Se­cret meet­ings, tired slo­gans and “al­ter­na­tive facts”

The Queens County Advance - - COMMUNITY - Scott Costen Mu­nic­i­pal Mat­ters Scott Costen is a free­lance writer and edi­tor based in Liver­pool. He can be reached at scottcosten@ya­

The Re­gion of Queens Mu­nic­i­pal­ity snatched com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory on Wed­nes­day.

In­stead of seem­ing proac­tive for call­ing a meet­ing to ad­dress eco­nomic chal­lenges in the down­town core, it looked ar­ro­gant and un­ac­count­able for re­fus­ing to pro­vide even ba­sic de­tails about the event to the pub­lic and lo­cal me­dia.

Or­ga­nized (if I can use that term) by the re­gion, the meet­ing was held at the old town hall and hosted by the mayor and chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer. Cu­ri­ously, the gath­er­ing was not men­tioned at all by the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which other­wise an­nounces any­thing and ev­ery­thing.

Per­haps it was meant to be a se­cret. But there are no se­crets in small towns, are there?

When I found out about the event a few days be­fore­hand, I asked the re­gion’s me­dia re­la­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive about it. She told me, “(the) dis­cus­sions are for busi­ness own­ers/ op­er­a­tors only, so they can speak openly about their con­cerns and ideas.”

I un­der­stand and ac­cept this line of think­ing. Open and frank dis­cus­sion among busi­ness stake­hold­ers might be just what the doc­tor or­dered. (Although it ap­pears not ev­ery down­town busi­ness ac­tu­ally re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion or was aware of the meet­ing.)

But why all the cloak-anddag­ger non­sense? Why dodge sim­ple ques­tions about the event when asked? Why turn a pos­i­tive into a neg­a­tive?

When I asked about the meet­ing’s agenda, the re­gion of­fered what can only be de­scribed as “al­ter­na­tive facts.” I was told, “There is no agenda for the meet­ing. It is a dis­cus­sion of ideas brought forth and an op­por­tu­nity for the busi­ness com­mu­nity to have in­put into fu­ture plans for the down­town.”

Isn’t “a dis­cus­sion of ideas brought forth” the ex­act same thing as an agenda?

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity re­fused to pro­vide me with a copy of the in­vi­ta­tion for the meet­ing, but I ob­tained one on my own. And guess what? It fea­tured four points that would be dis­cussed at the meet­ing. (Points for dis­cus­sion. At a meet­ing. Sure sounds like an agenda to me).

Two of the four agenda items – sorry, two of the four “ideas brought forth” for dis­cus­sion – dealt with the “Port of Pri­va­teers” slo­gan that has been used for many years with lit­tle tan­gi­ble suc­cess.

The first asked, “Is there sup­port to re­vi­tal­ize the Port of Pri­va­teers brand?” The sec­ond asked, “If so, how can your busi­ness par­tic­i­pate in this?”

It’s as if the per­son who wrote th­ese “ideas brought forth” hadn’t taken a walk down­town the last few years and no­ticed all the va­cant store­fronts and of­fices. It’s as if they hadn’t spo­ken to an ac­tual busi­nessper­son to find out what chal­lenges they’re fac­ing and what op­por­tu­ni­ties may ex­ist. In fact, it’s as if they have ab­so­lutely no idea what’s go­ing on down­town and even less no­tion of how to fix it.

I can think of a lot of things our down­town needs: tax in­cen­tives to en­cour­age growth, a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to ad­dress the grow­ing num­ber of va­can­cies, zon­ing reg­u­la­tions that pro­mote af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble hous­ing units, a busi­ness men­tor­ship pro­gram that helps guide young en­trepreneurs and a loy­alty pro­gram that re­wards res­i­dents for shop­ping lo­cally.

Re­vi­tal­iz­ing the pri­va­teers “brand” is so far off the radar of pos­si­ble so­lu­tions, it’s not even a blip on the edge of the screen. So why would it be given top billing at Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing?

Mayor David Da­gley spoke often dur­ing the last elec­tion cam­paign about his de­sire to see the “Port of Pri­va­teers” con­cept play a larger role in mar­ket­ing Queens County. (Full dis­clo­sure: I was also a can­di­date for mayor last elec­tion.) It would put us on the map, at­tract vis­i­tors and boost our econ­omy, he said.

Don’t get me wrong, I find our pri­va­teer­ing his­tory fas­ci­nat­ing and in­spir­ing. It’s a story that should be told and cel­e­brated and pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. But when it comes to eco­nomic re­newal or halt­ing the rate of pop­u­la­tion loss in Queens, the “Port of Pri­va­teers” slo­gan isn’t worth the sign it’s painted on.

Not only that, the pri­va­teers theme is an­other ex­am­ple of the Liver­pool-cen­tric view of Queens County. How does this nar­row, time-worn slo­gan do jus­tice to all the other com­mu­ni­ties in our mu­nic­i­pal­ity? How is it an ac­cu­rate and mar­ketable rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all the won­der­ful things we have to of­fer in Queens?

We can and must do much bet­ter on the down­town econ­omy. For­tu­nately, we have peo­ple in place at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity who can help get the job done if their abil­i­ties are prop­erly lever­aged.

We also have a new coun­cil that is con­sid­er­ably stronger than the previous one. Sev­eral hard­work­ing and ca­pa­ble coun­cil­lors have re­turned and sig­nif­i­cant up­grades have been made in District 2 (Heather Kelly) and District 7 (Gil John­son).

In fact, sev­eral coun­cil­lors are do­ing ex­cel­lent work be­hind the scenes to help re­vi­tal­ize the down­town econ­omy.

This work isn’t be­ing done in com­mit­tees and it’s not recorded in of­fi­cial min­utes. It’s be­ing done by pas­sion­ate elected of­fi­cials who re­al­ize their best work is done in the com­mu­nity, not in the con­fines of 249 White Point Rd. or at se­cret meet­ings with mis­guided “ideas brought forth.”

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