Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Walmart withdraws from Rock Island…so should Mayor Pauley

If you’re not a townie like me, then you probably haven’t heard the news, so let me fill you in: Walmart announced earlier this month that it will not be moving to the former Watch Tower Plaza site on 11th Street in Rock Island.
“After much deliberation and consideration of various business factors, we have decided not to pursue development of a new store in Rock Island, IL at this time,” Walmart wrote in a statement issued Sept. 6. “We commend the visionary leadership of Mayor Pauley and the City Council and the work they have done to create a business friendly climate in Rock Island that encourages continued growth and investment in the city.”
Translation: thanks, but no thanks. Thank you, Mayor Pauley and Rock Island City Council, for costing taxpayers—not us—$15 million to clear out the 20-acre site in the hopes of getting us to sign on the dotted line. Thanks for not putting the measure on the ballot to let the voters decide. Thanks for promising your citizens 400 jobs and $1.4 million a year in sales tax revenue. We really appreciate all the boneheaded decisions you made on our behalf, but we have decided—as everyone outside of City Hall knew would happen—to withdraw.
Don’t get me wrong: it is one’s civic duty to blame Walmart for the damage it has caused in countless communities across this country: the shuttering of mom-and-pop stores that can’t compete with Walmart’s artificially low prices, and the underpayment of thousands of women under its employ, and the outsourcing of American jobs by pushing its suppliers to relocate overseas, among other grievances.
But in this particular development, I cannot blame Walmart for the financial havoc wreaked upon Rock Island. For this, I point to Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley. Under his direction, the city pursued Walmart (and only Walmart) to an obsessive degree, with no backup plan in the likely event that the retailer’s agent exercise its right—as stipulated in the sales contract—to cancel its agreement before the conclusion of the feasibility period.
Confidence in Mayor Pauley’s leadership has never been lower, and that is saying something for a mayor who took office by sheer luck of the draw. (Again, if you are not a townie, let me fill you in: in 2009, when the mayoral election was declared a tie, the names of Pauley and his opponent, David Levin, were placed in envelopes, one of which was randomly selected by a judge to be pronounced the winner.)
Scapegoating has long been a hallmark of American politics, if not a national pastime. This, however, is not an instance of scapegoating: of course I recognize that the mayor cannot be to blame for all of the city’s financial woes. Here, shortsighted planning from city staff, passive rubber-stamping from City Council members, and civic disengagement from countless Rock Island residents are all to blame.
But when it comes to the botched Walmart ordeal in particular, Mayor Pauley must be held accountable. He was the cheerleader-in-chief of the project, having used his office to drum up support of a deal doomed to fail from the start.
Mr. Mayor: make like your city manager, Thomas Thomas, and tender your resignation. Make like Walmart, and withdraw from Rock Island.

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Walmart withdraws from Rock Island…so should Mayor Pauley