Econ committee votes to start city onto a track that leads to a bad deal with NRI

Published September 18, 2018 by justicewg

The city council members on the economic development committee voted on Sept 17 to approve a resolution that supports the deal the school board is making with NRI, which might lead to more money for the schools, but at the cost of approving a deal with NRI that is bad for both the city and the schools. This deal is on a track that will be hard to stop, unless many residents of Grandview Heights speak up, and tell both the board and the council to stop being poor negotiators. With the pressure of public comments, both via email and in city council meetings, the citizens of this city can stop this poor deal, and work for something from a position of strength.

Details of the deal

The full story on the NRI deal is complex, I’m trying to give a short summary that might pass over parts that are important to get a full understanding. I will be posting as many documents and videos from the city as I can, in the future.

Mayor DeGraw was part of the Finance committee at the school (the closed, hand picked group that made major decisions on the school facility plan with no meeting notes or video being taken). The group was looking hard at ways to improve the poor deal the school made with NRI back at the start of the Yard development, but as the mayor told the group, the city and the school had no bargaining power, a slight revision in 2014 didn’t help the school much.

The mayor told the school board that there was only one possible way to get movement from NRI, that was the land south of Goodale near the Yard. There were problems with the ownership of the land (at the time of the finance meeting), and there are big issues with cleanup of the land from pollution, but it was the only way that the school might get a lever on changing the deals made with NRI.

The school board saw this as a green light to start a new negotiation with NRI, and in the first months of 2018, they pressed NRI to make a new deal. NRI, being some of the best deal makers in the Fortune 500, immediately saw this as a way to come out on top of a deal with the rubes on the school board.

NRI must have been fully aware that the school was throwing every bit of influence they possessed into the quest to build new school buildings, and they are now almost certain to fail in the November levy request. The only way the board can pull some respect out of their floundering is to make a deal that brings more money out of NRI. This was a setup that NRI used to make a terrible deal for both the board and the city.

What is wrong with the NRI deal?

Both council members Anthony Panzera and Steve Reynolds spoke at length before the econ committee about the bad position the city and school are placing themselves into. I will be posting video of their talks. A short summary:

The council is allowing itself to be leaned on by the school board, and is shortcutting the normal channels under which the city would review and approve deals like this.

There is no reason for linking the development of the south of Goodale area with a renegotiation of the TIF with NRI. The only reason this is happening is that NRI knows the board is desperate for something they can call a win. The only one winning is NRI.

A housing development with 400 new units is not the best use of the land, and the city can do better.

The school board has been talking lowering their tax rate if they get the NRI deal. First, this is pure fantasy, the board will just use excess money to tear down Stevenson and build a new middle school. And even if the board did cut taxes for residents property, the one entity that would get the biggest tax cut would be – NRI, the largest land owner in the city.

(UPDATE) The board is now officially saying “vote for the full tax levy in November, but we probably will not need all that money if the NRI deal goes through.

While the combined bond issue and operating levy on the November ballot as Issue 6 would still be needed, this agreement would likely enable the district to reduce the amount of taxes that are collected on the November ballot issue. – Andy Culp

Amazing. The board is now saying “pass our levy, but trust us to give some of the money back to you – maybe”. This is self sabotage, why will anyone now vote for taxes that the school says they might not need? I think the board is so sure the levy will fail that they are giving themselves an excuse for the failure.

What about the Comprehensive city planning committee?

There is a large group of residents who are in the middle of a comprehensive city plan, one that is supposed to set the direction the city will take in future development. That group is not finished, and is not scheduled to be done until sometime next year. The fast tracking of the south of Goodale development is a blow to the integrity of the process – it is the city telling all of those people who spent hours in meetings “sorry suckers, you just wasted your time, because we are going to do what we want, to heck with your plans”. This is the kind of action that generates cynicism in the community. This is what makes people say “I though Grandview was different, but I guess we have a city government that is the same as anywhere else”

Check back on this post often, I have lots more to post – city documents, video, etc. Until those updates, you can watch the video of the NRI deal discussion in the last council meeting, starting at the 1:04:30 point in the YT video.

(UPDATE 2)

Video of the Sept 17 full council meeting

All of the preceding discussion happened at the Econ committee meeting on the 17th, and was not recorded by the city. Immediately following that meeting there was a full council meeting, which was video recorded. The speeches given by school board members at this meeting are just carbon copies of the ones they gave to the committee, except for one from board member Brannon. The things she said about NRI needs to be listened to carefully.

Jump to 4:50 in the video of the council meeting for the comments from school board member Debbie Brannon.

Brannon has been a board member for 7 years, and on the foundation for longer. She talked about how the school has been asking for sponsorship in new projects from NRI since the original signing of the deal to start the Yard in 2009. Most companies who are big boosters of the community at some point will fund some project, like the Anderson family partially funded the original field turf project.

NRI has ignored all requests for sponsorship of construction projects. They are a major corporation, they could easily fund the entire construction of a new school if they wanted. Nobody would object to naming the new school the NRI middle school. But they didn’t do that, and have no intention of funding new construction at the school. The only reason they are allowing the school to get some tax money a little earlier than the original agreement (they are not giving the school any money, just advancing payments), is because they stand to make good money from the south of Goodale development.

How you process that information says a lot about your personality. If you are the standard office drone who kneels before your corporate masters and thanks them for the scraps they give you, this sounds like a good deal.

If you think companies should be members of the community they live in, and help the school because it is the right thing to do, share their good fortune with the people who live around them, many of which are their own employees, you are not impressed with the actions of NRI. You think that Grandview needs to be as hardball in all financial negotiations as NRI has been with the city.

At 9:15 in the video, council member Reynolds repeats the objections to the NRI deal. He points to the the lack of public comment before the committee vote, and the experience in the past with negotiation with NRI (and its lack of offering help to Grandview).

14:38 Anthony Panzera speaks about the NRI deal, and how NRI gave the city a “take it or leave it” refusal to look at options that would have been better for NRI in the long run.

There will be more discussion about the NRI deal, but you need to make your voice heard, or it will slide past without real community engagement. This deal is on rails – it will not stop without your attendance at meetings, without your emails to the council.

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