Last night, the Common Council voted to approve the resolution to authorize the Tourism Board to hire a project manager for this year's iteration of Shared Streets. The action came at the end of nearly ninety minutes of discussion and only after slashing the budget for the position from "not more than $30,000" to "approximately $15,000." All the members of the Council voted in favor except Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who abstained because she wanted assurance "in writing" that businesses without a brick and mortar presence could participate, and Jane Trombley (First Ward), who was not present at the meeting.
Council president Tom DePietro introduced the topic to the aldermen by saying, "If the larger project is to move forward, we need this managerial position." He assured them that the money was coming from the Tourism Board, and $30,000 was a maximum amount. He advised the aldermen, "This meeting is not a referendum on last year's program. What's on the table is a significantly different program." Exactly what the "significantly different" program proposed for this year is has never been made clear publicly. All that is known is that, according to an edict from DePietro and Mayor Kamal Johnson, the streets will not be closed.
The first aldermen to comment on the proposed resolution was Rebecca Wolff (First Ward), who quoted from the Tourism Board's newly crafted "mission statement," a two-page document that can be read here. She then said she didn't support spending taxpayer money in this way, opined the expense of a project manager should be paid by businesses, and suggested that Tourism Board money should be spend on shared public spaces, mentioning in particular making up the shortfall on the Promenade Hill project. (The lowest bid on construction for the Promenade Hill project came in $500,000 over budget. Last year, the Tourism Board started out with $435,000 in revenue from the City's lodging tax.)
John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) expressed the opinion that the major responsibility of the job was dealing with the permitting process, which he suggested at one point could be done in house. He said what is planned for this year is "nowhere near the scope of last year" and suggested the job description was "incredibly overwrought." It was Rosenthal who suggested that the budget for paying a project manager should be reduced to "$15,000, no more than $20,000." Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) opined it should be no more than $15,000.
In her comments, Garriga insisted the resolution be tabled until the Council's April meeting. "I don't understand what's the rush," she declared, adding that she wanted time to speak to members of the Tourism Board and to business owners. She also expressed concern about minority businesses without a brick and mortar presence on Warren Street, saying the program was "supporting businesses but not necessarily local businesses." In response to her asking how Shared Streets survived last year without a project manager, DePietro told her, "Last year, department heads were very concerned with safety issues, and this addresses it." She also asked why Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), who chairs the Tourism Board, couldn't be the project manager. Lewis responded, "I appreciate volunteerism, but this needs someone who is paid."
Now that the resolution has been approved by the Council, the next step is for the Tourism Board to develop an RFP for the position which, according to the Tourism Board, will involve working a total of 620 hours over a period of six months. At $15,000, this works out to about $24 an hour.
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