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Nancy Hicks: Former fire chief caught in political controversy
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Nancy Hicks: Former fire chief caught in political controversy

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Lincoln’s former fire chief, Niles Ford, has done nothing wrong and does not deserve to get fired from his job as Chamblee, Ga., city manager, according to some Chamblee residents who contacted the paper last week. 

Ford is one of the good guys, caught up in a political drama playing out in this suburb of Atlanta, they say.

The Chamblee City Council last week approved a preliminary resolution, the first step in firing Ford, who left Lincoln in 2011 for the city manager job.

The council resolution said the group has lost confidence. But the real reason is a conflict between the council and a Chamblee residential neighborhood.

One of the Chamblee City Council members wants a variance for property he owns in a quiet residential neighborhood with modest houses on large lots. The variance will allow the council member to create three smaller lots and build three pricey houses. The neighbors don’t like the idea, fearing it would raise their property taxes and lead to further development.

The city’s planning commission voted to deny the change. But the council last week voted to approve the variance, at the same meeting they voted on Ford's termination.

“Niles is held in high regard. He has not solicited this. We feel bad because he is caught in the middle of a very ugly situation,” said Irene Walsh, a spokesperson for the neighborhood.

Ford is a “straight shooter, a man of integrity, a man of honor,” who has done a lot for this community, she said.

The neighborhood group fears the firing is retaliation against Ford, who assisted the group in getting their multiple open records requests fulfilled.

The neighborhood has started a Facebook Group called “REINSTATE Niles Ford, City Manager of Chamblee,” she said.

“He did nothing wrong here. We just want to make sure Niles Ford’s name, character and integrity are fully restored.”

Councilman wants to rein in TIF

Councilman Jon Camp doesn’t like using tax increment financing money for artwork or green building. He’s not sure allowing those tax dollars to pay for pretty facades or super-efficient heating and cooling systems is a good idea.

Camp wants the city’s audit committee to take a look at the city’s use of TIF, which is used to encourage businesses to build in blighted areas.

Camp outlined some of the issues in an email to the council. They are, for the most part, policy questions, not performance issues that normally would be the purview of the city's Audit Advisory Board.

So Camp may not get an audit, but the council will explore the TIF landscape in the near future.

The city uses a TIF bond to help with redevelopment. The value of the redeveloped property will be higher than the current value. The owner pays those property taxes on that new value. Rather than send that increase on to the local governmental units — schools, county, city, natural resources district — it is used to pay off the bond, over 15 years.

The bond money can be used for anything that has a public purpose. Fixing up streets, putting in water and sewer lines, are obvious public uses.

In recent years the city has used TIF bonds for less mundane public improvements — public art, prettier facades for buildings, green improvements in a building that help curb energy use and costs.

Camp is not bashful about expressing his opposition to some of these uses. And he generally has opposed the mayor’s decision to use leftover TIF money — when there is money left after the bond is paid — for a new project.

The city is using leftover TIF money to help with the Centennial Mall renovation and to create the Civic Plaza at 13th and P streets.

Camp said that money should go back to taxpayers.

The council, with three new members, will have a discussion, council Chairman Carl Eskridge said.

Camp hopes the council discussion leads to a public forum where people can weigh in on TIF, and perhaps on legislation that clarifies how and when TIF should be used.

Arena will not seek entertainment district designation

Several City Council members have said they had heard that the Pinnacle Bank Arena will seek an entertainment district license, creating an even larger area in the West Haymarket where people can walk and mingle, drink in hand.

But Tom Lorenz, the arena’s manager, said that’s not part of his plans this year.

“It’s not something we need to do; not right now,” he said. “If we need more outside space, we’ll get a special designated license,” he said. That would give the arena outdoor space for a specific event.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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