'It's so frustrating'

Those were the first words a spouse of one city councilman used to describe Monday’s City Council meeting Tuesday. After promising signs two weeks ago, when an often-fractured council seemed uncharacteristically united in its desire to invest tax money in visible improvements, old divides that have plagued the council beyond the tenure of almost every one of its members reappeared.

Self-styled progressives and self-styled stalwarts both have a point: The city could use more housing and a major construction project, but it also needs to be careful not to be bullied in complex financial dealings that, to some, are uncomfortably reminiscent of a Ponzi scheme, albeit one that’s perfectly legal.

Deadlocked 2-2, with one councilman forced to abstain and the potential tiebreaking city attorney once again absent, San Andreas-size fault lines that for years have seem ed to doom the city reopened.

Reporting such divides is one of the least favorite duties we have. We would love nothing more than to portray local politics as filled with sweetness and light. Some newspapers do. You won’t read in our competition, for example, about an out-of-town clinic challenging local hospitals. Nor will you read about Monday’s council meeting, which our competitor didn’t even attend.

We may be wrong, but we believe the first step in addressing any problem — and this certainly is a problem — is admitting it. Yes, the fractures are now there for non-residents to see. If we could, we would black them out on every copy of our paper sold out of town. But we owe you, the local reader, the truth, not just some sugarcoated version of it that makes everyone look and feel good.

Some on the council believe the city must play the high-stakes game of long-term debt and complicated lease-purchases lest the city, as one staff member said, is to leave millions in development money on the table. Others fear the city may be collecting another white elephant project, relying on government subsidies to create a future problem like the troubled September Apartments when private, local investors at the same time, and with the same developer yet minus government subsidies, created the admired Sunrise Townhomes.

Fault lines also appeared in budget discussions, with one council member accusing staff of padding the budget — lying, as he put it. After one member vowed a week earlier to oust the city’s zoning administrator, he ended up resigning but keeping his salary after a protacted council debate. Even the replacement of park trees now seems to be held hostage to resolution of a dispute over locating new park restrooms.

This isn’t leadership. It’s civil war. And it’s not even very civil. We care less which side wins than we do that somehow there is a resolution. Otherwise, Marion will become the municipal equivalent of a war-torn Middle Eastern nation.

— ERIC MEYER

 

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