As we approach a brand new council meeting Monday, it is my duty to remind you of the things that the majority of the Leeds Council would hope you forgot from the last meeting.
Let's start off with Mayor Eric Patterson criticizing Bass Pro Shops for failing to attract new businesses to Leeds. We would like to remind him there are well over sixty new businesses sitting just north of Bass Pro, in a place called "The Shops of Grand River". The Mayor went on to say that the Bass Pro deal has been nothing but a detriment to this city.
Bass Pro Shops and The Shops of Grand River have been a long awaited positive gleam to the City of Leeds, very much unlike the ILCO stigma that loomed over Leeds when I moved my family here in 1990. Do you remember all the jokes about drinking water in Leeds that made their way around the metro area?
The Mayor is also fond of accusing Councilor Kenneth Washington and the prior administrations of putting the city 91 million dollars in debt. (Why he never levies this charge against Councilor Bartee who sat through part of the previous administration and still resides on the current one, we cannot be sure) He then goes on taking credit for reducing that debt with the recent Bass Pro restructuring, which came about not by any great task of the current administration but through the down-grading of Regions Bank, and the bond owners calling in the bonds as a result.
He loves to talk of the "gun that Bass Pro held to our head" if they were to bankrupt. He fails to mention that even if the Leeds Bass Pro Shops were to fail, this would not put the parent company in default. Only if the entire company, which has an annual revenue of over three and a half billion dollars, were to bankrupt would Leeds be impacted. He does not mention that Bass Pro, in an unprecedented move, guaranteed the bonds. He also fails to mention that in the unlikely event Bass Pro Shops went out of business, the land alone would still be worth millions.
We're not knocking removing the city as a guarantor in the restructuring of the bonds, but what the Mayor does not tell you is that the prior players in the Cooperative District had planned just that, long before the matter ever crossed his plate. The mayor forgets that the City of Leeds had no credit when Bass Pro was structured and John Robinson of Raymond James Company (Investment Experts that assisted in bonds for the city) told the entire current and previous councils just that, on more than one occasion. The mayor throws around ninety one million in debt as if we have nothing to show for it and as though it has something to do with our credit, or should we say lack of credit. We also would like to see him reduce that amount he throws out if the city is no longer responsible for the Bass Pro amount of the ninety one million.
The Mayor also loves to talk about how his administration "saved" the city by changing the Shops of Grand River deal from a revenue bond to a loan guaranteed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Once again he fails to tell the whole story, namely that the developer salvaged the project by enticing RSA to fund the deal, after a lawsuit was filed to block the project, including the 950 homes that were planned. The Mayor later appointed several of the people who filed that lawsuit to various city boards. The Mayor also doesn't talk much about how his rezoning prevented those additional homes and high end apartments from being built.
This piece of land that the Shops of Grand River sits on has become "Patterson's Last Stand", though no one in Leeds lived near the property, least of all those who cried against it the loudest. He and his three votes on the Council have been critical of Bass Pro, Daniel Corporation and a prior administration from day one, while spending a small fortune to re-write the Cooperative District Agreement and in the process alienating us from those that had helped us acquire the infrastructure to build those projects and new schools.
The Herald was critical of the prior administration also, for not practicing open government, but they made some prudent decisions. For example, when they broke from Jefferson County and created new schools, they set aside several million dollars through tax increases as a reserve to draw on, if they ever fell short. We have no idea where the money the prior administration left this new one has gone. There are several possibilities we can think of, however: tearing down a National Guard armory, a school road that cost a small fortune, and paying a group of lawyers to learn municipal government on our dime. A firm which has charged the City of Leeds more than any attorney firm in a single administration, ever.
This administration has chosen to take almost One Million dollars in the last council meeting and renovate City Hall. Let's hope we make those first school bond payments as our mayor thinks we need to spend this money right now instead of making sure a reserve is in place to pay for the schools we now enjoy.
While the Mayor and three Councilors see no problem with bragging about our new schools, parks, or other improvements, they have no problem with harshly criticizing the businesses that make those things possible.
So what has this new administration brought to the City of Leeds in the way of new development? I remember a repo boat yard directly across from a multimillion dollar tourist attraction and soon we will have a grocery store that we can not as of yet get a name for. Priceless!