Recorded, Public Meetings Should Be Required for NorthSide, $400M TIF Redevelopment Plan

Last night Alderwomen April Ford Griffin and Marlene Davis hosted a public meeting about NorthSide at Ames-VPA Elementary School. Present was Paul McKee, the aforementioned Alderwomen and approximately 100 other interested individuals. One of those individuals was Doug Duckworth. Doug maintains the Random Talk on Urban Affairs blog and has been a vocal critic of McKee’s land acquisition and maintenance and skeptic of the NorthSide project.

Doug stood at the back of the gymnasium and was recording the meeting until noticed by McKee who then asked him to turn off the camera, stating, “If that guy keeps filming in the back the meeting will be over.” After Doug is confronted by one person asking why someone would want to film a public meeting, McKee himself decides it’s wise to personally confront Doug. “Please, please quit,” McKee asks. Doug replied that it’s a public meeting and is then told that “It’s not a public meeting for you to film.”

While it can’t be said that this site has often been in agreement with Doug and others critical of NorthSide, I fully and completely support an individual’s right to film a public meeting. As far as I know, there’s no reason for McKee to fear “the blogs.” Furthermore, there simply should be more required of an entity seeking a $400,000,000 TIF than one seeking a lesser amount.

A TIF of $50,000,000 or more should trigger a requirement for increased public participation including multiple, on-camera public meetings. Such meetings should be moderated and structured to allow open questions and not be scripted. This is not a suggestion targeted to Mr. McKee specifically, but a recognition that a project of this size and a TIF of this amount has a disproportionate affect on residents and other businesses. I don’t know Mr. McKee’s reasoning behind not wanting to be taped, but it simply should not be an option for him.

I love the vision Mr. McKee has for North St. Louis. And it’s more than just a pretty picture, it is a model for how more than two square miles of our inner city could be revitalized. But for the vision to become a reality, the developer must recognize the overwhelming public interest in the project. For instance, indefinitely withholding a list of “legacy properties” that will be restored is unacceptable.

The more generous part of me feels that McKee’s emotional response to filming is the result of pent-up frustration at falsehoods pedaled by some opposed to NorthSide. He may feel as though he’s been treated unfairly or that some are simply opposed to the project at all costs and refuse to be part of a dialog. In this respect he may be right, but this does not lessen the burden on him to work with the community to garner support for the development.

A surprising amount of what we accomplish in life is based on personality and personal relationships. It appears that McKee has been successful in building political support for NorthSide (though maybe not enough support to garner public backing of the TIF), but his continued inability to this point to meet the public on their terms is disheartening and does not bode well for the future of NorthSide.


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