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People Are Right To Be Alarmed

In a city that recognizes the importance of transparency, the economic development process has vacated citizen participation – at great risk.

Alarm Bells Ringing

Tuning Fork is absolutely in favor of economic development, as is every critic of Mr. Hirson’s refinery and street vacation proposal we have heard from. But we, and a large and growing contingent of citizens, are extremely alarmed by a plan the city planning staff, the transportation commission, and our fire and police departments oppose. They are right to oppose it.

On September 24, Tuning Fork alerted its readers of some glaring red flags regarding this project that no one seemed to be addressing. In our post Proposed Biodiesel Project: The Questions and The Facts, we present alarming facts and unanswered questions about this proposal. Among them are Mr. Hirson’s credibility, but far worse, the danger to thousands of people and millions of dollars of property – even if he can’t get the project built.

Putting the People That Live Here at Risk

The risk is shocking:

  • *Risk to our new Carden Park Elementary School the City just spent millions of dollars building – putting our children in danger.
  • Risk to the lofts at Mitchell Park Plaza where nearly a thousand people live.
  • Risk to the heart of our City.

If all that happens is that Saint Joseph’s downtown is saddled with a major rail yard, the City should be even more worried.

  • What types of trains will be placed there?
  • What impact will that have on the surrounding area. Is this going to cause the many hundreds of property owners more in insurance?
  • Can the City guarantee that?

As for those that don’t like the scrap yard as an entry point to downtown, they will be appalled by this.

Disturbing Lack of Transparency

How does a major economic development proposal in St. Joseph, requiring the urgent and permanent closure of a street, not come to the attention of the citizens, city commissions and the city council well before the developer delivers an ultimatum to the City at an August 23rd Planning Commission meeting?

This newspaper finds it preposterous that any viable plan for the development of a biodiesel refinery valued at $250 million would be dangled before the citizens’ elected leaders with a demand that unless the terms proposed to the City are met in less than 90 days the deal is off the table.

City Council meetings, agendas and/or minutes, are available via the City of St. Joseph website, and for some thirty city boards, committees, authorities and commission meetings, providing transparency in government and the expenditures of city resources. Here we list out all of the entities that maintain this transparency. Not included among these, however, is the “Economic Development Team” which according to the City of St. Joseph Website is comprised of “city staff members from six departments… The goal of the ED Team is to review projects in a comprehensive manner and to ensure project time lines are met. The ED Team meets regularly at the staff level and with companies and developers on an individual basis as needed.”

*Tuning Fork has placed calls to City Manager Bruce Woody requesting who specifically comprises the “Economic Development Team.” Those call have gone unreturned.

The minutes of the August 23, 2018 Planning Commission Meeting reflect that Geoffrey Hirson “stated he met with the City in November of 2016 and explained what he wanted to do. At that time everyone was pretty much on board. Obviously necessary permits would need to be obtained. Facilities would be located in Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, and California with St. Joseph being the first.”

Who in the “City” met with Mr. Hirson in 2016? Tuning Fork believes the citizens should have a clear and readily available picture of how this effort was advanced and by whom. Thus far, Mr. Hirson has not addressed the alarming issues and questions with the citizens of St. Joseph, nor in front of the City Council.

What to Make of It All

Based upon Mr. Hirson’s track record we assume he does not intend to. We do assume the City’s “Economic Development Team” has thoroughly vetted this project and could step in for Mr. Hirson and provide the citizens with greater clarity on the matter, but Mr. Woody hasn’t told us who the Economic Development Team is. That forces Tuning Fork to presume the City’s “team” is basically comprised of Clint Thompson. And once again, we think that when it comes to individuals making the City’s economic development decisions (particularly ones that can literally blow up in the City’s face, when the wheels come off the rails) the individual(s) pushing development projects on the taxpayers’ dime should live in the city. This entire project is outrageous and the way it was advanced, appalling.

*This story has been updated from it's original version. Sometimes we make grammatical and structural updates. Other times we add or correct information. We don't list all of our grammar updates, but these marked items were changes or additions made on October 14, 2018.

More to Read on This Issue

For the full picture, check out our other stories as we try to uncover and piece together what’s going on city’s “Economic Development Team“.

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