I understand that some readers can still say of New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan that “He’s my guy.” I only ask, “Why?”
Almost from the moment I arrived in this city, I’ve pushed, prodded, and pleaded for city officials to pay some attention to our broken streets, most often in the downtown area, but elsewhere, as well. At first, my quest was relatively simplistic. I asked why we couldn’t change our one-way streets back to the two-way traffic patterns they were designed for. As the years passed and I educated myself and others, “my” quest became “our” quest and our petitions to our elected officials metamorphosed from simplistic to sophisticated, though no less simple to accomplish.
This is my 11th year working on this. Coincidentally, this is Mayor Gahan’s 12th year as an elected official. These were years where he could have educated himself and perhaps even become a champion for our cause. After 8 years as a city council member, Gahan put himself forward to serve as the city’s executive. Many of you voted for him. All of you believed Mr. Gahan when he said he supported two-way streets.
Today, we have available to us a comprehensive street design program that is, as they say, shovel-ready. Prepared by Jeff Speck, the most prominent city planning professional in this country, and his team, the program is elegant, simple, and inexpensive to implement. Whether you read the 60-page justification or the 40-page section-by-section program for street change, you are likely to feel your heart leap while imagining the probable outcomes if New Albany embraces the program.
Yet, as recently as this past weekend, the mayor said to the News and Tribune that he “want[s] to emphasize this is just a study.” (emphasis mine)
Rather than embracing this opportunity, this mayor is pre-emptively knee-capping it. He is unwilling to claim it as his own. He is unwilling to step out in public and say “This is what I want to do. I believe it’s in the best interests of this community. And here’s why.”
Granted, he’s not the first mayor to shy away from making what I believe could be the greatest leap forward imaginable for New Albany’s revitalization. Each of the past two mayors said they were for it, that it was a figurative no-brainer. This mayor told two-way supporters that he, too, favored it.
Yet now, when a plan is fully laid-out for him, he waffles. He will not claim it. He will not implement it. He now won’t even say he favors it.
Draw your own conclusions as to why. Draw your own conclusions about the mayor’s integrity, intelligence, and fortitude.
You might have noticed that I have personally been quieter than usual about this issue in the past year. There was a reason. In our family, we’ve been heeding the professional advice of Jeff Speck and his like-minded colleagues for years. With the publication of Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, we found a concise vision of what it is we want to (and need to) accomplish.
Last January (2014) when, miraculum miraculorum, the city invited Speck to speak to us and then, Deo Patri sit gloria, a city board actually contracted with his firm, I placed an embargo on my own advocacy. I was (and am) perfectly willing to let Speck speak for me, whatever the consequences. Though I could have, I didn’t even speak to Jeff during his site visits and I did not share with him any insights on what I thought ought to be done.
The program presented by Speck is, as I’ve said, elegant, simple, and inexpensive.
The critical “pull quote” in the report appears in Speck’s Executive Summary. One would think that everyone with any interest or opinion on the matters would at least read that 3-page preface.
What Speck said was this:
If the principal purpose of the City’s downtown street network is the vitality of New Albany, then the choice is clear.
For that reason, I will no longer accept the duty of advocating for these changes. The choice here is clear. The mayor either will or will not accept his duty. There is no gray area here. I will not participate in the fraud of the Gahan administration pretending to support the Speck Plan for one audience while pandering to another audience by assuring them that it is “just a study.”
I did not and will not support Mr. Gahan’s political campaign. I’ve made my choice for mayor and am confident that my choice will implement the Speck Plan without dithering, without subterfuge, and without hypocrisy.
There is simply no excuse, even at this very late date, for anyone to allow Jeff Gahan to now, in an election year, play Hamlet. I would be very interested to know if any of us who have called for these changes for years have been approached by Gahan or his minions to “rally the troops” and thus give the mayor political cover. I did not sign up to work for the mayor’s re-election campaign. Whether the support for the Speck Plan polls at 9% in favor or 90% in favor, the choice is clear.
Now, the man I will work to get elected mayor publicly disagrees with my personal choice here. Roger Baylor, at his NA Confidential blog, decries the necessity for public assemblies and other such political theater, but says “we must outwork both whacked-out opponents and city hall.”
Roger, I say we must not.
Jeff Gahan, I say this one’s on you. You must say “I was wrong. I’m sorry. I’ll fix it.”
As a philosopher from a galaxy a long time ago and far, far away once said: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Were I able to attend John Smith’s strategy session for the Facebook group Two-Way Streets Now!, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. in the Sew Fitting store on Main Street, this is what I would say: Friends (and former friends), please attend the public information sessions planned for Thursday, January 29, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library (180 W. Spring St.; Strassweg Auditorium); Saturday, February 21, 10:30 a.m. – Noon at the Carnegie Center (201 E. Spring St.); and/or Wednesday, March 18, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Pepin Mansion on Main Street (1003 E. Main St.)
Learn. See. But refrain from campaigning for the adoption of the Speck Plan. That is now Jeff Gahan’s job. You may or may not be happy with this mayor. You may actually be part of this mayor’s campaign team. You may trust him. But it seems clear to me that nothing will be done in 2015 by this mayor to implement the Speck Plan. Let the mayor and his campaign team now take up the torch and tell us not only that they support it, but why, and why it is an opportunity we must seize now and not after this year’s primary and general elections.
That is, after all, his freakin’ job.
Mr. Gahan has already botched it with the Speck Plan. I won’t work to excuse his 11 years of inactivity on this front nor forgive his hypocrisy in saying one thing to one person and another to another. Jeff, son … we’re going to have to let you go.