How did it happen, this drastic reconfiguration of the Lytle Park Historic District boundaries that magically popped into play sometime between the mailing of the public notice and the actual meeting two weeks later?
City ordinances follow a strange, convoluted process on the road to legal adoption. Upon the instruction of the City Manager, city staff gets first crack at making recommendations and in this case, city staff is two people: Larry Harris, the Urban Conservator, and Caroline (Carol-INE, not Carolyn – she’s very sensitive about that) Kellam, part-time Senior City Planner. New guidelines and boundaries are supposed to be made available to all the stakeholders in the neighborhood at the same time through public hearings where additional input can be gathered to make changes and citizens can exchange their views while decision-makers listen.
That didn’t happen this time.
Paul DeMarco lives on the same floor of my condo and I’m friends with his wife, Karen Smith. By day, Paul is a normal sort of lawyer. He wears suits and he’s real nice until he starts to talk “legal,” at which time he puffs up like a blow-fish, his voice gets louder, and he loses any trace of the sense of humor his neighbors find so charming when we run into him on the way to the trash chute. After hours, Paul is a pro-bono Super Hero, fighting for the really important issues that don’t pay him a dime, a lot of them at City Hall. Of course, I immediately went to find him to see what we could do.
He was the one who explained to me that there was a potential problem with the Integrity of the Process. He’d arrived a little late for the meeting with city staff, but he’d been there in time to hear me ask Caroline if conversations had occurred with Western & Southern prior to the official public meeting and he’d heard her say, “There might have been.” Paul suggested I make use of the Ohio Public Records Act and request all documents related to the Lytle Park Historic District.
Which is the real reason Carol-INE was so annoyed with me the day I stopped by to pick up the big, fat file of documents that also included a DVD with recordings of every one of the public hearings on the topic and all pertinent emails. Her prickliness probably didn’t have anything to do with me mispronouncing her name at all. I still haven’t made it all the way through that file.
But in the material I have reviewed I found an entry for discussion of the new Lytle Park Historic District on an agenda for a Historic Conservation Board meeting in December of 2013, three months before the start of the official process. And the attendance sheet from that meeting shows that Fran Barrett, attorney for Western & Southern, and Margo Warminski of the Cincinnati Preservation Association were both in attendance. There was a letter from Mr. Barrett on the letterhead of his legal firm objecting to specific changes that had been made to the guidelines from the first draft of the document he had worked on in the fall. Pages of Margo’s grammatical changes had also been saved.
Do you see what I mean about good mysteries and how answering one question just leads to more? It was logical to me that the City had reached out to the biggest property owner in the District to try to get a read on what they might or might not accept – even if it wasn’t on the up-and-up. But why Margo Warminski? Why the Cincinnati Preservation Association? They hadn’t changed their lives to move downtown and invest substantial dollars. Nobody had asked me or any of my other neighbors if it was OK for the Preservation Association to represent our interests.
Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. From the very beginning, that never happened here.