A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Let’s cut to the chase, loyal readers.
I’ve been thinking about Mayor Jeff Gahan’s public housing putsch. Stated more clearly, I’ve been rethinking it.
There can be no doubt that the annexation of potentially valuable redevelopment properties, and the ultimate expulsion of those New Albany Housing Authority residents currently inhabiting them, always has been high on Team Gahan’s hit parade.
But the putsch’s timing remains puzzling, as well as our misgoverning elite’s utter lack of preparedness for it. Occam’s famous razor suggests we consider the simplest answer, which in this case is gross incompetence.
Granted, doltishness cannot be entirely dismissed, and yet there are qualities about Gahan’s public housing putsch that set it apart from previous practices, and I believe this divergence is worthy of note.
We begin with an observation.
Gahan's tactics these many years might be abhorrent, though he tends to be well versed in their exercise. Love them or hate them, there have been certain recurring characteristics of Applied Gahanism in New Albany, prime among them that the mayor is customarily very cautious in his chronic, secretive non-transparency.
Almost every matter of importance since 2012 has been withheld from consideration by city council (the legislative branch), to be kept hidden deep within the bowels of the executive caste’s figurative bunker, and to emerge only when every last detail has been determined.
Only then is the project in question revealed, normally by means of a poorly written press release, as a fait accompli: “A thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept.”
This prime moving characteristic of Camouflaged Gahanism in New Albany reflects the mayor’s raging paranoia and crippling agoraphobia, and it is inexcusably repugnant in both respects, but neither constitutes the point of applicability at present.
Rather, note that once the Gahanist diktat has been determined, it almost always emerges fully formed, with rote explanations handy for immediate repetition. Team Gahan may be cloistered in its non-democratic inclinations, but we must credit the squad for at least usually doing its homework.
This is why the disarray of Gahan’s public housing putsch is so novel, because it doesn’t seem that anyone has cracked open a book, much less coordinated talking points.
Consider this testimony, gleaned from a WHAS-11 piece earlier this week.
(Former housing authority director Bob Lane’s) temporary replacement is David Duggins.
“I'd like to have a board for resident issues and participation for them to have a direct line to residents,” he said during the meeting, but refused to answer any questions from WHAS 11 News afterward.
“I would guess, this is my guess, this time next year, you'll be sitting in the same place you're in now. It takes a long time, all we're trying to say is we're trying to get things going,” Commissioner Irving Joshua said.
(Joshua added) the plan could take five to ten years to launch. It still needs to be approved by Housing and Urban Development.
“The idea that, it's imminent that someone said this before, that somebody's home is going to get torn down or that somebody is going to get a notice that they're going to be on the street is just a flat out lie,” Joshua said.
Obviously, the reason why interim director Duggins has nothing to say is because he knows just as little about the daily workings of the agency to which he has been transferred as any of Donald Trump’s bumbling cabinet appointees.
With Duggins tongue-tied, Joshua must lead the diversion. His garbled and increasingly tiresome protests, holding that so little public housing “reform” is impending that a plan of operation to pursue it hasn’t even been devised, and anyway, the potential time frame for any changes might stretch into as many as three future US presidential terms, should be prompting equally obvious media follow-up questions:
If so, then why this, and why now?
Has any local media outlet asked these questions yet?
Since the putsch was launched, Team Gahan has found itself beset with sloppiness and constantly teetering on the defensive. If the mayor weren’t afflicted with a profound personality disorder, he likely wouldn’t be sleeping, such has been the unremitting debacle of his public housing “rescue rollout” to date.
So, let’s proceed under the assumption that the putsch was going to happen eventually, but something caused it to be moved forward, which would explain the confusion.
What was this occurrence?
Bob Lane knew he’d be fired eventually, but why would a newly packed NAHA board incur the onus of Lane’s termination before allowing enough time to heap as much opprobrium as possible on Lane himself?
In other words, with Gahan having refused to cooperate over a period of years with Lane's and the NAHA’s projected rebuild and repair program, impairing their ability to function, Machiavelli surely would advise withholding cooperation just a little bit longer.
Properties would degrade even more spectacularly on Lane’s watch, then he could be blamed for the deterioration at the sycophantic board’s leisure, and be dumped. Or, he might tire of dealing with half-wits and resign.
(If you don’t think Gahan is capable of such a scheming calculation, you simply haven’t been paying attention.)
Furthermore, with the public housing putsch enjoying such a lengthy gestation period, why the scattershot and fumbled aftermath?
Not a single key player in the putsch even bothers trying to pretend there’s a coherent plan of any sort. Instead, Duggins refuses to answer questions, and Joshua continues to insist that scrutiny isn’t merited for actions that may not occur until 2027, by which time Team Gahan likely will be employed by the heirs of Walton.
He remains plausibly and predictably distant from his own putsch, issuing his own stuttered denials when bothering to speak at all, which is rarely.
To summarize: No insight, no plan – no knowledge; no Colin Powell doctrine, but Three or More Stooges Run Amok.
I’m here to posit that these are perfectly understandable outcomes given the distinct possibility of Gahan’s public housing putsch occurring when it did for reasons having nothing whatever to do with public housing.
What if the key to it all – the reason for the timing of the new bobbleheaded board’s lubrication, Lane’s pathetic decapitation, subsequent squealings of ignorance, and especially the switch from redevelopment to public housing of a woefully inexperienced Duggins – was a sudden and unexpected need to move Duggins, Gahan’s cockamamie confidant, trusted second-in-command and de facto deputy mayor, somewhere/anywhere else -- and quickly?
The best reason to investigate this premise is the inopportune timing of Duggins’ departure from his economic development and redevelopment fiefdoms. It makes no more sense than his shift to the NAHA.
Think about it. With six years of wheel-greasing and back-alley Bud Light Lime pounding behind him, probably a dozen projects with Duggins’ fingerprints all over them will be coming on-line in the next year or so.
A short set list of Duggins’ singalong compositions includes riverfront park creation; downtown façade grants for first family laggards; Break Wind’s delayed completion; the projected mixed use development at Vincennes and Market; alleyway beautification; aging subdivision entryway landscaping repairs; and even the grid modernization project itself.
And, we all know the way this game is played.
Each of them comprises a feather in Duggins’ professional cap, irrespective of the extent of his actual involvement (v.v. the Greenway, for instance), and each is wonderfully and delightfully redeemable for political favors or employment perks in the private sector when the time comes to fleece the public from a different angle.
With Duggins at the NAHA, he won’t be around to cash in his chips and use his coupons, which defies the inexorable logic of claiming credit.
Why would anyone step away from the spidery magnitude of these achievements (albeit ones financed with other people’s money) just when the congratulatory plaques are about to be engraved and fixed to every triumphant arch in town?
Why transfer to a thankless “interim” position at NAHA, particularly without possessing the slightest relevant skill set, for the “reward” of dealing with the federal government in bureaucratic ways barely fathomable, and worse yet, having to act in the best interests and welfare of real living people, not merely inanimate, cash-stuffed envelopes?
Perhaps the transition is tolerable owing to the astounding ease with which the entry-level neophyte Duggins immediately was gifted with Lane’s old pro veteran salary, a substantial (and I mean multi-mucho) increase over the redevelopment maestro’s previous rate of pay.
Look at it this way, and everything adds up.
Yes, Jeff Gahan was planning to annex public housing anyway. Topics like the working poor and affordable housing shatter the C-minus mayoral student’s buzz, and the properties owned by NAHA can be put to far better use to engorge the perennial suburbanite’s insatiable appetite for perceived luxury … with a dollop of campaign finance for good measure.
Then came a curve ball. On short notice, Duggins needed to be moved away from redevelopment, and what’s more, he needed a little extra in terms of salary.
Gahan understandably stayed loyal to his bag man; after all, if push ever came to shove, just imagine what Duggins might divulge. There aren’t enough grand juries, and so the mayor made the necessary moves, even though they rushed the NAHA putsch before all of Gahan’s ducks were in a row, hence the public relations farce that has ensued.
But it’s okay, right?
No doubt Gahan tallied the odds and breathed easy. The working poor hardly ever vote, and Republicans wouldn’t utter a peep when a presumably Democratic mayor undertook to work their side of the aisle.
Any local Democrat daring to question Dear Leader’s motives could be summarily kneecapped ("The Gonder Piledriver Effect"), dazzled by a new round of feel-good “quality of life” expenditures (Let's Pretend We're Democrats™), or expediently purchased for the bargain price of a non-binding anti-Trump resolution in city council.
Except the putsch has been rougher than anticipated, hasn’t it?
As we’ve seen, public housing residents are finding their voices, and several prominent longtime Democrats have loudly rebelled against Gahan’s aggression. It’s all been messy and unbecoming, with the mayor’s troops disorganized, but the ensuing muddle vastly entertaining.
Too bad about those folks worried about their living arrangements amid the wreckage.
Admittedly, there’s one major piece of the puzzle yet to be identified: What on earth did Duggins do to necessitate his sudden reassignment, and to require a correspondingly huge pay raise?
I don’t know what his instructional foible might have been, but I suspect quite strongly that someone reading today does. If so, you can help break the cycle of Gahanesque civic dysfunction by explaining the most recent instance of it. NAC will be more than happy to publish the story.
Then, maybe there’ll be time for us to go through the 1,000-plus pages of Bicentennial Commission documents I’ve obtained, though not from Shane “Brinks Schminks” Gibson, and finally get to the bottom of the stench emanating from Bob “Plead the Fifth” Caesar’s shambolic stewardship of public (and private) funds during the city’s 200th birthday party.
It would be nice to think that the News and Tribune would justify its journalistic existence by giving a damn about any small bit of any of the precedings, but I’m not naive. The newspaper’s advertising sales quotas apparently usurp the possibilities inherent in its Fourth Estate designation, and Hanson's Folly seems locked purposefully into the “rule by untouchable elites” theory of local governance.
Sadly, these stenographic instincts are unlikely to change.
Meanwhile, whatever the disposition of one’s socks, Jeff Gahan’s public housing putsch hasn’t told us anything new about Dear Leader’s anti-democratic proclivities.
Those were obvious, but the almost comically botched execution of the NAHA’s demolition is worthy of closer scrutiny.
I repeat: Why this, and why now?
July 6: ON THE AVENUES: Beercycling with or without Le Tour.
June 29: ON THE AVENUES: Back in the USSR, with my old friend Barr.
June 22: ON THE AVENUES: Train Whistle Reds, or my journey from Budapest to Moscow by rail in June, 1987.
June 15: ON THE AVENUES: Hi there, NAHA wastrels. My name is Peter Principle, and these are my friends Deaf and Dugout.