Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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        Hell no.


               There is no way Rochester taxpayers should have to shell out more than $350,000 a year to give the Police Accountability Board some of the plushest office space in the city.


               And no, City Council can’t punt the search for a new home by voting for a one-year lease extension next week. This is wrong, and it needs to be stopped now.


               For two years, the Police Accountability Board has been subleasing a floor of an Andy Gallina building from the “Democrat and Chronicle” newspaper. The building, on the southeast corner of Main and Clinton, faces the Sibley Building.


               The arrangement has been unethical from the start.


               The $1,000-a-day city payments are either a pay off or a pay back. Bailing the dying newspaper out of a lease it can’t afford with government money certainly raises questions about the objectivity of that newspaper’s coverage of City Hall, and funneling ridiculously high rents from the city treasury to a developer who is a major donor to local Democrat campaigns stinks to high heaven. But that’s the backbone of this deal – the newspaper and the rich guy get their cheese, the PAB gets to pay the light bill on vast amounts of unnecessary space, and the taxpayer gets the shaft.


               All in the name of hating the police.


               And all of it completely unnecessary.


               City Hall and the PAB say they’ve looked all year, but can’t find any other property that meets their needs. That’s because the PAB requirements for space and amenities seem to have been written specifically to eliminate all options but the Gallina building. Requirements about location and entrances and floor space and parking disqualify almost all other properties.


               Funny how that works, huh?


               Common sense says the PAB could go anywhere.


               At 57 St. Paul Street, for example, the city owns a stately building -- once home to the Chamber of Commerce – that would suit the PAB quite nicely without costing a cent. Similar accommodations could be found at no cost at other properties owned by the city or the school district.


               The PAB guidelines insist on upscale downtown office space, seemingly turning up their nose at literally hundreds of available properties across the city’s neighborhoods, where the people the PAB is supposed to serve live. At half of the current $30,000 a month, the PAB could rent multiple locations – on Genesee or Jefferson and Clinton or Portland – and be represented in neighborhoods with high levels of civilian-police interactions.


               And if the PAB rented space in the neighborhoods for its offices – one location or several – the rent money would go into the pockets of small, neighborhood landlords – many of them black or Latino.


               Instead of hiding unseen downtown, they could be in the neighborhoods and deal with actual people.


               But even if the PAB insists on staying downtown, there is empty, low-cost office space everywhere. Sixty-percent of downtown retail space is empty, if they wanted a storefront operation, and between 20 and 30 percent of downtown office space is vacant, with whole floors and even whole buildings available. It is absolutely a renter’s market, with the paucity of business tenants pushing rents down.


               And yet, the PAB guidelines and a looming vote of City Council seem likely to pick the highest bidder and continue the cashflow to the dying newspaper and the connected developer.


               But because the PAB has been so useless and expensive in its short life, and because it has been disavowed by so many, it is being made the scape goat in this matter. Maybe the vanity of the bloated and pointless organization makes it believe that it is entitled to this particular office space, or maybe it is being used as a cover to pay off political pals.


               Either way, this is wrong


               Because in a city with one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, it’s unconscionable to unnecessarily pay a thousand dollars a day to house an organization that hasn’t turned up a single dirty cop or confirmed a single claim of abuse.


               The people of Rochester voted for oversight of the police department, what they got was high-paying jobs for connected activists and a guaranteed cashflow for a big donor to City Hall.

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