Main author of Downtown Master Plan to speak at Lafayette Seminar, this Monday, 2/20!
The first session, featuring Dhiru Thadani, the principle author of Lexington’s Downtown Master Plan, and one of America’s most distinguished planners, will be THIS MONDAY, FEB. 20, 6 P.M. in PATTERSON A-B ROOM, THE HYATT REGENCY HOTEL, 401 West High Street. Councilmember Tom Blues, Chair of the Design Excellence Task Force, will respond, and give an update on the work of the Task Force. As new and exciting plans emerge for the CentrePointe block and the Rupp/ Arts and Entertainment District, it is especially important to remind ourselves of, and update our thinking about, the Downtown Master Plan, probably the most extensive downtown planning exercise that Lexington has ever experienced, with hundreds of citizen and professional participants. Many of its recommendations have been implemented, and more are in the process of implementation.
(If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, there’s also LexArts’ great 21 Nights Happy Hour series starting at 5p… so do as you will.)
As revenues fall and expenses rise, the Division of Parks & Rec is forced to make some tough decisions in the coming months and needs YOUR voice. Please share what matters most to you – swimming pools, golf courses or summer youth programming?
Click here to complete the survey and help shape the future of our parks system.
We’re in the 8th month of the Gray administration. There have been some bumps, but all in all, things seem to be going pretty well (though we’re so tired of the same old frisbee putt-putt courses!). ProgressLex takes a quick look at one of the biggest changes Lexington has seen in this period, that being the worlds-apart difference between Mayors Newberry and Gray.
Where Newberry felt that developers of any stripe should be left alone to do as they liked, Gray felt it was important for the civic to interact with the private to help create a best-case project. Obviously that approach helped win an election and so far, it’s quite clear Newberry’s approach was indeed a failed one. Says ProgressLex:
The design isn’t that of a generic building that could be planted anywhere. This open process has not only produced a far more thoughtful design by a better architect (with more to be done by local architects), but it has pulled the community together instead of tearing it apart. If one can judge by his public comments, Dudley Webb is perhaps the most pleased of all.
Although many other problems lay on the horizon, all the positive energy toward this project tis due largely to the intense activity and interest of Mayor Gray who is following the example set by Mayor Riley. Mayor Gray made sure that the process was open and played a significant role in suggesting Studio Gang. Mayor Gray has worked tirelessly to come up with a design and a design team that Lexington could be proud of. It is time for Lexington to turn this page. Let’s end the era of unrestrained development at the whim of any developer, and begin a new age of open process, intimate mayoral involvement, and excellence in design!
With the revelations from ProgressLex this past week that the soon-to-be unveiled economic strategy report prepared by Angelou Economics for Commerce Lexington and the city of Lexington was a cut-and-paste job, many have wondered about Commerce Lexington and its relationship to city government.
The now disgraced report cost $150,000 to produce. Half of that was paid by LFUCG and half of it by Commerce Lexington.
Under previous Mayor Jim Newberry the city transferred much of the responsibility for development to Commerce Lexington, which was formed in 2004 and is partially funded by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
The city paid Commerce Lexington $509,070 in fiscal 2010 and has budgeted $508,000 for fiscal 2011. The group considers itself to be private and does not publicly disclose its finances.
Formerly the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, Commerce Lexington is headed by an extensive board of directors. These directors include the Mayor and Vice Mayor, the President of UK, as well as a host of other businesspeople and community leaders.
In addition to the taxpayer money they get, Commerce Lexington collects dues from its 1,800 members.
On top their rank-and-file members and their Board of Directors, Commerce Lexington also maintains a Board of Trustees, ranked by their level of investment. All firms “investing” at $2,000 or more are named to the Board of Trustees. There are four levels of investment: Bronze (presumably for $2,000); Silver ($5K? 10K?); Gold (25K? 50K?); and Platinum (50K? 100K? More?). All these dues and “investment” dues added up to $1.3M in 2009, according to Commerce Lexington’s publicly available 990 Tax Form (see below).
The Platinum Level trustees of Commerce Lexington — the division of Lexington government deciding economic development strategies for the city — are Wal-Mart and JP Morgan Chase.
The Gold Level trustees include Anthem and Ashland Oil, while the Silvers include such folks as Alliance Coal, Kentucky American Water, and the Webb Companies.
Speaking of the Webb Companies, at the annual Commerce Lexington dinner last month, Woodford Webb was presented with the “Public Policy Advocate of the Year” award. Here’s the video they showed at the dinner:
As you’ll notice in that video, Woodford was honored specifically for re-establishing regional tours, which brought Lexington business leaders to Eastern Kentucky and “led to refinements in our organizations policy statements.”
You see, in addition to its role as the LFUCG economic development wing, Commerce Lexington is a business advocacy group that lobbies local, state and federal governments on behalf of business interests. (So, LFUCG is paying the group to lobby LFUCG on behalf of business).
In today’s political and economic times, it is critical that your business have representation to monitor and lobby on your behalf the important issues that face you at a local, state and federal level. Commerce Lexington’s Public Policy Team has the experience and resources to represent you from City Hall to our nation’s Capitol. Most Commerce Lexington members can’t afford a full-time staff person and/or lobbyist to monitor every bill and regulation that moves through Frankfort which can dramatically impact business.
That Commerce Lexington Public Policy team made news in December 2009 when they announced refinements to their standing policy statements:
Several direct coal industry endorsements were added, including:
” … the most immediate threat to Kentucky’s business climate is the pending energy legislation and regulatory obstacles that place an undue burden on states like Kentucky that rely heavily on coal-fired generation plants for electricity. … Commerce Lexington opposes any legislation and regulations that would have a significant negative impact” on coal-industry jobs.
Bob Quick, president of Commerce Lexington and who has in recent days taken to the media to stand up for the consultancy group behind the cut-and-paste development report, told the Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen that the shift in policy to an explicitly and actively pro-Coal agenda “was prompted by a two-day bus tour of Eastern Kentucky by nearly 70 Commerce Lexington members that ‘opened our eyes.’”
Commerce Lexington Inc. recently submitted public comments to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) expressing its opposition to a proposed regulatory change regarding coal ash that could significantly affect utility rates and energy production in the Commonwealth. The proposed regulatory change for the “Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) Rule” would permit U.S. EPA to classify coal ash waste from power plants as hazardous waste under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
During the month of September, Tyler Campbell, Vice President of Public Policy for Commerce Lexington, testified in Louisville before U.S. EPA regarding the proposed regulatory change to the CCR Rule. During testimony, Campbell stated Commerce Lexington’s opposition to regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste…
In addition to lobbying the federal government on behalf of Lexington taxpayers that toxic coal ash isn’t toxic, Commerce Lexington’s recently released 2011 Public Policy Statements make clear the groups stance on several other key issues:
THE EPA: Commerce Lexington continues to oppose U.S. EPA’s attempts to overstep its regulatory oversight role and impose an extraordinary number of federal mandates that will undoubtedly have a significant negative impact on the business community.
HEALTH CARE: Commerce Lexington Inc. believes that both business owners and employers should have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their employees quality affordable health insurance available from the private market, not government. This opportunity to provide health insurance should provide adequate choices, not place an economic burden with either high taxes or undue government regulation.
“Right to Work”: We support legislation to prohibit requiring any worker to join a union as a condition of employment.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Commerce Lexington Inc. strongly opposes public employee collective bargaining.
It goes on, of course. And there are several policy positions that Lexington’s largely progressive community would have no problem with, from the usual “importance of education” claims and “make UK a Top 20 University” to a reasonable, though brief, stance on immigration reform.
The issue isn’t really what Lexington’s Chamber of Commerce stands for. Businesses should get together and collectively protect their interests.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with members of Lexington’s business community getting together and collectively deciding that the unregulated destruction of Eastern Kentucky is something they all want to stand behind and spend their money on. (Though, one wonders if all the dues-paying members are fully aware of how their money’s being used.)
But it’s more than a little ridiculous that such a group — headed by Wal-Mart and JP Morgan Chase — requires $500,000 in taxpayer money each year to do what they’d probably be doing anyway.
And it’s positively insane to hand over to the same group of pro-coal, anti-union, anti-health care reform, etc., power brokers the keys to the future of Lexington’s economic development.
Paying Commerce Lexington to simultaneously mold the city’s economic development and lobby the government against business regulation is obviously a bad idea.
The Angelou cut-and-paste report simply cements this fact. Let’s be clear:
The city paid $75,000 and Commerce Lexington paid $75,000 to receive an unoriginal document in which the central original recommendation was to hand even more power and control to Commerce Lexington.
A strong working relationship is needed between city government and our major businesses, but it’s important to know which one is calling the shots, and what the people of Lexington are paying for — something Mayor Jim Gray is apparently keenly aware of:
The original request-for-proposals set a June 1, 2010, deadline but that was pushed back until after the November elections.
“We’ve been waiting on the report for months, so basically we’ve been in suspended animation from a strategic point of view,” Gray said. “We need a business plan that can really help Lexington. I’ve observed our economic development efforts as a businessman, as a volunteer, as vice mayor and now as mayor. We have a lot of work to do and all options are on the table.”
Those options might include the city taking more control of economic development or more oversight over of Commerce Lexington.
Those both seem like good ideas. And who knows, maybe the revised Angelou report they’re banging out in a matter of days will make just that recommendation.
Bob Quick, chairman and CEO of Commerce Lexington, said Friday that they will give Angelos Angelou the extension he requested to rewrite an economic development strategy after it was discovered that parts of a first draft were lifted nearly verbatim from recommendations for other cities.
Late last night saw a number of entertaining developments in Commerce Lexington’s “Copy&PasteGate.”
After ProgressLex blew the whistle on a taxpayer-funded $150,000 economic study that was, well, actually just an economic study of some other towns, Mayor Gray told Commerce Lexington to put a hold on the report while his office and city officials took time to examine the (very accurate) allegations and weighed their options (like, how to get $75,000 back).
Gray’s statement came after the guy at the private consultant who “edited the report and wrote the marketing recommendations” (seriously) defended his work, telling the Herald-Leader that the obviously copy/pasted sections weren’t recycled at all, just… similar.
Then, Angelos Angelou, head of the consulting group that got the $150K from the city of Lexington and delivered a crap report, got involved. Sensing the shifting mood from the city, and the really sad spin control coming from his underlings, Angelou got on the horn to the Herald and to ProgressLex, saying that based on what he had come to understand, he could no longer defend the report.
There has been a serious violation of our firm’s internal policies and quality control. I realize that this has caused significant problems for our client and the City of Lexington, never mind the loss of prestige and harm to our firm’s reputation. As soon as I arrive in the office tomorrow, we will begin to rectify the situation.
I ask that we be given a few weeks to rewrite the final recommendations report and deliver a customized report that Commerce Lexington and the City deserve and should expect from our firm.
To his credit, Angelou got on the right side of this problem fairly quickly and sounds appropriately humbled, firmly taking responsibility and acknowledging his firms failure.
The city and Commerce Lexington paid his firm $150,000 to study Lexington for over a year and generate localized recommendations on how to strengthen the city’s economy.
After a year of surveys, focus groups, and intensive “analysis,” the firm returned a joke of a report that simply regurgitates recommendations previously generated for other cities in other states facing other problems. Oh, and it’s central finding: Make Commerce Lexington even bigger and more powerful.
Maybe Angelou and other senior staff had no idea that their employee in charge of this $150K report was just playing solitaire that entire time, but whether they did or not, they are now telling us — the city, the Mayor, CommerceLexington — that they can generate an entirely new and appropriate report in a matter of weeks.
Which seems like an okay deal. Let’s let Angelou go back over all their notes and interviews, lets let him put his entire firm’s imagination into generating a truly original set of recommendations… and if we don’t like it, if it doesn’t deliver Big Ideas worthy of the taxpayer money spent, let’s take our money back and maybe, maybe, give it to some local experts who know a little more about what’s going on in Lexington (like, I don’t know, Ben Self) and get a truly localized report.
The great local advocacy group ProgressLex is getting back into the swing of things and this morning one of their fearless leaders, Ben Self, delivered a doozy.
Last year the city and Commerce Lexington (which is funded in part by the city) paid a Texas-based private consultant $150,000 to study Lexington’s marketplace and put forth a series of recommendations on how to grow the economy and implement other buzzword-type solutions to our localized obstacles.
The results of Angelou Economics’ “nine months of diligent work” will be announced Friday, March 18th at a Commerce Lexington event — which you will cost you $15 to attend because apparently the tax $$$ they’ve already wasted wasn’t enough to get you in for free.
For example, our report contains the following (listed in the executive summary as the most important issue facing our community):
The first and most important finding in this process – a finding supported by survey responses, interviews, and focus groups – was that the Bluegrass Region must break down longstanding silos and work collaboratively towards a common economic vision. As a result of this conclusion, it became apparent that the plan itself would have to focus on those barriers that compromise regional economic vitality.
Funny enough, Colorado faces the same problem:
The first and most important finding in this process – a finding supported by survey responses, interviews, and focus groups – was that the Pikes Peak region must break down longstanding silos and work collaboratively towards a common economic vision. As a result of this conclusion, it became apparent that the plan itself would have to focus on those barriers that compromise economic vitality.
So, Lexington’s been hoodwinked.
LFUCG and CommerceLex have handed $150K to an out-of-state company — purportedly “experts” — who spent nine months not doing their homework and then generated a personalized report for Lexington by simply CTRL-Fing town names and replacing them with “BLUEGRASS REGION.”
ProgressLex has the full report posted (as a PDF) with all “copy and pasted” sections highlighted in yellow. It’s not a pretty read because entire pages are yellow. This was not money well spent and these recommendations are about as useful as me saying “we should create jobs.” (Wait… can I get $150,000 for that?)
I, [insert name], am not sure that [name of targeted company] actually did much work studying [specified region] and as such ripped off citizens of [place]. Therefore [name of targeted company] should refund fees charged to [specified region]‘s taxpayers. Sincerely, [name].
For those of you who couldn’t afford the $200 to attend the “One World Gay Order” convention last weekend, Progress Lexington is holding one by and for Lexingtonians tomorrow. It’s free, anyone can make their own sessions, and it’s entirely interactive.