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City Council Election 2011: Interview with Daryl Hennessy

Walker Evans Walker Evans City Council Election 2011: Interview with Daryl Hennessy
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Although all seven Columbus City Council members serve at-large, it’s worth noting that Daryl Hennessy stands proud as the “West Side” candidate, running against opponents that largely hail from the East and North sides of the city. Hennessy is running for what would be his first elected office, but comes from a strong fiscal background with years of experience as a budget analyst for the state and federal government.

Below are Daryl Hennessy’s answers to 15 interview questions that specifically address the concerns of Columbus Underground readers:

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal, professional, and political background?

A: I am currently a proud small business owner (landscape design/construction firm) and job creator in central Ohio who will bring a business-minded perspective to city council. I have also been an active volunteer in my Hilltop neighborhood for nearly 20 years and will bring a neighborhood-first perspective to city council. After completing my Master’s degree in public policy and management from Ohio State University, I served seven years as a budget analyst at the state and federal levels and six years as director of Ohio’s workforce policy board and job creation tax credit authority. I am a former member of the Ohio Air National Guard and raised in a family of eight. I have never held elected office.

Q: What drove you to run for City Council, and what are your primary areas of interest when it comes to Columbus issues?

A: I am seeking this office because I believe we can make our city better, but only if we add a constructive, alternative voice to Columbus City Council. I believe it is important to separate what is happening in central Ohio with what is happening within our city limits. While Columbus may compare favorably with other cities in Ohio, I believe we will only become a great city when we compare favorably with our peer cities (i.e. those of comparable size that are also home to state government – Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; Denver, Colorado; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Boston, Massachusetts). With this as standard, Columbus has the lowest per capita income, the highest percentage of people living in poverty, the highest percentage of vacant housing units, the highest percentage of property crimes per 100,000 people, the second lowest level of college attainment, and is last in terms of establishing new businesses. We need a constructive, alternative voice on city council that can challenge the conventional wisdom when necessary and broaden the debate on public policy options for addressing these major urban challenges. Our city will benefit by adding a business-minded professional to city council with a rich history of volunteer service in the neighborhood and the public sector education/experience to offer constructive policy solutions.

If elected, developing and nurturing a vibrant, prosperous, and job-generating local economy will be my highest priority. As a small business owner who has created private-sector jobs in central Ohio, I have already announced a plan for improving our local economy that I will work to implement as a member of council. This plan encourages entrepreneurship, supports small business growth, fixes a broken workforce development system, invests in workers and job seekers, and reforms our local tax system. While others will talk about the importance of job creation, I live it every day and am the only candidate to propose a plan of action.

As a new member of council, I will work to restore fiscal soundness to our annual budgeting process. Just two years after increasing the city income tax by 25%, city council approved a budget for 2011 that already spends more than the city will receive in annual tax receipts and is structurally out of balance beginning next year. These are the same mistakes that led to the last tax hike. Moreover, the aggressive job growth strategy and governmental reforms promised to voters in exchange for the tax hike have either not materialized or not been fully implemented. As a candidate, I have proposed a constructive, alternative spending plan for 2011 that lives within our financial means, retains full funding for safety forces, and prioritizes spending on job-creating initiatives. Again, other candidates will talk about fiscal responsibility but I am the only candidate to offer a plan of action.

Finally, if elected I will work to eliminate the back door deals that have almost become a “routine” governing practice for our current city leaders. I will improve government transparency by releasing financial data in real-time, holding public officials accountable by documenting the promised government reform savings, and improving citizen access by implementing an on-line tool for scheduling appointments with me.

Q: The topic of economic development is a hot issue in Central Ohio, with renewed emphasis through the Columbus 2020 program. How do you specifically define “economic development” and what specific types of programs will help the regional economy grow over the next five to ten years?

A: Economic development includes a broad set of issues, strategies, and policies aimed at improving the economic prosperity of a region. At its core, it includes policies to nurture entrepreneurs and support investors that encourage new business startups. It includes strategies to help existing businesses grow and create new jobs. And, it includes educating, retaining, and when necessary, retraining the workforce to attract new and retain existing business opportunities.

There are several specific things the city should be doing over the next five to ten years to help existing business owners, entrepreneurs, and investors bring more jobs to Columbus. They include: 1) keeping the cost of government low by providing the most efficient, effective, and business-friendly public services possible; 2) fixing the public workforce development system so it becomes a valuable tool for linking job seekers with employers; 3) maintaining and enhancing the existing public infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods and information; 4) incenting the creation of every new job, not just those created by the largest employers; 5) promoting entrepreneurship as a job creation strategy; and 6) reforming the city’s bed tax so more funds are used to promote Columbus as a travel and tourism destination.

While others will talk about economic development and job creation, I live it every day as a small business owner and am the only candidate in the race to propose a plan of action.

Q: Downtown Columbus has grown residentially and commercially over the past 10 years, due to public investment and a renewed national focus on urban living. What further needs to be done from a public policy level to continue the growth of the core of our city?

A: It is essential that Columbus find a better and more efficient way to process and approve residential development plans for projects in the core city. This will encourage developers to construct new residential units in the city, lower the cost (and thus price) of the new units, improve density within the city, and ultimately support a balanced and better mix of retail space for our downtown residents. I have proposed to fix the city’s bed tax by allowing a larger share of the funds to be used to promote Columbus as a travel and tourism destination. This will encourage more evening/downtown activities and lead to a more dynamic city core.

Q: A common anecdotal complaint about local government centers on a lack of adequate city services: unplowed streets, lack of curb-side recycling, potholes, too few proactive police patrols, et cetera. Is this a funding issue, a geographic issue, or something else entirely?

A: While some may say this is a funding issue, I think it is a leadership, management, and innovation issue. I believe we need to think differently about how city services are delivered. We need to demand that our city leaders and managers explore innovative approaches to delivering basic city services. Let’s apply the best practices of the business and entrepreneur communities to public services and improve the efficiency and effectiveness with which they are delivered.

Q: It’s practically a daily occurrence that a national publication produces an article on the growing importance of public transportation networks to young professionals and the Millennial generation. Does our lack of rail transit hurt our ability to attract young talent to our region, and if so, what needs to be done to address this issue?

A: Not in a significant way. The availability of high quality job opportunities in the region is far more important for attracting young talent than the lack of a rail transit system. As previously noted, Columbus lags its peer cities in per capita income and the creation of new business establishments. Our public policies priorities must be on improving these economic indicators first. I believe we must achieve substantially greater residential and commercial density in the urban core before implementing a rail transit system in Columbus.

Q: Small businesses are the cornerstone of our economy. What are the biggest challenges that our small business community currently faces, and what would you do differently to address those challenges?

A: Businesses of all sizes grow and prosper because they identify a market opportunity and deliver a product/service that meets the needs of its customers. Startup businesses are more fragile than existing firms because they are still developing their customer base, perfecting their business model, navigating the regulatory environment, and balancing cash flow needs with new investments in the business. The best thing we can do to support new businesses and existing small businesses (to give them a chance to survive and ultimately thrive) is to keep the cost of local government low so consumers are in the best position possible to purchase goods/services from these small businesses. Beyond that, we need to expedite the review and approval of business permits, reduce burdensome regulations, encourage the availability of affordable capital, and support incumbent worker training so businesses have the skilled workers they need.

Q: Several years ago, Columbus was ranked the No. 1 “Up & Coming Tech City” in the country. What role does Columbus city government play in continuing to support our technology-friendly environment from a city services perspective?

A: We should continue to provide the infrastructure necessary to support our technology firms and a highly-skilled workforce to encourage their continued growth in our city.

Q: The recent announcement that the City of Columbus and Franklin County would be purchasing Nationwide Arena has quickly become a hotly discussed topic. What is your personal stance on this issue, and why is it a good/bad deal for taxpayers and a good/bad deal for the region?

A: Substantial existing public investments have been made in the Arena District and I believe they should be protected. New streets, curbs, utilities, lighting, and green space have been installed around the arena and have helped to attract over 8,000 jobs to this portion of our city. At this point, it is probably the most important economic driver and job creator in the central city. More recently, the additions of a publically-funded baseball park and hotel (currently under construction) have added to the public investments in the district. Given the size of the public investments, the impact on existing jobs, and the importance of keeping the arena a dynamic downtown facility, I believe it is a good deal on balance for our city and the region.

Q: A portion of the revenue from the Columbus Hollywood Casino is being earmarked for the purchase of Nationwide Arena. Where else should the Casino revenue be spent, and what percentage should be earmarked for redevelopment of West Side neighborhoods surrounding the Casino?

A: Earlier this year I visited with elected officials and business owners in three neighboring states where Penn National operates a casino. The primary purpose of the visit was to learn more about the impact of hosting a gaming employer and to develop a set of policy recommendations for actively managing the consequences. Leaders from each of the visited communities recommended actively planning for economic development around the casino by investing some of the host city revenues directly in job creating and workforce development activities. That is precisely what we should do and why I recommended we set aside approximately 25% of the casino tax revenues for neighborhood-based, economic development purposes. Beyond that, the revenues are largely an on-going source of income that should be used primarily, although not exclusively, to cover basic city services.

Q: According to an article published in April by USA Today, the inner core of Columbus (defined as a 3-mile radius from the center of Downtown) saw 45 percent growth in the number of 20 to 40-year-old residents, a faster growth rate than the rest of the region as a whole. In the years ahead, as these young professionals look to buy homes, have children, and further invest in their community, what specifically needs to be addressed to keep them engaged in central-city neighborhoods?

A: Two things: improve the public school system and make the central-city neighborhoods safer.

Q: Beyond programs that target the young professional demographic, what types of programs and initiatives would further accelerate the revitalization of urban Columbus neighborhoods, such as Franklinton, The King Lincoln District, The South Side, Weinland Park and beyond?

A: Actually, many of Columbus’ urban neighborhoods already offer residents the potential for a good place to live. Most include good, quality housing stock, low-cost/affordable housing options, and access to transportation on a bus line. To accelerate revitalization they need safer streets, more job opportunities, active neighborhood groups/block watches, vacant housing structures restored, active code enforcement to hold absentee property owners accountable, and improved public schools.

Q: Arguably, the largest issue on this year’s ballot is SB5. What is your stance on this issue, and why do you feel it’s important for voters to vote “yes” or “no” on this issue?

A: Like most of us, I want the most productive and cost-effective police, fire, and educational services the public can afford. We all benefit from the good work of these public servants who make our streets safer and educate our children and grandchildren. They deserve a competitive wage and benefits package that continues to attract highly qualified individuals to the profession. Unfortunately, over time the cumulative effect of public employees negotiating with public employees over someone else’s money has created a sizable disparity between the wage and benefit packages of public and private sector employees. I see Issue 2/SB 5 as an opportunity restore balance to the public sector collective bargaining process that will ultimately allow me as a councilman to provide city services to taxpayers at an affordable cost. I do not support the process by which Senate Bill 5 was enacted but do support its basic intent.

Q: Several weeks ago, local leaders met to discuss the importance of arts funding and the growth of the creative class as it relates to economic development. How can Columbus invest in the creative community, specifically as it relates to smaller arts collectives and individual artists?

A: Beyond the current allocation of money from the bed tax to support the local Columbus arts scene, we could use public spaces to display the work of individual artists and small arts collectives.

Q: Please summarize in one sentence why our readers should vote for you in November.

A: We can make Columbus better but only if we add a constructive, alternative voice to city council with a rich history of neighborhood volunteer service and the public/private sector experience to get results. Thank you for your consideration and I would appreciate your vote on November 8.

More information can be found online at www.DarylHennessy.com.

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