Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"No" to Faith West

Let's begin with this; I think Faith West is a fine project. I voted for Ord. #9-12, the PDMX for the project.

Last month I did vote against Ord. #11-12, the ordinance that is once again before us, which issues Economic Redevelopment (ERD) Bonds for the project. We can issue these bonds to Faith West/Faith Ministries. We do not have to issues these bonds.  I do not believe we should. This is not a project like the Westminster Village addition. This proposal violates the "common sense" separation of church and state.

Let me also make three "economic development" arguments against this project.

The first is the "Baitinger Argument", which I am naming for the President of the Economic Development Commission, who voted against this proposal in committee. This proposal offers very little in the way of economic development. It calls for us to issue up to 7 million dollars in bonds for 1 million dollars in jobs. It yields little or no tax revenue.
I would remind us of Chandler Poole's annual review at "pre-council" of current tax abatement's resulting in between 900 and 1000 jobs. I would ask us to recall the Clerk-Treasurer's note that state fiscal policy ("circuit breakers") will cost the city an additional $230,000 in revenue next year.

There will be increased economic activity at the Northwestern Ave. site. But measured against an empty lot. We should be able and competent enough to put something on that lot which will enhance city revenue for the next 30 years.

Economic development usually increases the tax base. This is not economic development. It is a present.
Mr. Baitinger concluded, "that this (Faith West) could be done by the private sector."

I agree.

I would also like to make a "Community of Choice" argument against this project. One that helps explain why "Baptist" is disappearing from the names of churches.  Consider the Southern Baptist attempt at name change.

Commissioned by the business organization Greater Lafayette Commerce, the Community of Choice study is designed to examine what might make people, particularly young adults, pick Lafayette/West Lafayette instead of seeing us as simply accidental to Purdue University. We do well with retirees. Not so well with young adults.

The Georgetown University Public Research Institution makes the point, repeated by so many other studies, that the "millennials", adults 18 -24 years of age, think that contemporary Christianity is "too judgmental" (62% in this study). They also disapprove (64%) of the anti-gay attitude of churches.

To emphasize the importance of that latter number, I would mention the work done by Richard Florida, whose work on the “creative class” was lauded by the Harvard Business Review, and who is now the Director of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management's "Prosperity Institute". In 2003 Dr. Florida was brought here for a series of events sponsored by Purdue University, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the Tippecanoe Arts Federation and Vision 2020.

The "creative class" views the treatment of gay/lesbian persons as a "canary in the coal mine." How safe is our environment for creative people?

I know that Faith Baptist understands itself to be a force for good; gracious, righteous. It helps explain the imperiousness of some of the earlier comments of bond council. How dare you question us. You must be stupid. You must hate religion. A majority of people, including this speaker, would agree that Faith is a force for good.

But we must be aware that for many Faith Baptist is simply a neutral. Something ought to go on that lot; might as well be them.

And for others, this business has some negatives, particularly among those whom we have determined it is important for us to attract. Why? Because it has very high negatives for gay and lesbian persons. It has very high negatives for those concerned about the status of women. It has very high negatives for those who fear attacks on science from religion.

The long-range economic health of this community may not be served by issuing this bond. It may serve in fact to discourage young entrepreneurs who will create lots of jobs and who have lots of places to pick from. It may make it harder for creative people to choose us.

If Faith is built with bonds issued by the city, there will be obvious effects on the environment.

62% of adults 18 -24 years of age think that contemporary Christianity is "too judgmental".  They also disapprove (64%) of the anti-gay attitude of churches.

Finally, let me argue against this proposition as a small business owner whose business will be negatively impacted by this construction. Not because Faith will steal Episcopalians; we work in different segments of the religious market.

But because my small business, like this town's largest employer, Purdue University, must recruit nationally and internationally. My leadership comes in equal parts from West Lafayette, Lexington Kentucky, Williamsburg Virginia, and Brisbane, Australia.  Recruitment is hard work. Retention is an even bigger problem, another challenge I share with our local big business.

I regularly get phone calls from those who are coming to interview for a job here. "Come on; what's it really like?" "It's easy to get to Chicago; right?" I also regularly get calls from parents in February and March as the admission deadline approaches asking what kind of place this is.

Here's the newest wrinkle. This spring our office got a call from a gay parent (think "Modern Family") who wanted to know if their child, who was still unsure about his/her sexual identity, would be safe here. Take that in for a moment. What would that mean for you if your child were gay?

Remember, outside our bubble,  Indiana makes the news for a state senator's attack on the Girl Scouts. There is the Republican attack on a gay youth organization's license plate, which took down the 4-H plate as collateral damage. Then there is the anti-gay amendment to the constitution, opposed by the likes of Eli Lilly and Cummins, for the reasons offered in my second argument. Toss in Senator Lugar's defeat, which was a far bigger deal outside the state than inside it.

We are not "Wyoming-Matthew-Shepherd" dangerous (Judy Shepherd has spoken at Purdue), but of all the places his kid could go in this country, would this be a good place for the child to wrestle with questions of identity, intimacy, and mortality.

Ordinarily, on gay or women's issues, I lead with our human relations commission's work. I am proud of it. But I doubt there was any public review of this application by them. Such commissions become ornamental when money is involved. And we still have tremendous problems using the phrase "sexual orientation" in a sentence.

Look at us. We appointed Laura Blackburn to our Human Relations Commission at pre-council. Great resume. She is also past president of the Purdue Queer Student Union. We hid that. We should have celebrated that. It should be in our city newsletter. Why? Because it shows we are serious about involving Purdue students in city government, (important if we are serious about annexing Purdue) and proof that we are a more diverse institution than we appear at first glance. One day we will have a gay or lesbian city council person.

So; safe? Yes. Purdue has hired its first LGBTQ Director. But my job just got harder.

I will vote "no".

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