Explaining why he decided to run for a County Commission seat next year, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said there was a philosophical divide between himself and the rest of the commission, particularly when it came to spurring economic development.
“There’s no sense of urgency with how to open up to investment, how to get more players in the game,” Caragiulo said about the City Commission. “That’s going to be very difficult to operate if you don’t have that philosophy.”
The response from commissioners was mixed. Susan Chapman agreed that a philosophical divide existed — unlike Caragiulo, she feels removing regulations is not an effective route to development. Still, she said she is able to work effectively with other groups who disagree with her on that point and that any inability to work with the commission is specific to Caragiulo.
“Is it a personality issue?” Chapman said. “Yes, I’d say so.”
Mayor Shannon Snyder said Caragiulo’s complaints were valid. Snyder said the city would point to forthcoming condos and hotels as evidence that they were doing a good job of attracting investors, with City Manager Tom Barwin saying there are currently about 150 housing units in development and three or four hotels ready to go into the ground. Despite that, Snyder said, individual neighborhoods are still struggling to develop.
“We definitely need more investment, but it’s not a positive attitude at City Hall,” Snyder said. “I would guess it’s not going to change with the current makeup of the commission.”
Suzanne Atwell pointed to initiatives to fight homelessness and the work of Police Chief Bernadette DiPino as ways the city is seeking to attract developers — by addressing problems that might otherwise scare them away. She agreed there might be a difference of opinion among commissioners, but said it didn’t have to be an irreparable divide.
“Being a member of this five-person body is about how we work collaboratively, how we look at the greater good,” Atwell said. “I didn’t get some votes, but you learn that you’re looking at the greater good of the city.”
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City commissioners responsed to Paul Caragiulo’s comments and how they feel the city is working to attract investment.
CITY MANAGER TOM BARWIN: “The economic activity here is dynamic. Maybe it’s a combination of that we’re coming out of this great recession, but, from everything I’ve seen, we’ve got a city government that is proactive, open-minded and receptive to working with businesses and developers. The vast majority of the feedback I’ve gotten is positive. I think it’s wonderful that people are continuing to have high expectations and demands … ”
MAYOR SHANNON SNYDER: “I would tend to agree with Commissioner Caragiulo that there’s not a welcoming attitude at City Hall as far as investment goes … I don’t think his opinion is alone. I don’t think it’s going to change. I think there’s a ‘no’ attitude at City Hall. People aren’t treated graciously when they come in to invest; they’re not accommodated with minor things. I’ve had businesses say they’re interested in moving into the area, and I couldn’t, in good faith, tell them to come into the city.”
VICE MAYOR WILLIE SHAW: “As a group we work well together. … There were some priorities that we all agreed on strategically at the beginning of the fiscal year, and those are the things we’ve been working toward. There’s always the openness to opportunities if they present themselves to us. I think, with the downturn, we haven’t seen that much interest in this area. Maybe I’m missing something, but there’s been a great showing of interest (from the commission) toward this community getting new businesses coming in.”
COMMISSIONER SUZANNE ATWELL: “I’m a pretty half-full person; I’m very positive about the way the city’s going … This is a new day in so many respects. I feel very positive about people being in a situation in which the city, the community and the citizens are welcoming to whoever comes here. The more people I talk to — beginning with the people who want to come and live here — it’s absolutely fascinating. In the past 20 years, I think it’s grown exponentially — people’s attitudes (toward welcoming newcomers). Now, yes, there’s a lot of work we need to do to bring more businesses here, to bring more people here who are willing to set up shop, set up their lives, set up their families. I could go into many, many numbers about how many businesses we already do have here, how many people are living here. I think what I would like to focus on is, the state of the city is extremely good.”
COMMISSIONER SUSAN CHAPMAN: “We have different points of view on what constitutes economic development. I am relying on a lot of studies, a lot of research that says that corporate welfare and deregulation does not actually produce economic development. I have the viewpoint that good schools, good infrastructure and high quality of life is what creates economic development. So, yes, there is a philosophical divide … I don’t think he has the incentive or the will to (work with people with opposing philosophies)… I think he’s been planning to run for County Commission for quite a while.”