Posted by Unnamed Mailer on January 25, 2003 at 14:03:26:
Not formally crediting Betty Taylor and Vicki Elmer for their initiative in
promoting our splendid new library is an injustice that must be remedied.
Fired city manager was key in decision to use urban renewal 'slush fund.'
BY ALAN PITTMAN, Eugene Weekly
Embossed in a plaque at the entrance of Eugene's gleaming new library are the
names of acting City Manager Jim Carlson and former City Manager Jim Johnson.
A commemorative brochure for the library grand opening this month similarly
lists the names of Carlson and Johnson.
But the key funding decision to build the library was not made during Carlson
or Johnson's leadership. That decision came under former City Manager Vicki
Elmer, who the City Council fired in 1998 after she rocked the local business
and bureaucratic establishment.
Without Elmer's year leading the city, the new library may have never been
built. Votes to increase property taxes to pay for a new library had already
failed several times at the polls when the council appointed Elmer manager in
Before Elmer, Mike Gleason had held the city manager position for 15 years.
He resigned after complaints from pro-environment city councilors that he was
ignoring council direction and was too partial to developer and business
In 1998, a pot of money Gleason and the city had for decades dedicated to
building parking garages and other improvements for downtown corporations and
big businesses was under fire. Critics blamed the city's downtown urban
renewal fund for wasting money and doing more damage than renewal. Using
urban renewal money, the city tore down many of downtown's historic buildings
and trees and replaced them with huge concrete parking garages.
While the city was making deep cuts to services in response to state property
tax limitation measures, City Councilor Betty Taylor suggested that the city
divert money from fat urban renewal coffers to build the long-sought new
"Taylor was very insistent," Elmer, now a consultant and part-time planning
professor at UC/Berkeley, recalls. "She kept asking."
Elmer says she directed staff to put together a report and work session for
city councilors to explore possible other uses for urban renewal funds. "Why
couldn't we build a library?" she asked.
Staff reported that urban renewal could pay for $18 million of a new library
if it were built in the downtown district and if the council voted to
dedicate all urban renewal funds to the new building. Elmer says she made a
"very strong recommendation" that the council use urban renewal for the new
library. The City Council voted to dedicate urban renewal entirely to the
A month later, a campaign by development interests, city executives and The
Register-Guard resulted in a council vote to fire Elmer.
Taylor says she doubts the vote to build the library with urban renewal would
have been possible had Gleason still been manager. Gleason used urban renewal
for whatever downtown big business people or developers wanted, according to
Taylor. "I don't think he would have pushed to use urban renewal funds" for
the library, she says.
Paul Nicholson, who served as a city councilor with Gleason, says Gleason
"didn't want to use it at all" for the library. Nicholson says Gleason
controlled urban renewal as a "slush fund" that he could spend with little
oversight. The money was used to fund many salaries in the city's development
department, Nicholson says. "That's the kind of money a bureaucrat loves."
Elmer says she doesn't know why the city didn't decide to build a library a
long time ago using urban renewal. "It was really a no-brainer."
By using urban renewal, Eugene siphoned off millions of dollars in state and
Lane County tax revenue to build the new library. Urban renewal works by
redirecting property tax money paid within a defined district. If not for
urban renewal, about half of the property tax money would go to the city
general fund, 40 percent to the state and 10 percent to the county.
With the library now built, the city will have to decide what it wants to do
with millions of dollars in urban renewal money that will again begin
accumulating. City staff are pushing for using the money to build a new
police station after voters refused twice to pay for the new building.
In September, the City Council voted to divert about $300,000 of urban
renewal money from the library to a fund for the new police station. Another
$100,000 was diverted to the city's general fund.
Although library fundraisers are still seeking donations to pay for the
library, councilors decided that the library has "excess" funds. "I don't
know if it's legal," said then City Councilor Gary Rayor in voting for the
diversion, but he added, "I don't want to over-fund the library."
While city staff want money for a police station, business and development
interests are again pushing for using urban renewal to build more parking
Instead of parking or police, the urban renewal money could go to fund
another popular project like the library. Affordable housing, a youth
recreation center, an indoor swimming pool, central park, art gallery, or
children's museum are just some of the possibilities. But with a new
pro-development council now in power, another people-friendly project may be
at the bottom of the city's list.