I have been active in the community for many years now and have been a candidate for office for the last four. Over this time I have caused many actions and reactions from politicians but there is still one which gets me mad. It is not when they attack me, I knew this was part of the game when I threw my name into the ring. What still gets me angry is when politicians personally lie to people.
Tonight, the Rochester City Council was being asked to approve the sale of Midtown Tower to Buckingham Properties and Morgan Property Management for $2. Now this may not sound so bad, but the property is presently assessed for $435,100. The sale also comes with $11.9 million of public money, and very generous tax breaks for the next 20 years. And the kicker is, the "buyer" donated $5,000 to the Election campaign of Tom Richards. This is not good.
So we got a group together to come to the City Council meeting to protest this, not on the basis of the political corruption, but because it did not follow City Code. This code is the laws by which the city operates. I read the relevant sections of the code which states that in order to sell property the city either has to have an auction or independently assess the property and sell it for that, and it had done neither of these. So when it was time for citizens to comment on the legislation that would give Midtown Tower away, I read the code, explained how the deal was in violation, then spoke for the group and offered $100,000 for this property.
I was followed by Democratic primary candidate for City Council, Lisa Jacques who explained that we intend to run the property as a community entity. As is customary at an auction, we had 10% of the $100,000 on hand and could have paid that on the spot.
Now I expected the Council to ignore us like usual, but when they went to vote on this the Mayor spoke up and mentioned that our political theater was off the mark as this was an Urban Renewal Property and therefore was not covered by the laws I read.
When I spoke, I did not read out loud the section on Urban Renewal. It looks like I should have. This section is 21-13 of city code and is only 3 sentences long. The last sentence of which reads, "The procedures for submission and selection of development proposals shall be the same as those established for the disposition of City-owned real estate". Which means that the City must follow the same procedures for the sale of Urban Renewal property as for city property.
Now Council was going to approve this despite our little show, there was no reason for the Mayor to speak up. They had spent almost half an hour reading the code though and there is no way they could have misread this. For some reason, the Mayor felt inclined to misrepresent the law deliberately which is a lie, and I can not abide by our political leader lying to us.
City Council passed all the provisions it needed to to hand over a $400,000 property for $2 plus loans, tax breaks and more. There was one sad "nay" vote on one of the provisions. City Council President, Lovely Warren went out of her way to explain that she was voting against the parking provision because that was one of the $2 cost. The Developer should be paying more for the parking. No one in the audience believed she really cared and she sounded as if she didn't believe it either.
This pay to play will end when I am elected Mayor on November 5th.
The fact that the City did it wrong may be a bit embarrassing, but it should be troubling to all Rochestarians because it is obvious that there are some, whose salary we pay with our tax dollars, who have a callous disregard for law.
You can argue that this type of corporate welfare is necessary. (I do not.) But what happened here was the public was defrauded of hundreds of thousands of dollars which we, by law, are entitled to receive. This money could have gone to something that we need but was cut in the last budget due to lack of funds.
Unfortunately, there is little we can do about the government committing this crime. We have looked into filing a lawsuit, but that will cost $5000, money that small business owners such as myself cannot throw around. We will bring this to the City’s Office of Integrity, but I have little hope they will enforce the law either. The real solution is to vote the criminals who disregard the law out of office. But we can’t do that without your help.
“Real property owned by the City which has been acquired through tax foreclosure proceedings or other means and is no longer needed for municipal purposes may be sold by the Director of Real Estate, upon approval by City Council, through any method authorized by statute, local law or ordinance.”
And to read further, if you are still insistent upon the city’s lack of follow through with its own laws:
“All sales of City-owned real property at public auction shall be made by the Director of Real Estate or his or her representative after notice of the sale has been published at least once in an official newspaper of the City, subject to the approval by City Council of the sale price and purchaser. Such sales shall also be subject to the following terms and conditions”
There is no requirement to sell via auction/bid; however do you know if they did put this sale up to bid? The only/minimum requirement is one notice in any official city newspaper; perhaps they did and you missed it.
I’d be interested to see what your plan would be for Midtown Tower, how you’d secure financing (which seems to be much tougher than it used to be considering that Christa Construction Mgmt., the original bid winner for the project failed to secure the required amount) and how the public would view a mayoral candidate winning the bid for such a large city project, if you actually had. Someone could easily cry foul or “I smell corruption” over a situation like that as well.
It’s so easy to present your perceived understanding of an event as fact. It’s much more difficult to be unbiased and honest about something, especially when it may go against the group thought in your own circle.
As someone who lives in Downtown Rochester, I’m very happy to see that the project is being taken over by a Rochester-based company that looks to have a proven track record in turning around problem locations, not some out of town company that thinks they know how Rochester works and what we need (because that’s worked so well in the past, ahem, High Falls).
I’m happy tax-breaks were secured seeing as the development companies will not directly benefit from them, the future commercial and residential tenants at the tower will. That means there’s even more incentive to bring people and companies back into the heart of the city and really revitalize it.
I’m excited about the changes slated for the Downtown area, I look forward to seeing what the next few years holds for us!