Source: Sherman Publications

My Way
Let's hear it for the boards! Let's give the boards a hand!

by CJ Carnacchio

January 02, 2013

Normally, I use my column space to criticize the actions of local governments and officials.

And 99 percent of the time, they give me plenty of things to write about. Bless their corrupt, inept and lazy little hearts.

But this is one of the those rare occasions where I have nothing but kudos to dole out to the powers that try to be.

First, I have to compliment the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) for re-examining its role and looking to get out of the event-planning business.

The primary mission of the DDA is economic development and to me, constantly coordinating and funding events and festivals isn’t fulfilling that mission very well.

The DDA needs to be a lot more Lee Iacocca and a lot less Holly Golightly.

Sure, throwing these fun little parties brings folks downtown, but to me, they do very little to actually promote the local businesses or help them succeed.

A great example was the 2012 Backyards & Burgers event, which actually resulted in a net retail loss of $71,142 for approximately 20 local businesses.

Granted, part of the DDA’s purpose is promotions. They actually have a whole committee devoted to it.

But to me, promotions should involve constantly spreading the word about why people should shop and dine in downtown Oxford 365 days a year, not just when there’s a special event featuring soups or scarecrows.

For example, the DDA should be purchasing a full page advertisement in The Oxford Leader and The Ad-Vertiser every week – or at least every other week – promoting 20 to 30 different downtown businesses on a rotating basis.

Frankly, I don’t believe Facebook freeloading is a substitute for professional advertising expertise. I also don’t believe downtown businesses should just assume that their location on M-24 is all the advertising they need.

As for events, we can still have them, but they need not be DDA-led efforts. I would like to see a group of private citizens take it upon themselves to coordinate Concerts in Centennial Park and find sponsors to pay for it. These concerts were originally organized by private citizens (until government decided to take over) and they should be again.

Government doesn’t need to be in the concert business.

As for Celebrate Oxford, I’d like to see a committee made up of village and township officials, citizens, business owners, churches and nonprofit groups coordinate this annual shindig together. Let’s make it a true community event, which is what it’s supposed to be – not just a downtown thing.

There’s so much more to Oxford than its downtown.

Celebrate Oxford needs to showcase that and expand.

Maybe if the DDA stops spearheading these events, others will move in and take over. If they don’t, then obviously no one in the community really values them.

Funny how things are always vital to the community when somebody else is doing all the work and paying the bills. But the minute that stops and others are asked to pick up the slack, suddenly, we can live without it. Anyway . . .

Next, I’d like to tip my hat to the Oxford Township Planning Commission for denying approval of the proposed 4,886-square-foot expansion of the MSP Industries facility.

Unlike the whole Kohl’s debacle a few years ago when some planning commissioners idiotically insisted the department store change its facade to suit Oxford’s alleged “barn boots” atmosphere, this time the board was completely justified in the criticisms and concerns it expressed.

From what I observed watching the meeting, MSP’s architect screwed up on the landscape plan – something he freely and honestly admitted in my article last week – and there are serious issues with the site itself ranging from alleged zoning ordinance violations (such as installing a parking lot without township approval) to potential environmental contamination that could eventually adversely affect people’s well water.

As much as I want to see this expansion happen so it can bring additional jobs to the area and help increase the township’s tax base, MSP Industries has to play by the rules. That means submitting complete and accurate plans, following township ordinances and making sure they’re not polluting our land and water.

I sincerely hope that MSP Industries, which is owned by American Axle & Manufacturing, will decide to submit new plans and try again. Or I hope they will at least attempt to find an existing building in Oxford to suit their need for more space and still bring those 30 jobs here.

At any rate, people should not blame planning commissioners for what happened here. They did their job. MSP Industries and its architect did not. It’s as simple as that.

And finally, let me offer a few complimentary words about the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA).

That board made a tough decision to implement a $1/2 fare system beginning Feb. 1, but it was definitely the right thing to do.

It’s great that NOTA was able to offer free rides for the last 11 years, but given the way things are economically in the world these days, it simply wasn’t realistic to expect that arrangement to continue forever.

To me, there’s nothing wrong with the riders being required to contribute something. Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s also no such thing as a free ride.

Each ride still costs NOTA about $20, so when you really look at it, the riders aren’t being asked to pay all that much. They’re basically going to cover 5 or 10 percent of each ride’s cost. That’s pretty darn reasonable.

As a taxpayer, I would have resented it if NOTA’s solution to its revenue shortfall was to simply beg Oxford, Addison and Orion townships to contribute more from their coffers. That would have been the easy thing to do, the lazy thing to do and the wrong thing to do.

Instead, NOTA did the right thing, the fair thing and the logical thing. That almost never happens in government, so when it does, I must applaud it.