What happened to Governmental Transparency, and Open Government?

Published 9:32 am Wednesday, January 20, 2016

By John Backer

Recently Orange City Council voted to spend $2,000,000 of public money to purchase First Financial Bank off 16th St.  The item was put on the agenda Thursday, January 7th and approved on January 12th, 2016.   Only One council member wanted an open discussion of agenda item, all other members of City Council voted to have a private session to discuss the matter. When the citizens of Orange were able to return to the meeting it was a unanimous decision to approve the purchase.

What is the pressing issue to spend 2 million dollars that cannot be discussed with the public? After all it is the public’s money, and the City Council was elected to represent the citizens. The City released a statement that sited “challenges” but did not provide the public with estimates.

If a financial analysis was completed (Cost to renovate current City Hall vs purchase and renovation of agenda item approved, loss of property tax revenue from First Financial Bank) where is that analysis? What are the costs associated with those “challenges” that cannot be discussed and shared with the public? “The City considered many alternatives”, where are they and how come they cannot be shared with the Citizens they represent?

The sale of the property included a lease back program from the bank of $10,000 per month. Let’s say it will take two years for the bank to build a new building and the City takes in $240k. Is the city responsible for any maintenance and repairs to the bank in the lease back program? Is the lease a triple net lease? Keep in mind that the City will still be responsible for repairs and maintenance on its existing building for the time it takes the bank to build their own building.

The City will not be receiving property taxes from the new building for two years and the current City Hall cannot be sold until the City could finish the renovations to the new building. What is the loss in property tax revenue to the City of Orange?

Why did the City of Orange build a new police department, fire station, and office building all within a stone’s throw from their current location and now they want to move City hall to a high traffic area that could be appealing to tax paying businesses? Did we not just spend millions of dollars on Riverfront Park to hold events, with no public restrooms?

Where is the City of Orange master plan? Why is council making a reactive decision on limited information and time available for the public? The City Manager could not answer a council members question regarding the square footage of the existing City hall or of the bank building. For the record Orange City Hall has three items listed for total of 10,734 sq. ft. and First Financial has 23,716 sq. ft.

I feel the City Manager, the Mayor of Orange and the six council members demonstrated a complete lack of consideration and civic responsibility that we as citizens entrusted them to uphold. If the council holds meetings in private and makes $2 million dollar plus decisions without public input and feedback then the City of Orange is quickly sliding down a slippery slope.

I am writing to convey my disappointment in your decision to not make the public aware of the value and urgent circumstances involved with the proposed purchase of First Financial building on 16th St. The item was put on the agenda 5 days ago and a decision was made without any time to allow the citizens who elected you into office to have any knowledge of the need and sense of urgency in your decision.

Your decision demonstrates a lack of transparency to the public.

I also felt that your decision was reactive as you did not want to discuss the merits of the purchase and were evidentially pressed for time and did not want the public to know.

I felt your decision was ill advised and did not include any quantitative analysis as to the cost and benefits involved (building modifications, effect on property tax base, fixed and variable overhead cost, etc. ).

We had a new Central Fire Station, Police Department, and  a new building for Maintenance, Public Works and Planning  built all within a stone’s throw from City Hall.  It is clear that that the City of Orange does not have a master plan.  Your recent decision reflects a lack of proactive management.

I am very concerned on my property investments in this community as a resident and business owner inside the City of Orange.  I fail to see the long term vision that seems to be so private and important that no public input or discussion can be given.

IMO – you tossed open government and transparency out the window yesterday and I feel all future agenda items will be questioned because of the secrecy of this Council and its Manager.