The Curious Conservatism of Paul Smith
In several emails that have reached wide circulation, Councilman Paul Smith has indicated he is readying an attack on the practice of granting tax abatements to businesses in Sterling Heights. In so doing, not only is he making reckless accusations, he is calling into question how deeply he holds the conservative values he claims to have.
According to an email dated 15-February, Smith’s plan is to try to “shame” the applicant, Experi-Metal, Inc., into withdrawing their application for a Public Act 198 abatement. Failing that, he intends to “blast” four of the Council Members who will likely vote for the abatement by saying that they sold their votes to CEO Ms. Valiena Allison in exchange for $655 in total campaign contributions.
In the interest of shedding light on the campaign contributions involved, I have researched the contributions made by Ms. Allison and come up with the following list:
Source: Macomb County Clerk Campaign Finance Reporting website.
Councilman Smith is being reckless in alleging four council members (including the mayor) may have been bought. He has offered no evidence the contributions were being made with a quid pro quo in mind. As such, he is calling into question the good names and reputations of Experi-Metal and its CEO, as well as four members of council. He is also behaving in a manner that could exert a chilling effect on other members of the business community who might want to make future attempts to engage the city.
Mr. Smith’s Duties Per The Rules of Council
Although I cannot find fault with Mr. Smith stating his principles clearly and adhering to them, I am completely opposed to his apparent effort to (in his words) “shame” these people into bending to his will.
There are a couple of rules guiding the behavior of Council that pertain directly to this circumstance:
4. IMPLEMENTATION OF POLICY.
Public administrators and executives should interpret and implement policies and laws in good faith and energetically pursue the goals of policy and lawmakers.
A. Subordination of personal views. Public servants charged with the administration of policies and laws should do so as equitable, efficiently, and economically as possible, regardless of their personal views.
B. Dealing with policy disagreements. Public servants who find that their personal convictions are irreconcilably incompatible with lawful policies should openly state their conflict and, in some cases, withdraw from the administration of such policies.
Mr. Smith ought to consider that as an elected official he is charged with the responsibility of administrating Public Act 198, and as such is bound under Council Rule 4 to “energetically pursue the goals of policy.” If he finds himself irreconcilably opposed to so doing, he should withdraw from the administration of the policy, which under these circumstances would likely entail remaining silent during the debate of the issue and recusing himself from the vote on it.
In my opinion, Mr. Smith, as an elected official, has given up some of the rights he had as an ordinary resident making comments at a city council meeting. Although he is free to express his opposition to a P.A. 198 applicant being granted a tax abatement due to problems with the application itself, to my way of thinking he is no longer in a position to oppose tax abatements in general in this venue since they are the law of the land in the State of Michigan, and he swore to uphold that law. (He would be free, again in my opinion, to pursue the matter with the representatives in Lansing, and attempt to get the law changed.)
Further, if Mr. Smith truly does have some evidence that council members have sold their votes to Experi-Metal, then he has a duty to report it to the police, not to attempt to make political hay out of it. Failure to report instances of bribery being accepted to the proper officials would make him an accessory to the crime.
The Curious Conservatism Of Mr. Smith
It is very difficult to reconcile Mr. Smith’s positions on various issues with that of a Republican. Although the election was non-partisan, he expressed that he held a conservative viewpoint, and in fact he expended some of his campaign’s money on renewing his membership to the Republican Party. Who ever heard of a Republican, much less a conservative, opposed to tax breaks for business?
In his short tenure on City Council, Mr. Smith has voted in such a manner as to be the most anti-business and anti-conservative member on several issues. He opposed granting an amusement device license to The Sterling Prize Game Cafe. He opposed a tax abatement for Rave Computer Association. Prior to assuming elected office he opposed the tax cuts given to Chrysler, LLC made as part of the effort to keep Sterling Heights Assembly operating. Finally, he has sought to ban so-called ‘smart meters’ in Sterling Heights, which is yet another attempt to impose his will on a substantial business in the region in a matter that is outside his jurisdiction.
Mr. Smith’s complaint in his February 15th email that Experi-Metal is “hardly a poverty case”, having committed the sin of throwing “lavish Christmas parties” for employees over the last 23 years, and should “pay their fair share” makes me wonder: has he been hanging out with the hippies at the Occupy Wall Street protests?
Mr. Smith, since when is it any of your or the City of Sterling Heights’ business how well heeled Experi-Metal is, or how well they treat their employees?
Tax Abatements In General
Opponents to tax abatements such as Mr. Smith like to argue that the business won’t leave town if it doesn’t get the abatement. In the short term, this is probably true. For the sake of a discount that amounts to only a small percentage of a business’s investment in new equipment, it is hard to imagine seeing any of them pulling up stakes and relocating to Warren, for example. On the other side of the coin, if City Council’s willingness to offer those abatements was in question, it would be hard to calculate the losses to the city. Further, in refusing to uphold the law in Public Act 198, would Council truly be honoring their oaths of office? Would this truly be something done in the best interests of the residents? Somehow, I don’t think so.
In making a decision as to whether or not to vote yes on a Prop 198 request, Council members can really only consider whether or not the request is lawful and valid. According to the Rules of Council, it is not theirs to decide whether or not a company is deserving; their job is simply to uphold and administrate the law.
As to Mr. Smith’s assertion that Experi-Metal should pay their fair share: just about every resident in Sterling Heights with a mortgage payment to make takes advantage of the mortgage interest exemption on their federal income taxes. Is Mr. Smith prepared to allege that everyone in town is failing to pay their fair share of federal taxes because of this “abatement”? And if so, how does he reconcile this with his opposition to the 2010 effort to raise residential property taxes by 1.9 mils?
Public Act 198 is intended to encourage businesses such as Experi-Metal to reinvest in their communities, generally considered a good thing by most capitalists. While the abatement does indeed reduce the overall amount of personal property tax revenue a municipality might have received otherwise, by granting the abatement the City of Sterling Heights helps to sell the business on making the investment in the first place, which in and of itself still raises the revenue even considering the abatement.
I find Mr. Smith’s claim to conservatism to be highly questionable given his voting record to date. He seems confused as to what role he is to play as a member of Council, and what his goals and ideals actually are, or how to go about achieving them. His actions are neither consistent with those of a conservative, a capitalist, nor a concerned resident of the city.
Mr. Smith needs to achieve some clarity — quickly — 0n what he was elected to do and how the job is to be performed. He also needs to figure out how to build bridges with fellow members of council, rather than attempt to shame them, lest he become completely and utterly ineffective.
Remember, Mr. Smith, without somebody on Council to second your motions, you might as well have not bothered to get elected, and everyone who voted for you wasted their vote.
I hope it is not already too late for Mr. Smith to forge the working relationships he needs to have in order to be effective as a counselor in Sterling Heights. If it is too late, his tenure will be a short one.