Fat Cow

Fat Cow

At the April meeting of the Culver Redevelopment Commission, an audience member repeatedly referred to the Commission as the Town Council’s “Fat Cow”. I assume this was a bastardization of “Kill the Fatted Calf” from
 the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I found several references here similar to this: The allusion to the New Testament story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) in which the forgiving father ordered his best calf to be killed in order to provide a feast to celebrate the return of his wayward son. Fatted is an archaic form of the verb fat meaning ‘make or become fat’. Nowadays we use the forms fatten or fattened. – Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary

Grandpa Murphy

Due to my Grandpa Murphy and my good friend Bobbie Ruhnow, I’m quite fond of idioms and colloquialisms which I use often… much to the chagrin of some of my nieces and nephews who look at me like I’m crazy. My grandfather often shortened/modified his use of colloquialisms too, so I got the “Fat Cow” reference, though I didn’t agree with the sentiment. The reference was used as a pejorative, implying that the Town Council was unreasonably taking advantage of the funds held by the Redevelopment Commission. I disagree with that assessment for several reasons:

  1. First and foremost, the Redevelopment Commission members are appointed by the Town Council. The Town Council members are the duly elected representatives of the citizens. They answer to their constituents. As such, the Town Council should be, using another colloquialism, the pointy end of the spear, setting the direction for the Town. The underlying commissions and boards are made up of members appointed to follow the directions given by the Town Council. If the citizens don’t like the direction the Town Council is going, then they can voice that by electing new council members. Commission and board members are appointed because the council members can’t do everything or take the time to go into depth on issues like the commissions and boards can. But in general, they are there to support the Town Council, not defy it. They serve at the pleasure of the Council.
  2. The money that the Redevelopment Commission has is captured tax dollars from the TIF Districts. The TIF Districts were specifically created for this purpose. A TIF district essentially reallocates funds from property taxes to encourage investment within the district. Any increased tax revenues collected as a result of an increase in property values then go into the TIF fund and can be used by the Town for a wide range of purposes to promote development. These are not new tax funds or separate tax funds from what would have been collected on the affected properties. The funds are being used for the purpose intended.
  3. The funds collected by Redevelopment Commission from the TIF Districts can be returned or redirected back to the underlying taxing bodies, but this would not change the amounts collected from taxpayers. But why would the Redevelopment Commission not use the tools (dollars) they receive? I would argue that the Redevelopment Commissioners are not doing their job if they cannot properly use these funds to benefit the districts as intended. And going back to #1 above, the Town Council should reevaluate their appointments if the commission members can’t support projects that the Town Council has designated as important to our community when they fit within TIF spending guidelines.
  4. Our Town Council has done an above average job of soliciting citizen input over the past few years. The projects currently being pursued are ones that have come from community input in our Comprehensive Plan in 2014 and two outreaches used to complete our two Strategic Investment Plans used in our Stellar Community application in 2016 and our successful Stellar Community designation in 2017. These projects came from community input and our Stellar Community designation has allowed these projects to move forward with funds heavily leveraged from State agencies.

Culver’s Town Council has given the Redevelopment Commission much more autonomy than is seen in most communities. They are allowed their own separate agenda and often push back on Council initiatives. Once again though, they serve at the pleasure of the Council, so Culver’s Council has chosen to accept that autonomy, rather than replacing them with more complacent individuals.

Also somewhat unique to Culver is the interaction allowed to the public. Within limits, the public is allowed to comment and question throughout the Town Council meeting rather than just at the designated “Citizen Input” on the agenda. This new tradition has translated down through the boards and commissions. This is not something often seen in other communities and is likely behind the increased public attendance at meetings and public involvement in Town projects. Citizens may not always agree with the Town’s direction nor always able to sway the direction of the Town, but they cannot say they were not heard.

So it’s fine for citizens to voice their displeasure with the direction of the Council or any of the boards or commissions. It’s part of our local government system. Though a better understanding of the process, the chain of command and how we got here on projects would allow them to make better arguments. An educated debate carries more weight than random heckling.

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