LORAIN — City Council to Board of Education President Tim Williams: Read your emails carefully.
Council Clerk Nancy Greer on Dec. 19 emailed and formally mailed Williams an invitation for Williams and fellow board members to attend Monday’s Council meeting. Council members wanted to hear from board members before voting on a tax increment financing plan designed to pay for infrastructure improvements with future property taxes.
The agreement, involving a future Family Dollar at 2325 W. 21st St., previously had been criticized by board members Mitch Fallis and Jim Smith. Both said the 10-year agreement, in which Lorain Schools will receive about $2,723 annually instead of about $8,000, deprives students of money and sets a bad precedent.
Board members were criticized at the meeting by Councilman Dan Given, D-at large, for their absence. Given said Council, which had a Tuesday deadline to approve the deal or lose $10,890 in annual property taxes this year, had invited board members to attend. Given said Council couldn’t be “held hostage” by board members who had been negotiating with the city since September.
“It’s like mom used to say, ‘If you don’t have the guts to come forward and say something, don’t bellyache about it later on,” Given told Council members.
Williams on Tuesday said he hadn’t received an invitation. However, on Wednesday, Williams said he checked his email and found that he received emails from Greer on Dec. 19 and 21. The Dec. 19 email, which Williams forwarded to The Chronicle-Telegram, says Microsoft Outlook in the “from” heading. In the “subject” heading, it says “Delivery delayed: Invitation — Lorain City Finance & Claims Committee meeting Dec. 30, 2013 @ 6 p.m.”
The email, forwarded by Greer to The Chronicle on Wednesday, includes an attachment on formal Council stationary and is dated Dec. 19. Greer wrote in the email that she also sent a letter addressed to Williams to the Charleston Administration Center, the school district’s headquarters at 2350 Pole Ave.
Williams said he gets a lot of emails with a delivery delayed heading and didn’t read it further and didn’t open the second email. “It’s an honest mistake,” he said.
Williams said the holiday break is why he didn’t get the hard copy of the letter. Williams said because the tax deal was still being negotiated by the board, he wouldn’t have spoken about it if he had attended the meeting.
However, Fallis and Smith said they would’ve attended the meeting and spoken if they’d known about the invitation.
“It’s important to have conversation on all sides of an issue,” said Fallis, a former councilman. “Whether their mind was made up or not, they could have at least gotten school board members’ thoughts on that.”
Smith said he called Given on Wednesday and apologized for board members absence. Smith said the invitation mistake wasn’t the only communication breakdown regarding the financing agreement.
Smith said he was surprised to go on the Council’s website this week to find a proposed TIF agreement for a property at 5350 Oberlin Ave., which is still being negotiated. Smith said School Treasurer Dale Weber was emailed the proposal by Safety/Service Director Robert Fowler on Dec. 9 but didn’t notify Smith about the proposal at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting.
Smith, who frequently clashes with Williams at board meetings, said board communication needs to improve.
“I don’t know if we’re being told everything on a timely basis,” Smith said. “If that’s the case, then that is really a bad sign.”