I will do all that I can to make sure this happens.
By mandate of the State’s Constitution, all local income taxes are imposed as a flat tax. In the City of Newark, we have a relatively low tax rate compared to other communities of similar size. Celebrating this is all well and good, but we must have a serious and lengthy discussion about whether our present rates represent a sustainable approach as a City which aspires to grow and attract newcomers. If we want to improve the conditions of our infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) and ensure that our safety forces have all the personnel and resources they need, then there is no escaping this discussion.
Aside from the income tax issue (which always requires a vote of the people anyways if the proposed rate is to be increased beyond its current status), we must contemplate the contributions of incoming businesses – and even some current large businesses -, and I’m specifically referring to the practice of offering a tax abatement as an incentive to build here. In general, tax abatements can be a good thing, but there are cases wherein it can cost a city more than necessary to deprive itself of the possible revenue. We have an obligation to be prudent in how we negotiate these terms. You can guarantee that I will fight tirelessly to make sure that the only businesses offered an abatement are the ones which sincerely need one to get off the ground.
I’m also suspicious of other specialized tax arrangements such as Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and Special Improvement Tax Districts. Not that these arrangements should be completely out of the question, but I want the City to ensure that everyone is paying their fair share and doing so for the greater good of the whole community. When presented with tax plans such as these, those in office should carefully and thoroughly review the proposals, compare them to others of the like, and proceed with extreme caution and always with an eye towards what benefits everyone. If it can not be demonstrated that the people of Newark will reap the rewards in the long-term they should not be supporting any specialized proposal.
In 2017 I proudly served on the Newark Charter Review Commission. After having campaigned – in part – on the goal of realizing nonpartisan elections in Newark during my 2015 bid for Council, I threw my name in the metaphorical hat for consideration to be on the Commission when Council President Ellington asked for citizens to do so. After I was voted on by City Council I got right to work on preparing my case to place the question of nonpartisan elections on the ballot for the people of Newark to consider. After meeting for about a month, my efforts were unsuccessful. I was the only one out of five members to vote in the affirmative. However, this end result came about when at least two other members noted that we just didn’t have enough time to research the issue.
When my proposal failed to get passed on to the ballot the one thing that we were unanimous on with respect to this was that the City should create a Charter Review Study Group – in accordance with the Charter – to delve into the matter further and prepare adequate information for the next Commission to review when they convened for the 2022 vote. Unfortunately, the City ignored us. This was important for us because the issue of nonpartisan elections keeps coming up in subsequent commissions every five years, but they always conclude that there is insufficient time to review the impact that such a radical change would have on the City. Unfortunately, despite our bipartisan agreement that the City ought to study the matter further, the City insists on failing to deliver.
You can guarantee that I will remain a stalwart advocate for unbinding our partisan chains. I’m no puppet of either party – you can ask me to elaborate on this, if you’d like, as I have much to tell - and it is my lifelong goal to see every single election (local, state, and federal) converted to a nonpartisan system just as our Founding Fathers designed. I will continue to aggressively push for a Charter Review Study Group to provide the next commission (which convenes in 2027) with all the information they will need so as to finally feel comfortable passing this important question on to the people of Newark for their consideration.