Your Voice: Letter about downtown property owners ‘divisive’

TO THE EDITOR:

On Friday, a letter to the editor was written by a sitting Farmington council member, and published in the Farmington Voice, that endorsed three candidates for Farmington City Council.

While I agree with the author that each of the candidates running for this position has “terrific attributes” I take great exception to the overall message and, if it weren’t so outrageous and insidious, would have ignored it altogether. However the unprecedented position taken by the council person is so divisive and harmful to our community, I feel that I am obligated to respond.

The writer states that his support of the three named candidates is based on the fact that they are “not property owners in downtown Farmington.” He further states that “for the first time in several decades our community has an opportunity to elect a City Council without downtown property owner’s influence.”

Think about that for a minute. The council person is actually celebrating the fact that he might be able to exclude a Farmington resident that has chosen to invest in and improve a property in their own downtown, as if that is somehow a good thing! The last time I checked most everyone in Farmington loves their downtown, and in fact one of the reasons many of us have moved to Farmington, so this notion that a property owner within the downtown should be excluded from leadership within the city simply because they chose to invest in their own hometown, is absolutely absurd. It is also quite damaging to the goodwill and positive momentum that has been painstakingly built over the past 20 years.

Clearly, this piece was aimed at me. I too am running for a council position (I’m an incumbent, currently serving as Mayor, and 20+ year resident) and yet I did not receive this person’s endorsement because I am a “downtown property owner.” Admittedly, in 2015, I purchased a vacant, run-down and derelict office building that is on the very edge of downtown (literally the property next door is outside of the DDA district). With a year of blood, sweat, and tears (I put two nails through my foot simultaneously during demolition), and well over $100,000 of additional investment in renovations, we were able to rescue and improve a vacant, run-down building and introduce professional offices (architects & real-estate professionals) into the downtown mix of businesses.

This is what we need more of in Farmington; this is a good thing! If this massive risk and investment that I made to help reduce the number of vacant and derelict buildings in the city is somehow a disqualifier for participation in city leadership, then so be it, I am guilty as charged. If however, as I suspect, the residents of Farmington are really proud of and value and love their continually improving and vibrant downtown, then I would think that it might actually not be a bad thing to have a council member that is a resident and “downtown property owner” serve in city leadership.

The attitude expressed in this opinion piece is so poisonous to our community because it seeks to pit certain constituents against others (downtown vs. non-downtown), and creates an uncalled for “us-versus-them” antagonism. In contrast, I believe that our city is thriving because of the attitude of cooperation and partnership that we have built over the years. We have new neighborhoods being built, run-down commercial properties being refurbished, and the property values city-wide have seen vast improvement over the past ten years. Farmington is a highly sought-after community to live in because of its excellent city services, safe and friendly neighborhoods and, yes, even its really great downtown!

Also, please let me be clear: My issue is not with the three candidates that received this endorsement. My issue is with the Machiavellian messaging that any Farmington resident that happens to own a property in their own downtown is somehow a bad or negative influence on city council and on the city at large. That attitude is divisive and wrong and threatens to devolve the tremendous progress we’ve made over the past twenty years. So I ask every citizen of Farmington that loves their city AND their downtown, to join me is rejecting this short-sighted and backwards thinking.

Steven Schneemann
Mayor of Farmington