Friday, February 18, 2005

Don't get mad; get it right

Sam Hieb thinks Greensboro bloggers aren't outraged enough about the mess that happened at St. James II, and suggests that Greensboro shouldn't fund any other such projects.

I agree that we should be outraged about the waste of money that could have actually helped poor people. I don't agree that Greensboro should stop doing projects like these. Instead, it should stop doing them the way it has been doing them, that is, without sufficient oversight.

If you look at Greensboro's recent history with low-income housing, here's what you see: independent leaders like Michael King, Skip Alston, and Christian Wellness repeatedly asking the City Council for funds or other help, with the Council repeatedly granting those requests.

At the same time, HCD staff repeatedly ask for increased financial accountability, and are resisted. (I think this is the source of Alston's "racism" comment.)

You can read the same story played out time and again here, here, here, here and here.

The answer is not to curtail low-income housing in Greensboro -- the answer is to provide city staff with the resources to make sure that the city's investment is adminstered responsibly.


Joe Guarino said...

Here is my concern.

The City housing staff will not feel free to monitor and take action on improprieties if they perceive that they will not be supported by the City Council. They know that if they choose to act in a quixotic fashion, they will be left out to hang in the breeze.

The problem is that many of our local elected officials are beholden to the Simpkins PAC. This PAC has had overwhelming success as a political machine influencing the outcome of local elections. This is largely a function of its organizational skill and its preparedness to outhustle the opposition. It is very difficult to win many of our local elective offices without the endorsement and support of this PAC. In fact, I seem to recall this PAC was the Rev. King's power base.

To the extent that local elected officials perceive, correctly, that they cannot cross this PAC, and they cannot win re-election without its support, this type of abuse will continue. Recall that Daley's Chicago machine was not brought down by the isolated, short-term efforts of a muckraking local press. The allure of the spoils and dividends associated with victory are so great that short-term efforts by the local press may not be sufficient in changing anything.

The techniques we have seen used by the national media in rooting out scandal-- i.e., the drumbeat approach whereby daily stories are placed sequentially based on limited amounts of new information, ofen increasing in intensity, over a long period of time-- may be the only way to bring about change and shame the protagonists (and the elected officials they control).

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