Who would have thought that the Packard Music Hall would be the key in the struggle to get a professional city planner in Warren?
The story is a little long and twisty, and for those who long to take a more professional and proactive approach to running Warren, it’s more than a little depressing as well. Here’s what happened.
Regular readers know of the efforts of the Resident Advisory Committee to get the Mayor and City Council to both implement the recommendations of the Warren Strategic Plan and bring a professional planner into the process. You probably also know that Mayor Franklin has blocked those efforts repeatedly over the past two years.
You can read a detailed summary of his position in an April 2014 post or in this Tribune article. In a nut shell, Mayor Franklin said we can’t afford a city planner, and even if we could we might only need one for a short time because planning isn’t really an ongoing need.
Now to the Packard Music Hall (PMH) and its roll in all this. The city has been paying a subsidy to PMH for many years. The cost has varied but has been around $300,000 per year for some time. The money went primarily towards paying the salaries and benefits of the employees who worked there.
Then earlier this year the city negotiated a contract with a company called JAC Management to take over operation of the hall. Part of the deal is that the city will continue paying the subsidy for at least the next three years; $300,000 next year, $250,000 the following year and $200,000 the year after that.
The Tribune called the idea that this would save the city money “false,” and anyone with a little business sense must wonder if a better deal for the city could not have been struck had the contract been put out to bid. After all, Sunrise Entertainment here in Warren has been successfully producing entertainment at both PMH and at the Amphitheater for several years. But there was no competitive bidding and this is the deal the administration made.
It would have been a better deal had JAC Management been required to take over paying the salaries of the city employees, since they were getting the subsidy; or if the Mayor, who promised City Council in an open meeting that he would not make the salaries and benefits of the employees a part of the general fund budget, had kept his word.
But as all this was transpiring, rumors were already flying that the Mayor was going to do what he said he would not, by placing one of the former PMH employees into the Engineering department as the new city planner, even though he has worked only at PMH for the previous 22 years and has no educational credentials nor working experience to suggest that he would make an effective city planner.
Well, rumors in Warren are like the Ebola virus — they spread far and fast and sometimes have devastating results. This was such a spectacularly bad idea that it now appears that the Mayor and Mr. Cantalamessa have gone to Plan B, in which the former head of PMH and his assistant, will both be working in either the waste water department or the finance department as “grants co-ordinator” and “assistant grants co-ordinator.”
This solution will probably be less politically troublesome to the Mayor and Mr. Cantalamessa. It won’t be quite as hard a slap in the face to the RAC and everyone who has been clamoring for a planner, but it is equally wrong as neither of these folks have grant writing experience nor waste water experience nor finance experience. Together the total compensation for these two people exceeds $200,000.
For that amount of money the city could have hired three people — an experienced city planner with a masters degree, and two experienced grant writers who might potentially bring millions of dollars in grants to the city. Millions will be left on the table because our new inexperienced and unskilled “grant coordinators” will never even know those grant opportunities exist.
Good planners and grant writers pay for themselves and then some, and can be the springboard for general economic growth. There is lots of evidence for this, but neither the Mayor nor the Safety Service Director are persuaded.
We would like to give you their point-of-view on this topic but we are unable. We have emailed them both twice asking for comments but have received no response. What they say privately is another matter.
We’d rather report facts than rumors, but since they won’t talk to us about anything substantive we have little choice, and this rumor has been around forever. In private they say it is all the fault of the union.
Given anti-union sentiment in this town, many of you will believe that. We do not, for to believe it means that Local 2501 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees actually runs the Warren city government, or at least that they are able to block any form of progress in this city.
If that is really so we have a much bigger problem than just the lack of a city planner, and the Mayor should be dealing publicly and vigorously with that problem.
What we believe is that the unions want what is best for the city just like any other citizen, but that the current administration has not tried to negotiate with them to achieve progress, nor has it tried to gain general public support for doing what is right for the city. And therefore — it is not doing what is right for the city.